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GMC's smallest, best-selling vehicle is newest entry in truck brand's luxury line

Traverse City- GMC's smallest and best-selling vehicle has been added to the truck brand's expanding Denali luxury line for maximum bling.

With its chromed billet grille and jet-black leather interior, the 2013 Terrain Denali got its first public outing last week on the roads that wind from this northern Michigan vacation mecca through Leelanau County's orchards, vineyards and scenic vistas.

But driving through the wilds of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, none of the media demonstration models were taken down a two-track or even touched beach sand — except to have some photos taken — to verify any off-road capabilities. The Terrain is not a truck or sport utility vehicle, even if it carries the label. It is a tall, comfortable and uniquely styled crossover that performs very nicely on paved roads.

The Denali luxury sub-brand, introduced in 1998 on the Yukon SUV, broadened GMC's portfolio from its old slogan about building "professional grade" trucks. Yukon, Sierra and Acadia Denali editions are now responsible for more than a quarter of all GMC sales, despite sticker prices up to 40 percent higher than their base models.

These are "posh grade" cruisers that have made GMC second only to Chevrolet in sales volume among General Motors brands. Not Buick. Not Cadillac.

Two years after its introduction, Terrain's new upscale editions will cost at least $10,000 more than last year's $25,500 base model. Prices for Terrain's other 2013 models have not been announced.

Amenities galore

So what do you get? Lots of leather, satin chrome, smoked mahogany, technology, a quiet, comfortable ride, and respectable fuel economy.

Smaller than mid-size but larger than compact, the Terrain has generous rear leg room that can be made larger with an adjustable rear seat that slides back or forward to make more cargo space.

Adding to the sense of spaciousness in the cabin, the red stitched, black leather dashboard slopes away from the passengers, leaving almost no shelf at the base of the windshield. There are red accents on control surfaces and red ambient lighting reflects from the chrome surfaces.

The Terrain Denali comes standard with collision alert and lane departure warning systems, which operate from a computer analysis of images from a forward-looking video camera. Sensor-driven side blind spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems are also standard. Both the driver and front-seat passenger get heated, eight-way, power adjustable leather seats.

It is very easy to step in over the Terrain's lighted door sills and settle into the upright seats. The power-operated rear hatch is programmable to limit the height of its lift for operation inside a low garage.

GMC's voice-controlled infotainment system has Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity and apps for Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio access. Satellite radio, traffic and weather information are optional along with a large color touch screen. Operation is made easier with a "back" button on every screen and redundant mechanical buttons and knobs in the chrome-surrounded center cluster to accomplish many of the same tasks.

Like it or hate it

Terrain's angular exterior lines are polarizing. People like them or they hate them. But GMC says despite the manly square fender arches, half of Terrain's registered owners are women.

Terrain and its corporate crossover cousin, the Chevrolet Equinox, are built on GM's Theta platform, along with Cadillac's SRX. But you have to look inside to see the family resemblance. The Terrain, Equinox and SRX all get a more powerful 3.6-liter V-6 engine in 2013. The all-aluminum powertrain replaces a 3.0-liter V-6 that got the same fuel economy but produced less horsepower and torque.

The standard engine is a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that, in the front-wheel-drive version, produces Terrain's best fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The optional 301 horsepower V-6 gets 16 mpg city and 23 highway in the all-wheel drive version.

All engine combinations are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and even downshifts without prompting for engine braking. The V-6 in the Terrain I drove produced a throaty sound and accelerated the two-ton vehicle easily up hills.

The Terrain has improved handling over last year's model with the installation of sophisticated dual-stage dampers that allow a compliant ride, yet respond with greater resistance when encountering bumps or engaging in aggressive driving. Potholes I sought out near road shoulders were easily absorbed.

Under heavy acceleration, I had to compensate for some surprisingly strong torque steer that pulled toward the left. The lane-keeping system picked up even faded highway lane markers to flash a warning light on the dash and issue a beep through the appropriate side of the audio system's speakers.

Lots of comparisons

Pricing for the Terrain Denali announced last week starts at $35,350 for a front-wheel-drive model with the four-cylinder engine. The optional V-6 engine costs another $1,750. All-wheel drive is also a $1,750 option with either engine. Adding more options like a trailer-towing package, navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems can push the price past $40,000.

The Terrain Denali compares well in size and performance to Acura's compact RDX. But a fully loaded model can cost as much as a fully loaded compact BMW X3 or a mid-size Honda Pilot. The similarly sized and slightly less powerful Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Highlander are less expensive than the Terrain Denali.

And — here's the historic problem with GMC products — you can get the mechanically identical Chevrolet Equinox fully loaded for thousands of dollars less.

GMC is counting on the unique look of the Terrain and the added luster of the Denali luxury brand to increase its best-seller's growing popularity when it arrives in dealerships this fall.

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2013 GMC Terrain Denali

Price : $35,350 ($41,720 as tested)
Type: Five-passenger, four-door, mid-size SUV/crossover
2.4-liter, direct injected, four-cylinder with VVT
3.6-liter, direct injected, V-6 with VVT.
182 horsepower; 172 pound-feet of torque with four-cylinder
301 horsepower; 272 pound-feet of torque with V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
EPA gas mileage
22 mpg city / 32 mpg highway with four-cylinder and front-wheel drive
20 mpg city / 29 mpg highway with four-cylinder and all-wheel drive
17 mpg city / 24 mpg highway with V-6 and front-wheel drive
16 mpg city / 23 mpg highway with V-6 and all-wheel drive

Report Card

Overall: HHH
Exterior: Satin chrome treatments for the uniquely angular Terrain
Interior: Spacious, plush and loaded with electronics
Performance: Improved handling with upgraded suspension and more power from an optional V-6
Pros: The Denali name is becoming a preferred luxury sub-brand
Cons: You can get a fully loaded Chevy Equinox for thousands less

Grading Scale

HHHH Excellent HHH Good
HH Fair H Poor

From The Detroit News: Terrain brings Denali bling | The Detroit News |
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