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Road Test: GMC's uneven Terrain SUV

A compact SUV is a virtual must in a dealership's vehicle lineup nowadays, so General Motors has given GMC retailers a version of the recently redesigned Chevrolet Equinox: the 2010 Terrain. It's got a distinctively sharp-edged and functional look.

The mechanicals are nearly identical to the Chevy's, including a choice of a 182-hp. four-cylinder or 264-hp. V-6 engine.

Terrain prices begin at $24,995 for a version with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. My tester's V-6 added $1,500 and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, cuts 5 miles per gallon off fuel economy in city driving, 7 on the highway. But unless you do most of your driving locally and with light loads, I think you will be as unhappy with the four-cylinder engine's performance in this 3,800-pound sport utility vehicle as I was when I sampled it in an Equinox, discussed in this space Aug. 7.

The shortage of power in the four-cylinder version also leads to more downshifting of the transmission, which is annoying and, I think, was to blame for the poor mileage I got in the Equinox: 24 mpg. The six-cylinder Terrain tester delivered 23.2 mpg.

To tow a trailer weighing more than 1,500 pounds, you'll have to opt for the six, whose towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds.

The Terrain rides very quietly. The suspension is tuned for comfort rather than hot performance. The brakes could use more power, and the steering could use a little less assist at highway speeds. The phenomenon known as a "torque steer" occasionally manifested itself in the Terrain in hard acceleration coming out of turns, when the steering would freeze unexpectedly instead of spinning back to center.

The dash is aesthetically busy but laid out pretty well for easy access to controls. Sunlight reflections obscure the gauges, though. And the power door-lock buttons would be better located near the doors rather than in the center of the dash. The small video monitor for the rear camera is placed logically in the rearview mirror but is much smaller than those in the more conventional location in the center of the dash.

The federal government gives the Terrain a perfect five-star safety ranking for front and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls it "good" in front, side and rear-impact protection.

Consumer Reports hasn't published reliability ratings yet for the Terrain or the Equinox.

GMC dealers scored above average in their ability to keep customers happy in their service shops, as measured by market researchers J.D. Power and Associates. GMC vehicles were deemed about average in a Power survey of dependability over three years.

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