When we were thinking about leasing a Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain in 2016, we couldn’t help but notice the GMC was more refined — smoother, quieter, more nicely appointed inside. But the Equinox, with the same capabilities and mechanical underpinnings, fell within our price range. More subjectively, the Equinox struck us as better looking, with smooth, curving lines rather than the abrupt, upright look that characterized the Terrain until recent years.
Much has changed on the GMC lot since then. The Terrain, a compact sport-utility vehicle, has a more conventional look, though it also has a few unconventional trappings. It’s more powerful than it was a few years ago, and it has more engine choices. Overall, however, we were taken with its ride, handling and soundproofing. While quite rugged, in its own way, it felt unexpectedly luxurious. And our test car wasn’t even the top-of-the-line Denali.
With a sticker price of $40,550, the 2019 Terrain AWD SLT was loaded with luxury equipment and technology. It also came with the more powerful of two available turbocharged 4-cylinder engines — the 2.0-liter, 252-horsepower version. Base models come with a 1.5-liter, 170-horsepower engine; a fuel-sipping diesel engine also is available as an option.
The base Terrain SL starts at $26,195 and comes with the 1.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive. Our SLT, with the optional 2.0-liter engine, had all-wheel drive, 19-inch wheels, a roof rack, perforated leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control, GMC infotainment system with an 8-inch color display, Bluetooth audio streaming, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android capability, and 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Those features were standard with the SLT. Options — including desirable safety technology that are not available on the SL and only in part on the SLE — added $8,000 to the base price of $32,600.
With 7.9 inches of ground clearance and available all-wheel drive, the Terrain can be driven off the pavement but wouldn’t be the first choice for extreme off-roading.
In normal driving, this model is composed and confident, though perhaps not achieving the same standards as the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V., our favorites in this segment. But the Terrain treats drivers and passengers as well or better than most in terms of room and seating comfort. Its fuel economy is acceptable at 21 mpg city, 26 highway, though GMC recommends the use of high-priced premium unleaded gasoline.
One odd and unexpected feature was the shifter. Like Edsels and some Chrysler Corp. models of old, the Terrain has a push-button automatic transmission, located in the middle of the dashboard. It took some getting used to.
The Terrain performed exceptionally well in government crash tests, earning 5-star ratings across the board. With optional equipment, it received the top “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2018.
Not surprisingly, the Terrain has considerable competition from automakers striving to produce models that U.S. consumers judge right-sized. Among the best are the CX-5, CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Forester.
2019 GMC Terrain AWD SLT
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 252 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 9-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,801 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Ground clearance: 7.9 in.
Wheels: 19-in. gloss black painted aluminum
Tires: 235/50R19 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 29.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 63.3 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 15.6 gal.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.