2013 GMC Terrain Denali - It's a Short Climb Into the "High One" - Review

It's official. With just 6-inches of to-date seasonal snowfall here in Chicago, this winter is turning out to be a "dud."

What, then, to do with the 2013 GMC Terrain Denali All-Wheel Drive mid-size premium crossover utility vehicle? "Drive...He Said" just drove the thing!

The Terrain Denali breaks away from the "orb-shaped" mold with an elephantine mirror-finished front grille and exaggerated squared fenders.  It says 1/4th scale Peterbilt over-the-road tractor.  No Ford Edge or Acura RDX will ever get the same respect from the big rigs at the nearest Loves, off the interstate.

Which makes perfect sense, then, that the GMC Terrain Denali drives nearly nothing  like a truck.

- A Welcome Surge: Terrain Denali tester was propelled by an optional detuned Cadillac CTS's 3.6-Liter DOHC V6 gas engine, with direct injection, 11.3:1 compression and variable-valve-timing, sync'd to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. It's symphony is as refined as anything out of Bavaria. Rated at 301-horsepower and 272-pound-feet at 4800 rpm, GMC claims no loss in fuel economy from the pitched 3.0L unit. The road to 60 miles per hour consumes an expeditious 7 seconds. From there on up the attitude is "Don't Shove." The V6 powered Terrain Denali will tow 3500 pounds. Too much time on your hands? The base front-drive Terrain Denali is 320-lb lighter and 120-hp weaker.

- Sip, Don't Swill: The Terrain Denali V6 doesn't quite earn a Sierra Club sticker. Especially not after eeking out just 17 combined miles per gallon in a fair mix of driving. See what a drag-boosting profile, lower transmission gears spaced far apart, and 4200-pounds will do?  A full tank holds 21 gallons. Good thing it drinks regular unleaded.

- Built Like a Mountain Side: Just as the Terrain Denali looks like one. Not one creak ever registered in our "uber" sensitive ears. Slam a door and a cushion of air is released. The entire engine compartment is covered in plastic shrouds. Despite all its slab-sidedness, no wind or road noise could be heard inside.

- Smooth Sailing: In this segment only GMC dares to offer a 19" wheel option. Wrapped in 235/55 all-season rubber, these near-DUBS  conjure images of a visceral uneasiness. Roll over the first expansion gap, and..."nothing." No steering wheel tug, no crashing. Mark that wide, deep road crater, strike it dead on, and... "but a muted thud." Load the Terrain into a high velocity cloverleaf, and..."little roll, the slightest understeer, all rather neutral." Off the line, dual e-coupling, torque- sensing Haldex XWD splits power 50/50 front/rear or as much as 85%  to one rear wheel.  In normal cruising 96% of torque is directed fore. Stabilitrak stability control is the last-ditch safeguard. If only, then, the brakes and steering were the equal of the chassis. Disc brakes all around aren't likely to fade in aggressive use. But pedal effort needs to be firmed up. For an electrically boosted steering rack with such good weighting and a beefy helm to hold in hand, it is on the slow-to-react side.

"Denali" is the "High One":

The idea of exploring North America's tallest mountain, with all it's vast beauty, isn't our idea of opulent travel.

Yet that is exactly GMC Terrain Denali occupants get.

- Someone Understands Seats: At least at GMC they do. If the front buckets on the Terrain had a quick release they'd be carted off into our home theater. A center armrest capable of propping up half an entire forearm does make for frustrating manumatic shifting.

- Your Padded Cell Awaits: Soft materials inundate the Terrain cabin. Most faux metal accents and hard plastic trim resemble the real thing. Kick panels and seat backs could, however, stand a more lustrous finish. Both black dash-pad and leather seating trim get the royal contrasting red-stitching treatment. "Red" is the "word" to describe the gauge cluster and switchgear illumination. Voice commands for the mobile device app compatible Intelli-link connectivity / infotainment system enable quick perusal of menus. The 7" touch / scroll controlled screen has a canopy, useful for deflecting sun-glare.

- Aids To the Driver's Rescue: blind spot warning and a rear-view cam are appreciated; as is rear cross-traffic warning (though it doesn't self-brake); the least sensitive setting for forward collision alert isn't low enough; audible lane departure warning is fit to be disabled.

- Street and Skirt Friendly: Measuring a narrow 72.4"-inches wide, the Terrain Denali is just the ride for city side-streets. Less acclimated to urban maneuvers is the huge 42-ft turn radius. The sliding back-seat's  37.4" of legroom is down by a good inch to the Acura RDX. But with an inch less of clearance, at 6.9"-inches, women clad in skirts and shod in pumps will find the Terrain's step-in very manageable. Under-the-liftgate cargo area of 31-cubic-feet approaches the larger Ford Edge.

The name suggests precipitous. Yet the 2013 GMC Denali Terrain's starting-price of $35,000 barely edges-out the Ford Edge Limited. Add all-wheel drive, V6 power and HDD navigation and the tag climbs to $40K. That's Acura RDX dough. Good for those who appreciate premium-car qualities and shun the "cookie cutter" crowd.

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