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On-sale date: August 2012

Price: $35,350 to $42,000-plus

Competitors: Acura RDX, Infiniti JX

Powertrains: 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder, 182-hp, 172 lb-ft of torque; 3.6-liter V-6, 301-hp, 272 lb-ft; six-speed automatic; FWD or AWD

EPA fuel economy (city/hwy): 22/32 (four-cylinder with FWD); 16/23 (V-6 with AWD)

What's new: GMC extends its popular Denali luxury sub-brand to the smallest vehicle in its lineup, the Terrain crossover (CUV in GM parlance), accompanied by an upgraded V-6 with more displacement (3.6 vs 3.0 liters). The larger engine is good for 14 additional horses and 22 percent more torque while returning the same EPA fuel economy ratings as the outgoing Terrain V-6. You can get a Denali edition without the big engine or the big engine without the Denali trim upgrades outside and in, but GMC expects the combination to be the most popular.

Tech tidbit: The invisible hand that may do the most to distinguish this from other Terrains is the dual-flow damper used in the front suspension. Valving in these shock absorbers varies with the rate of the piston travel, delivering firmer handling response without degrading ride—you get them only in the Denali version. (Chevrolet uses them in Equinox, Terrain's platform-mate, in a new FE2 performance suspension.)

Driving character: We drove V-6-powered AWD Terrain Denalis on challenging two-lane roads in northern Michigan and found that the more powerful engine and the upgraded suspension gave us a surprisingly nimble and responsive drive, especially considering the vehicle's 2-ton weight. GM tuned the Terrain Denali to feel the most “truck-like” of all its CUVs on this platform, however, so steering effort from the hydraulic power-assisted V-6 (the four-cylinder gets electric assist) is relatively high. Still, you can hustle the Terrain Denali along narrow country lanes, and the drivetrain makes short work of passing the dawdling sightseers and motorhomes. Or, since the Terrain Denali has a 3500-pound towing capacity, hook up a camper or boat and join the caravans of country cottagers.

Favorite detail: Denali trim gives you an eight-way power seat on the passenger side, while the fore-and-aft adjustability of the rear seat (on all Terrains, not just Denali) makes it easy to switch between carrying cargo or passengers back there.

Driver's grievance: At 4204 pounds in the configuration we drove, this is one hefty five-seater. As a consequence, the only way to get decent mileage is to opt for the smaller motor. Buying a Terrain Denali with all the bells and whistles could only be considered an economy move—on price or fuel efficiency—if you were downsizing from a Yukon.

The Bottom line: The only functional upgrades you get for paying for the Denali trim are blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alerts, the trick dampers, and the power passenger seat—and some of those subject to optional add-on costs. So buyers will have to love the cosmetic treatment of the package to pony up for it. That treatment includes satin-chrome accents on the exterior, 18-inch wheels with the four and 19s with the V-6, and smoked mahogany highlights inside, plus a handsome soft-touch French stitched leather dashboard cap. All these touches dress up the boxy Terrain in ways that will appeal to Denali loyalists. And GMC certainly knows what it's doing. The brand has sold more than a half-million vehicles with Denali badges on them since the first Yukon Denali in 1999.

Read more: 2013 GMC Terrain Denali Test Drive - Popular Mechanics

2013 GMC Terrain Denali Test Drive - Popular Mechanics
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