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As manufacturers all over the world become increasingly focused on making their vehicles look like works of art on four wheels, the 2013 GMC Terrain takes on all comers with its own gussied-up model, courtesy of a new trim-topping Denali version.

The Denali trim, which is exclusive to General Motors’ GMC truck brand, adds upgrades that include chrome exterior body pieces, interior convenience features, embossed logos, and extra safety technology to make for a more luxurious offering.

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The Terrain is the final model in GMC’s line-up to receive a Denali version, short of the Savana cargo van, and the trim itself provides an interesting contradiction to a line-up consisting of workhorses that offer V6 and V8 engines, all-wheel drive capabilities, and, generally speaking, more “utility” than “sport.”

The Terrain is the smallest model in the GMC SUV family – which is rounded out by the Acadia and Yukon – and is the only one of the three that doesn’t employ a third row of seating.

I’m not typically one to gush over SUVs in general, but I’ve actually been smitten with the GMCs I’ve driven over the years, generally speaking. That said, the Terrain doesn’t have the same appeal as its older siblings, even when it’s given a healthy dose of upgrades and amenities.

The Terrain comes standard with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, but an optional 3.6-litre V6 – which is new for 2013 – is what you’ll find under the hood of this week’s test vehicle. Yet while competitors can’t boast horsepower or torque numbers as generous as Terrain’s, GMC’s offering feels oddly anemic when it comes time to merge onto a highway or pass other vehicles at just about any speed.

A vehicle with power that feels so disappointing would be easier to forgive if fuel economy was something to really boast about, but the Terrain falls flat there too. My combined numbers (12.8 L/100 km) are less than what GM says the Terrain does in the city (13.2 L/100 km), but not by much.

Regardless of engine choice, Terrain uses a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts quickly, while offering a clutchless manual mode that feels completely incompatible to a vehicle as averse to sportiness as this one.

Terrain Denali also gets a trim-exclusive suspension that GM claims offers a smoother ride and improved handling; I would agree wholeheartedly with the former, but not the latter.

But even when it comes to utility, the Terrain isn’t exactly light years ahead of its competition. It doesn’t do anything badly in respect to carrying people or cargo; it just doesn’t offer any compelling reasons to choose it over something like a Ford Edge or Nissan Murano.

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, for instance, is shorter in both length and height, yet offers more cargo room and passenger volume. That squared shape the Terrain employs, which usually equates to better cargo-carrying abilities, doesn’t change the fact that GMC’s five-seat SUV offers less cargo space than the Santa Fe Sport, Edge, and Murano.

While there’s a downright exorbitant amount of gaudy chrome splayed across Terrain Denali’s exterior – with GMC passing that off as “luxurious” – the interior does enough to make you forget about just how many passing motorists you’re likely blinding on a sunny day.

While the centre stack doesn’t house a state-of-the-art infotainment system, the touch screen is still easy to use and read. The text heavy controls underneath look confusing at first glance, but everything proves to be quite user-friendly. There is chrome inside, yes, but that’s offset by classy red stitching on the leather seats and dash, along with wood inserts on the steering wheel and shifter.

The passive, and more so active, safety features are numerous in and on Terrain Denali, which may make moms and dads more willing to swallow the price of this model.

With automakers constantly cramming more stuff into their vehicles, and consumers now expecting more and more features as standard equipment, the Terrain Denali is a bit of a tough sell. What’s most telling is that even with the chrome and power seats and navigation systems and what-not, you have a vehicle that seems to have skimped on the basics of what makes an SUV an SUV.

Fact file

2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD

Price as tested (before taxes): $45,665

Options on test vehicle: 3.6-litre V6 ($2,025) inc.: 19-inch chromed aluminum wheels, dual tip exhaust; Navigation system ($795) inc.: Intellilink, Bluetooth, voice activation; Trailer Towing Package ($420) inc.: trailer hitch receiver, 4 pin harness connector; Cargo Management Package ($345) inc.: rear cargo security cargo, cargo net, luggage rack cross bars; Carbon black metallic paint ($195)

Freight: $1,500

Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive

Engine/transmission: 3.6L 6-cylinder / 6-spd automatic with sequential shift

Power/torque: 301 hp/ 272 lb.-ft.

Fuel (capacity): regular (79L)

Fuel economy ratings: 13.2 L/100km city; 8.4 L/100km hwy

Observed fuel economy: 12.8 L/100km over 373 km

Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic); 5 years/160,000 km (powertrain)

Competitors: Ford Edge; Hyundai Santa Fe Sport; Nissan Murano; Volkswagen Touareg

Strengths: numerous options; interior; safety

Weaknesses: styling; acceleration; fuel economy

Report Card (out of 5):

Fuel Economy: 2 – Competitive numbers from 2.4, but V6 means more trips to fuel up.

Value for $: 3.5 – A significant amount of extra cash for some added amenities.

Styling: 3 – A box with a ton of chrome is basically a shiny box.

Comfort: 4 – Spacious enough, and a suspension that offers a smooth ride.

Performance: 3 – Anemic acceleration, doesn’t feel very planted; holds lots of cargo.

Overall: 3.5 – Options galore can’t mask what is a somewhat disappointing SUV.

Test Drive: 2013 GMC Terrain
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