General Motors has always offered a little something for everyone, to the point that during the 1970s and ’80s, you could buy pretty much the same car under three or four badges. A few years ago, the automaker had quadruplets in the lineup: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, and Chevy Traverse. Basically, GM built these SUVs on the same chassis, and they shared most under-the-hood and cabin components. The only real differences were in the details: The Saturn was mostly plastic inside, while the Buick had the most luxurious interior.
Fast-forward 10 years or so, and Saturn is gone, as is the Pontiac brand. What remains in the lineup — Buick, GMC, Chevrolet, and Cadillac — offer a mid-size SUV. Again, something for everybody, The question is, why is the GMC Terrain still in the mix? It’s a smaller and sort of stripped-down version of the Acadia, a lesser twin of the Chevy Equinox, and more expensive than the Enclave. It stands up well against only the Cadillac XT4, another overpriced and disappointing SUV, but in the luxury category.
What’s wrong with the GMC Terrain?
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There’s nothing exactly wrong with the 2021 GMC Terrain. There’s just not a lot that’s exactly right, and you can get a much better two-row SUV for the money. Consumer Reports road-tested the new Terrain and found it “loud and stiff-riding, with severely hampered visibility.”
The base engine is a bore — a 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder — so it goes nowhere fast and without much fun. Nobody expects an SUV to roar out of the driveway, but you need to upgrade to the 2.0-liter engine that’s not all that smooth or swift either. Rumor has it the 2022 GMC Terrain will bring back the 2.0 turbocharged engine. The gear selector is on the dash, which is a good idea only if it works well. Alas, this one has unintuitive and clunky push buttons.
On the upside, GMC got the infotainment system right: This one is intuitive. And the 2021 Terrain has a solid driver-assist system that’s on all the trim lines. Given the limited sightlines, the following safety features are welcome:
- Forward collision warning
- City-speed automatic emergency braking
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keeping warning
The Terrain’s twin, the Chevrolet Equinox, is a better buy
The 2021 Equinox is slightly less refined than the Terrain, but overall it’s probably a better choice. The Equinox has a starting MSRP of $23,800, while the Terrain starts at $25,000. The Chevy offers a more comfortable ride and, per Consumer Reports, has a higher predicted reliability rating. It also gets better gas mileage: 25 mpg as opposed to the 22 mpg the Terrain gets. The Equinox also earned a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, but both missed out on the IIHS top safety prize because of their dim headlights.
Both SUVs’ cabins are heavy on plastic, but the Terrain boasts leather upholstery standard, faux wood trim, and fancier stitching. This gives it a slightly more luxe aesthetic, but all the hard plastic makes that but a fleeting feeling.
Is the GMC Terrain a good first car?
The 2021 GMC Terrain isn’t big or rugged enough to be a family off-road hauler, but it’s a popular choice for teenage drivers. It’s large enough, safe enough, and priced fairly enough on used models. Parents are also fond of the relatively inexpensive repair bills that are a hallmark of GM vehicles. Alas, for the GMC Terrain, the Chevy Equinox is a better option for a first car. Perhaps GM should send the Terrain the way of the Saturn Outlook or Pontiac Aztec and discontinue it.