In case you missed the memos that have been circulating around product planning offices in Tokyo, Detroit, Wolfsburg and Seoul, the midsize crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment is officially on fire. It is so hot, even the General decided its ice-cold "professional-grade" division needs a piece of the action.

So for 2010, GMC replaces the body-on-frame Envoy SUV with a new unibody CUV it calls the Terrain. GMC vehicles have traditionally been tweaked variants of existing GM products, and the Terrain is no different. It rides on the same 112.5-inch wheelbase of the Chevy Equinox, though is shorter in length (185.3 inches versus 187.8) and wider (72.8 inches versus 72.5). Powerplants are also shared and include both a direct injection, 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a DI 3.0-liter V-6 that makes 264 horsepower.

So what's different? Primarily sheetmetal and interior bits. Though hardpoints like bumper heights, day-light openings, and door frames are fixed for the platform, nearly all the exterior is unique to Terrain. For better or worse, styling borrows heavily from GMC's professional-grade truck image and includes a heavily chromed, three-bar grille and beefy, squared-off fenders and wheelwells. Whether you find it hairy-chested or ham-handed, the Terrain is definitely striking and not likely to be confused with its platformmate.

In keeping with the manly theme, GMC designers took the Equinox's family friendly interior and barbecued it medium rare. Terrain dash and seating materials skew darker, with names like Jet Black and Brownstone (though there is a lighter, but no less masculine Light Titanium option), while red backlighting accents the dials, knobs, and buttons

The Equinox is a fine CUV from which to borrow and if you like the Terrain's butch styling, then so far this is pretty good news. Apparently GMC has done a great job of repurposing yet another GM vehicle, except that, upon closer inspection, the deck is stacked against the Terrain, particularly against the V-6 model.

How so? GMC's marketing mavens say the Terrain's competitive set includes the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, and Nissan Murano, which sounds good, except all these vehicles receive more potent optional engines: either a 3.5-liter V-6 (Murano and Edge) or a torquey turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder (CX-7). Against these rivals, the Terrain V-6 just doesn't compete.

Don't take our word for it, we tested a V-6, all wheel-drive 2010 GMC Terrain SLE and found that it hits 60 mph in 8.1 seconds and runs the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds at 85.0 mph. Not bad, except that the 4229-pound, front-drive 2009 Ford Edge Sport, equipped with a 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, stops the clock in 7.3 seconds and 15.8 seconds at 88.3 mph.

Nissan's 2009 Murano SL, also equipped with a 265-horsepower V-6 and all-wheel drive, does even better. It matches the Edge's 0-60-mph time and is two-tenths quicker in the quarter mile - 15.6 seconds at 91.6 mph.

Surely the turbo four-banger-equipped Mazda CX-7 GT couldn't also beat the Terrain, but it does. This 3939-pound all-wheel-drive runabout needs only 7.7 seconds to 60 mph and ran the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 89.7 models.

In braking, the Terrain is more competitive. From 60 mph, the Terrain needs 122 feet to come to rest, which puts it behind the CX-7 (119 feet) but ahead of Edge (123 feet) and Murano (128 feet). With 0.75g lateral acceleration and 28.7-second/0.58g run through our figure-eight cones, Terrain is again at the back of this pack.

Of course, performance numbers tell only part of the story, as Detroit editor Todd Lassa explains, "The transmission is geared for optimum fuel efficiency, which means the engine performance is nothing to write home about." Indeed, the AWD Terrain's V-6 returns an EPA estimated 17/24 mpg city/ highway mpg, which is pretty good for an AWD 4135-pound SUV. Those numbers essentially equal the Edge (17/24 mpg) and the FWD Murano (18/23 mpg) and are significantly better than the CX-7 (16/22 mpg). It should be noted that both the Mazda and Nissan drink premium unleaded, while Terrain takes regular.

Terrain's on-road behavior is noteworthy as well. "I'm impressed with the ride/handling balance of this crossover. No excessive roll in the corners - very controllable. Predictable steering with good feel and feedback. And the ride doesn't beat you up. It's as smooth as anything in this class - way better than the Ford Escape," says Lassa.

Associate online producer Kirill Ougarov agrees, "The AWD version felt more planted on the road thanks to better weight balance, and the suspension on all variants is dialed in well, providing a smooth and comfortable ride without being too floaty or disconnected."

Editor at large Arthur St. Antoine is even more impressed, picking the Terrain over its more expensive, upmarket cousin. "Quite a pleasant drive. Prefer this rig by far to the SRX. The chassis is far more poised, steering is smooth and direct, the interior is generally simpler with controls more intuitive to use. Seems much bigger inside than the Caddy too."

That last sentiment was echoed by many staffers, and, indeed, perhaps the Terrain's biggest strength is how much room it provides for passengers and cargo. When compared against the aforementioned competitive set, the Terrain trails the Edge by only one tenth of an inch in rear-seat headroom and beats the bunch in rear-seat legroom. With the rear seats up, the Terrain dominates again with 32.4 cubic feet; fold the second row forward, and it falls to third with 63.7 cubic feet.

Overall, comfort in GMC's new CUV is good, but there are some issues with the controls, says St. Antoine. "Seats offer good lower-back decent lateral support and the steering wheel is nice. Manual +/- button on shifter lever isn't great for spirited driving-seems like an afterthought-but it's useful enough for hill descents and such."

"Could there be a worse place to put up- and downshift buttons? They're small buttons on the side of the shifter, " concurs assistant Web producer Carlos Lago. He adds, "While the touchscreen works, its distance from driver's seat renders it useless, unless you're Stretch Amstrong. You have to lean away from the seat to reach buttons and it's an ocean-of-similar-looking-buttons situation."

Nor is everyone is a fan of the styling. While Lago sees Decepticon in the Terrain maw, St. Antoine draws parallels with Autobot leader Optimus Prime. "Why is the grille larger than a Peterbilt's? Is this how GMC attempts to say 'serious truck here'?" he wonders. Lassa is a bit more charitable, "Styling is growing on me just a bit (like a fungus). It's not as bad as the Pontiac Aztek." Ouch.

So how does GMC's first attempt to crack this burgeoning market go over? Pretty smoothly if you think CUVs should be strong-jawed, squared-off, gas-sippers. Not so great if you put a premium on styling and performance. St. Antoine puts it best: "Huge inside, with a first-class rear seat, big cargo space, and value pricing - overall the Terrain is a very solid machine."


2010 GMC Terrain SLT AWD
Base price range $29,995 (ext)
Price as tested $32,450 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV
Engine 3.0L/264-hp (est)/222-lb-ft (est) DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 4135 lb (57 / 43%)
Wheelbase 112.5 in
Length x width x height 185.3 x 72.8 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 8.1 sec
Quarter mile 16.3 sec @ 85.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 112 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.7 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 17/24 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.99 lb/miles (est)
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