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REVIEW: Mileage meets good looks in GMC Terrain

True, the GMC Terrain is pretty much a rebadge of the compact-SUV Chevy Equinox. And, true, it costs a bit more than the Equinox. But indulge me here: I like the looks of the Terrain better -- and these cousins both deserve some press as they are...

True, the GMC Terrain is pretty much a rebadge of the compact-SUV Chevy Equinox. And, true, it costs a bit more than the Equinox.

But indulge me here: I like the looks of the Terrain better -- and these cousins both deserve some press as they are extremely competitive with the best and most popular of this segment. Yes, we're talking CR-V and RAV-4 territory, and comparison tests have the Terrain and Equinox running neck and neck with them.

The Terrain, with its Equinox platform powertrains and other features, is a new entry for 2010. And while some like the softer curves of the Equinox better, I like the boxier shape of the Terrain with its strong grille and squarish wheel arches that exhibit truck toughness. This is GMC, remember. One-time champion of the truck world.

So what is GMC doing with this five-seater in the crossover arena, with its brother, the seven-seat Acadia? Well, one might guess it's because crossovers are as popular as snow cones at the beach and GMC wanted a piece of the action.

Besides handsome looks inside and out, Terrain handles wonderfully on the road and, by the way, offers best-in-class mileage figures at 22 mpg city, 32 on the highway with the 2.4-liter engine. The 3.0-liter is competitive with 17 city, 25 highway. All-wheel-drive is available, but expect mileage figures to dip a little.

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The torquey 2.4-liter engine puts out 182 hp and 172 pound-feet of pulling power, and the 3.0-liter V-6 is good for 264 hp and 222 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed transmission shifts smoothly and without hesitation.

Its towing capacity is darn competent, too, at 3,500 pounds for the V-6 engine.

Hydraulic steering with the 3.0 offers good feedback. It is said by some to outperform the electric version that comes with the smaller engine.

Braking is adequate but the pedal is a little soft for my liking.

Inside is a stylish, well-thought-out cabin. It has an easy-on-the-eyes instrument panel, similar to the Cadillac SRX and others in the GM family. The navigation system is easy to use and offers sharp graphics.

Seats are comfortable for the daily commute as well as the long drives, with headroom and legroom more than adequate. Even the back-seat area is roomy, and seats recline and slide forward and back for easier access and extra cargo room.

Still, cargo space (31.4 cubic feet behind the back seat) is slightly deficient when compared to some of its rivals. But a week's worth of groceries posed no challenge for the wife and me, even though my six-pack of Rolling Rock wound up atop the mountain bread. Wife's fault, probably.

The Terrain is high-tech inside, much of it standard, too. Try AC and cruise control, full power accessories, power front seat and lumbar adjustments, the aforementioned reclining and sliding back seats, back-up camera and tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

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Terrain gets stability control, side-curtain air bags and OnStar standard. Rear parking sensors are going to cost you extra, though.

The deal is this: There are four trim levels, an SLE-1 and -2 and an SLT-1 and -2. All kinds of wonderful stuff with the base, 17-inch alloy wheels, full power seats including lumbar support, sliding and reclining rear seats, and a backup camera neatly integrated into the rear-view mirror. A little distracting, maybe, but a good safety feature when you get used to it.

The SLE-2 gets 18-inch wheels, roof rails, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth and eight-speaker Pioneer audio system.

The SLT adds remote engine start and leather seats. The SLT-2 is loaded with a sunroof, power liftgate, rear parking sensors and even added chrome accents and a more dominant grille. A rear entertainment system is available.

OK, so that brings us to the price. Yes, it's beautifully equipped. But it's close to $2,000 more than the Equinox.

So if you want to save some bucks, the Equinox or even the CR-V or the RAV-4 might draw you to their showroom. If you want the James Bond of the group, with sophisticated features and rugged good looks, steer yourself to the rougher Terrain.

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PRICE:

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--Base price: $24,995

--As tested: $34,000

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