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2013 GMC Terrain Denali

Terrain always had space, now it gets grace and pace

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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2013 GMC Terrain Denali

2013 GMC Terrain Denali

Photo © Aaron Gold

For 2013, GMC's baby crossover, the Terrain, is getting the high-zoot Denali treatment with unique exterior trim and a luxed-up interior. Also new for 2013 is a more powerful V6 engine and a raft of new safety equipment. How does the 2013 GMC Terrain Denali pull it all together? Let's drive it and find out.

First Glance: A unique look

I usually don't talk much about styling -- to each their own, says I -- but in the case of the GMC Terrain, it's sort of the elephant in the room. GMC's goal was to make the Terrain look different from anything else on the road, and they certainly succeeded. I've met a few people who like the Terrain's looks, but I just can't get over those big, boxy front fenders.

That said, the Denali model brings its own styling changes, and they do improve matters a bit: The 3-dimensional chromed grille and body-color skirts draw attention away from the odd front end. The unique taillights, with their satin-chrome finish, give the Terrain Denali a more sophisticated, grown-up look, and the big square exhaust tips look more dignified than the wimpy little pipes on lesser Terrains. Personally, I think the Terrain looks ridiculous -- but I liked the view from the inside a good deal better.

In the Driver's Seat: Luxurious and spacious, but something's missing

2013 GMC Terrain Denali dashboard.

Photo © Aaron Gold

Terrain Denali owners will probably spend a lot more time looking at the interior than the exterior, and this is where GMC really got it right. As you step in, the metal sill plates -- emblazoned with an illuminated "DENALI" -- remind you that you are driving GMC's best. Well, GMC's best Terrain, at least. The Denali features an all-black interior with smoked mahogany wood trim, "DENALI" embossed on the leather-lined power-adjustable front seats, a sunroof, and a rich-feeling padded dash adorned with red stitching. The early-production Terrains I drove at the press preview had a few rough edges, which our PR handlers ensured us were still being worked out, but overall the Terrain Denali had a well-finished, luxurious feel.

As for the control layout, my opinion is mixed: I liked the stereo and navigation system, which has a big, crisp touch-screen with sharp graphics and a well-thought-out menu structure, but I can't for the life of me figure out why the Terrain's designers stuffed all of the stereo and climate control buttons on one tiny panel -- the Terrain's dash is so big, why not use more of it? And I was surprised that the Terrain lacks dual-zone climate control -- most of the competition has it.

What I really liked about the Terrain was the back seat. The Terrain makes the best of its long wheelbase, offering a comfortable second row with lots of legroom, even if the front seats are adjusted fully rearward. Few five-seat SUVs offer this kind of back seat room. Cargo space is very good at 31.1 cubic feet, expanding to 63.9 with the back seat folded down.

On the Road: New V6 is a stormer... and a drinker

The 2013 Terrain offers two engines: The 182 hp 2.4 liter four-cylinder is a carryover from last year, but the V6 is new. Its the 3.6 liter direct-injected V6 found in the bigger Acadia tuned for even more power: 301 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is impressive, if noisy. The good news: EPA fuel economy estimates are similar to last year's 3-liter engine. The bad news: They still aren't very good. At 17 MPG city/24 MPG highway for the front-wheel-drive version and 16/23 with all-wheel-drive, the 5-seat Terrain is less efficient than many 7-seat SUVs. The four-cylinder produces much better numbers: 22/32 with FWD and 20/29 with AWD. Fortunately, GMC offers the top-of-the-line Denali with both engines.

Handling is not the Terrain's strong suit. It grips the road well and keeps body lean in check, but the steering doesn't offer much feedback and it's not much fun to drive. As with many crossovers, the Terrain's all-wheel-drive system is designed to handle bad weather, but not serious off-roading.

The Terrain is home to some new safety technology: Optional lane-departure, blind spot, and collision warning systems, the latter which alerts the driver if the Terrain is rapidly approaching a slow-moving or stationary object. All three systems work well, especially the collision warning system, which lacks the hair-trigger that makes so many of these systems more annoying than helpful.

Journey's End: In the sweet spot

2013 GMC Terrain Denali

Photo © Aaron Gold

GM has priced the Terrain Denali at $35,350 for the front-wheel-drive version and $37,100 with all-wheel-drive, with the V6 engine adding another $1,500. That's about nine grand more than the base-model Terrain, which seems like quite a jump -- but it still puts the Terrain in a price class below luxury CUVs like the Lexus RX and the BMW X3. The Mercedes-Benz GLK starts around the same range, but its price swells like an injured knee once you start adding options.

If you like the Terrain for its utility but aren't crazy about the price (or the styling), I suggest the Chevrolet Equinox; it's the same vehicle under the skin, with more benign styling and a lower price tag. As far as luxury 'utes go, I'm bullish on the Acura RDX; it's roomy, well equipped, and very reasonably priced. And if I was determined to buy American (or, in the case of the Terrain, Canadian), I'd look at the Cadillac SRX, another Terrain relative with styling more to my tastes and a very reasonable price tag.

But there are still areas where the competition just can't keep up. The GMC Terrain is the champ for front- and back-seat space, and while its styling may be controversial, it's certainly the most unique-looking SUV this side of the Jeep Wrangler. I certainly wouldn't recommend against buying one... just don't make me look at it, okay? -- Aaron Gold

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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