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SUV Review: 2021 GMC Terrain SLE

SUV Review: 2021 GMC Terrain SLE
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With big wheels, turbocharged performance, swoopy style, fancy materials and eye-popping paint finishes, the world of compact crossovers have evolved into a diverse landscape. Almost every automaker has built their crossover into something interesting or unique, but this GMC Terrain is the result of some slow progress, and it shows.

While it sounds like the Terrain is in a tough spot, there is some redemption found under the hood. Smooth and punchy rather than high-performing and exciting, the turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine used in our SLE test model was a pleasant reminder of what General Motors is capable of. Paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission and a driver controller all-wheel-drive system, I was pleased with how the vehicle slipped into the right gear under heavy throttle and didn’t feel sluggish or limited. That’s despite the relatively mundane output from the engine, which is rated to deliver 170 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque. All previously optional engines are no longer available, meaning no high-output 2.0-litre turbo, or turbodiesel.

Fuel economy was also kept in check, easily meeting or improving upon the 9.0 L/100 km the vehicle is expected to return based on the Natural Resources Canada testing. Likely this experience is a result of the selectable all-wheel-drive system, which can be kept in a 2WD mode in dry and clear conditions for reduced fuel usage. When the driver isn’t feeling as confident in the capability of the Terrain, they can turn a dial on the centre console to quickly put the vehicle into an all-wheel-drive mode, allowing them to tackle the route ahead.

Beyond the powertrain, the GMC Terrain feels cumbersome on the road. The steering is light and limp, though the suspension and ride are decent. It’s soft and ideal for commuting duties. However, the vehicle has a larger turning circle compared to other compacts, making it feel far more complicated to park than it should be.

Our SLE trimmed test model felt spartan at times. While the infotainment system featured Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, the seven-inch touchscreen seemed minuscule. There was no wireless phone charger, and though the entertainment features include 4G capability and a WiFi hotspot, the vehicle felt thoroughly low-tech. Heated front seats are included at this level, but not in the rear, and there was no heated steering wheel. That’s a tough break considering some vehicles in this class are offering ventilated seats in some configurations. At this trim level, the Terrain doesn’t even feature a power liftgate.

Behind the rear seats, the GMC offers a hefty 838 litres of storage space, which expands to 1,792 when you fold those rear seats down. That task can be accomplished with some handy levers in the cargo area. Unfortunately, with folded seats, the storage floor isn’t completely flat. Rear seat passengers are granted an average experience in terms of space but the seats aren’t very comfortable. One detail I liked about the GMC is that it has a lot of storage cubbies throughout the cabin, which is nice for those that treat their vehicle as a mobile storage locker.

2022 GMC Terrain officially unveiled

Surprisingly, the GMC includes just a few safety features and driver aids, which should appeal to the shoppers that loathe these kinds of nannies. There was no blind-spot monitoring, or adaptive cruise control system here, just a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, and a lane-keeping assistance system. These features are available only on optional packages, which is noticeable since other vehicles like say a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic offers features like that as standard equipment. The lighting was excellent at night, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that it creates excessive glare. This concern among the limited safety features explains why the vehicle doesn’t have a Top Safety Pick rating, though the crash test scores are strong.

While I was disappointed with the lack of features in the Terrain, it was the GMC’s styling that left a lingering aftertaste that I couldn’t shake. It’s boring, lacking an identity of its own. The blacked-out rear pillars look awkward, and the C-shaped daytime running lights are bland, without the striking and instantly identifiable character that many other vehicles possess. The blacked-out elements like the wheels, roof rails, mirror caps, and badging that are part of our Elevation Edition package, don’t help at all.

Inside, things are somehow less interesting. The cloth seats aren’t very impressive, though they are textured and provide a decent amount of support. There’s drab orange stitching found around the seats, but the rest of the cabin features a hard plastic material that feels awful, like an old Rubbermaid container, or the finishing texture on a cooler. Knobs and controls feel equally low-rent, and my passenger kept complaining about the fore-aft seat sliding lever that sticks out uncomfortably from under the seat and into their leg.

If you’re thinking there’s a redeeming factor to the Terrain with its price point, the vehicle will once again disappoint. A front-wheel-drive version of the GMC SLE is offered for $31,398 while the all-wheel-drive version tested starts at $33,798. This is more than a Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-5 , which both come standard with AWD and feature more equipment at that base level. The next step up is the SLT model which costs $36,598 and the range-topping Denali model which is $40,798. Delivery fees are an extra $1,900 on top of that.

A refreshed version of the vehicle is expected to arrive this summer, and even that doesn’t feel urgent enough. The 2022 model is promising to rectify many of these complaints, with front-end redesign, an improved interior and tech features, and a rugged, off-road-ready AT4 model. We recommend waiting for that new model and its upgrades, as the Terrain in 2021 guise seems outmatched by its rivals in every way.
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