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This GMC ute heads for the mountains and gets a bigger six-cylinder.
JUNE 2012 BY ANDREW WENDLER
There’s not a whole lot you can do to change the look of a cardboard box, but that won’t deter a resourceful kid. He’ll grab a handful of Sharpies and liberate a few cushions from the sofa, and before you know it—voilà—he’s turned a discarded appliance container into a sophisticated motorcar. GMC apparently followed that same school of thought in bestowing an upgrade on its relatively pedestrian and boxy Terrain crossover. Badge-engineered into a corner—the GMC is pretty well boxed in by the Chevy Equinox on the low end and Cadillac SRX up top—those responsible had to get resourceful. So they went all Mt. McKinley on the Terrain and gave it the Denali treatment.
Denali Looks Not Tied to Newfound Power
Like the average cardboard box, the Terrain has always displayed more creases than curves. The Denali-exclusive chrome “bullet hole” grille bracketed by the body-color fascia gives the flat-faced Terrain a slightly locomotivelike appearance. Satin chrome stands in for the shiny variety on the grille surround, mirrors, rocker moldings, tailgate, and rear bumper. The head- and taillamps, too, get a makeover. To the average observer, the Denali badging itself likely will be the most prominent exterior cue that you just dropped more than thirty-five large on a mid-size crossover.
The bulk of the Denalization takes place inside the vehicle. Red accent stitching abounds, and faux-smoked mahogany accents appear on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and door panels. Embossed Denali logos reside on the seatbacks of the eight-way, power-adjustable (driver and passenger) front chairs, and illuminated front sill plates remind passengers they’re stepping into or out of a Denali.
Although GMC says the 301-hp, 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 was engineered specifically for the Terrain, this engine is essentially the same as the 308-hp 3.6-liter found in the Cadillac SRX; whether those 7 hp went missing for a genuine reason, such as exhaust restriction, or simply to preserve Cadillac’s vanity is anyone’s guess. The new engine replaces a 3.0-liter V-6 as the optional engine in all Terrains and Chevy Equinoxes. (A carry-over 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard on all Terrains, including the Denali trim.)
Compared with that 3.0-liter, the extra 37 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque the 3.6 brings to the formerly unswift Terrain are a welcome addition. The AWD version we drove seemed to actually enjoy hustling when called on; we estimate that the 3.6-liter will shave about a second off the 8.4-second 0-to-60-mph time we coaxed from an all-wheel-drive 3.0-liter Terrain. EPA mileage estimates remain the same, despite the additional power, at 17 mpg city and 24 highway for the front-drive V-6 model and 16/23 for the all-wheel-drive version.
Put your foot down to pass, and the six-speed automatic downshifts promptly to keep the V-6 in the sweet spot of its power band, but the accompanying racket is less than seductive. There’s no denying the fury of the mechanical activity going on under the hood; it’s just difficult to get a positive ID on it. To our ears, generic whooshing and whirling sounds overshadow any basso profundo internal-combustion notes that might be struggling to be heard.
Ride, Shipping, and Handling
The only other significant component of the 2013 Terrain makeover is the fitment of dual-flow dampers, which employ a variable valve that can firm or soften the ride based on the speed and force of the piston movement. During our drive, the vehicle felt a bit more planted than before, and the body seemed to suffer from less rebound on undulating pavement. It’s a subtle refinement, but we’ll take what we can get.
We found the V-6’s hydraulic power steering (the four-cylinder gets electric steering) to be ambiguous in nature, numb on-center and about as communicative as a forlorn teenager. One wonders if it were simply cheaper for GM to fit all Denalis with standard lane-departure warning and forward collision alert than deal with the hassle of properly sorting out the dodgy steering. The lane-departure warning is a simple on-and-off affair, activated by a switch on the steering wheel; the collision alert has three distance settings: far, mid, and near.
There are few major options available on the Terrain Denali. A nav system ($795) can be added to the standard touch-screen audio interface with IntelliLink, and a rear-seat entertainment package ($1295) is available to help keep the kiddies comfortably numb.
Buyers concerned about mileage can opt for the 182-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic. We didn’t get a chance to drive a four-cylinder Terrain Denali, but we expect the experience to be similar to that in the base four-cylinder model, albeit with the new dual-flow dampers and the rest of the Denali goodies. Besides the engine, the main difference is that 2.4-liter models ride on 18-inch wheels instead of the V-6s’ 19s. And they burn less fuel: EPA mileage ratings for four-cylinder front-drivers are 22 mpg city and 32 highway; all-wheel-drive models earn a still-thrifty 20/29. The base price for a four-cylinder Denali is $35,350; the V-6 option requires an extra $1750; all-wheel drive costs $1750 as well.
Although it originally positioned the Terrain against smaller crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, GMC says its research shows that people were shopping the Terrain against larger vehicles like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge. Given that, it made sense to give the Terrain—the smallest but bestselling SUV in the GMC lineup—the Denali treatment and capitalize on the interest. With our priorities, we’d skip the extra dress-up and instead choose a lesser trim level with the new V-6 engine. Assuming, that is, we didn’t look at one of those competitors ourselves.
2013 GMC Terrain Denali 3.6 First Drive – Review – Car and Driver