Here is some food for thought: in the some-what recent past, General Motors had to deal with eight brands. Included in that same past was the almost bankruptcy of the company and a government implemented bailout. Partly to do with the turn of a new leaf and partly to do with a severe need to cut costs, GM axed three names and sold another, leaving the current line up of Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC. Still a bit too many for some, the issue of vehicle duplication is no longer as prominent as before and there are only a select number of rebadged cars and trucks. One in particular, the midsize crossover Theta SUV platform, currently produces two models: the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain. In order to prove that there actually is a difference between the two, the 2011 Terrain will have to show that a few simple tricks can honestly make a difference when the basic recipe is the same.

Sharing the same 112.5 inch wheelbase as the bow tie Equinox, the Terrain is slotted below the Acadia and serves duty as GMC’s smallest vehicle. Born to the industry in 2009 as a 2010, the Terrain has not had that much time to establish a solid foundation, unlike its sister the Equinox which is in its second generation. Despite its still young life, the number of the vehicles have been steadily increasing since its release. In August 2011, sales had increased by 88 percent when compared to 2010. Offering a bodacious body, higher levels of comfort, technology and luxury, the Terrain could be considered on paper to be the more ‘up-scale’ Equinox. In order to show that it actually is off paper, our tester came equipped as a SLT-2 with standard front wheel drive. Base MSRP, which includes features such as a power lift gate, projector headlamps, rearview camera, heated leather seats, Pioneer stereo with USB ports and XM Satellite radio as well as Bluetooh phone pairing is $29,900. That price is about the same as the final MSRP of the 2LT Equinox we tested earlier in the year. But unlike that Theta truck, our Terrain tester came with other added options such as the $245 cargo management system, $2,145 navigation system with seven inch touch screen and 40 GB hard drive, $1,295 rear seat entertainment system, $900 19 chrome-clad wheels, $350 trailer system and the $1,500 3.0 liter V6 to pull one around. Final MSRP with destination charge: $37,145.

With a $7 grand difference between our two Theta testers, the interior of the Terrain would hopefully be a cozier place to be in. For the most part, the comfort level is the same on both vehicles: high. The leather seats are plush, supportive and comfortable while the driving position is set just right. Nothing is in a place that gets in the way of driving and despite being the smallest GMC offered, the Terrain is rather spacious inside. It’s a comfortable and quiet interior to be in and wouldn’t disappoint anyone looking for a low-cost upscale vehicle. What truly separates the Terrain from the Equinox is its audio system and technology. Sourced from Pioneer, the stereo quality is greater than that of the Chevy’s while the Bluetooth phone pairing is absolutely fantastic. The added navigation system is straight forward and easy to use; causing zero confusion or trips to the owner’s manual for instructions. It’s the Terrain’s gizmos that separates it from the Equinox and puts it in a class that the Chevy can’t really compete in. The GMC has enough tech that it could steal sales from the likes of Acura and Audi.

The difference between the Terrain and Equinox don’t just stop at the interior. Gone from under the hood of our GMC is the base 2.4 liter inline four cylinder that powered (barely) our Chevrolet tester and in its place is the GM LFW V6. Displacing 3.0 liters and using direct injection and double overhead cams with variable timing, the engine has the capability to run on E85 fuel. It also has the ability to actually pull the Theta’s weight around properly. Producing 264 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque, the V6 is a rocket ship compared to the base 2.4 liter. Not “punch-you-in-the stomach” fast by any means, the 3.0 liter simply makes driving safe and sometimes entertaining. In reality, it is just a much better pairing with the Theta’s mass and the six speed automatic (same as the four cylinder) is one of GM’s finest. With a mixed driving average of around 20 mpg, the six cylinder isn’t that much less efficient than its four cylinder counterpart. Carrying an asking price of $1,500, the V6 isn’t outlandish at all and really, no Terrain should leave the showroom floor without it.

Not considering dynamics and interior tech, the biggest difference between the two Thetas can be seen on the outside. Looking at the Terrain, gone are the Equinox’s bubbly and fluid lines and in their place are sharp angles and deep cuts. Large fender flares help the profile stand out and mesh excellently with the low and muscular rear end. The front with its larger-than-life chrome mesh grill, is a little hit or miss however. A small injection of subtlety would do the Terrain’s front some good as it looks just too loud, especially when compared to the simplistic Equinox. The larger 19 inch wheels however do fill the wheel wells nicely and there was no noticeable difference in ride quality because of them.

General Motors might be taking a risk with the GMC Terrain. In the past, the company has gotten into trouble with this type of rebadging and vehicle duplication but every so often, the difference between the brands can be great enough to justify a vehicle’s existence. Unlike some examples from the history books, the Terrain actually stands out compared to the Equinox. The body is different enough that the two can’t really get confused for one another and the chassis dynamics are similar enough that neither of the two are bad side-by-side. Little things such as the Terrain’s stereo, interior trim and optional features separate it from its Chevrolet brother. Add in the more competent engine of our tester, and the GMC actually has the ability to compete in the extremely crowded, upscale crossover segment. The 2011 GMC Terrain will surely last the test of time and never once get in the way of its purpose: carting families around in efficient and comfortable style.

Photos: © Copyright 2011 Ossamah Shabbir

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