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2012 GMC Terrain FFV Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 Green SUV Buyer's Guide - Road & Travel Top 10 Picks

Audi Q7 TDI Clean Diesel

Jeep Grand Cherokee FFV

BMW X5 xDrive 35d Diesel

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid

Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

When "wispy" doesn't cut it but fuel economy does, what's a driver to do? If the need is for a sport/crossover utility type vehicle -- especially for five and their gear inside -- that probably means some compromises. Some compact sport utes look cute and get superior mileage, but are lean in cargo capability. Some bulkier models offer more room, but are thirstier. One that can cut to the chase on both fronts is the 2012 GMC Terrain crossover, especially in flexible fuel mode.

Flexible, or alternative fuel ("FFV" in branding terminology) is just one of the increasing types of power sources propelling current cars and trucks with less impact on the environment and a leaner appetite for refills. In recent times, FlexFuel has been around longer and in many more vehicles than other such advanced technologies as hybrids, extended range or plug-in electrics, or (in the U.S.) clean diesels. The standard alternative fuel for American cars is a blend called E85, that contains 85 percent liquid methanol made from replenishable plants and 15 percent "fossil fuel" gasoline. It has a smaller toxic emissions impact and generally is a cheaper buy at the fuel pump. (In South America where GMC's parent General Motors has sold FFVs for years, some of those cars run on pure alcohol.)

The 2012 GMC Terrain, which comes in front or all-wheel-drive versions, could be an ideal sport/cross to check out if the need is for a capable people hauler that won't balk at the absence of pavement, and can tuck in a load of camping gear or ample shopping center finds and won't break the budget for the privilege. The FlexFuel Terrain can run on E85, regular grade gasoline or a mix of both.

Appearance-wise, the Terrain doesn't fall into either the econo-box trap or (to some perspectives) the dreaded minivan replacement mode. It has a refreshing sense of command, enhanced by bolder styling, a higher, more authoritative profile and just enough of a boxy shape to suggest it can go just about anywhere with impunity. (One should remember, however, it has a car-based not a truck-based platform before deciding to go trench crawling in one.)

In a snub of some more "economy" rated competitors, the  Terrain (a pricier and more upscale cousin of the Chevrolet Equinox), does not stint on looks and quality, especially inside where people spend their time. If technology is a requisite, the Terrain delivers. Among available upmarket add-ons are heated cloth seats. Seating in both front and rear (which slides eight inches fore or aft to adjust legroom or trunk space) is ample and comfortable.

In addition to available E85 FlexFuel engine capability that meets federal emissions regulations are other improvements for the 2012 model year: A standard, full-color seven-inch audio touch screen commands audio functions and input such as MP3. The screen displays rear-vision (GMC's term) camera input, now standard, that replaces the former rearview mirror backup camera system. And optional "IntelliLink" will add Bluetooth connectivity and voice-activation, or steering wheel controls, and can access Stitcher SmartRadio and PANDORA internet radio. A navigation system and safety conscious collision alert with lane departure warning are options. On our steel gray metallic test model, active cruise control flashed a little red 'crash' icon if too close in the car in front. And the lane departure system had a subdued beep when we got too close to road lane markings, but was silent if the turn indicator was on. Smart car. It knew our intentions. (But even without those advanced safety systems, the 2012 Terrain is rated a "top safety pick.")

All Terrains get a six-speed automatic transmission. The  base, front-drive 2.4-liter, 182-HP inline four doesn't pack the punch of the Terrain's available, but less fuel efficient, 3.0-liter, V-6. But if fuel economy is a major consideration, it delivers in plusses for a sport utility. In front drive configuration, EPA mileage for the FlexFuel four is 22-city/32-highway. The six rates at 17/24. Pricing begins in the mid $20K range for a well-appointed four-cylinder base model, while the V-6 starts at $33K.

As one might expect, a four-cylinder sport ute designed to boost mileage probably isn't a barn burner when driving. We will concur on that point. It does what it's designed to do -- deliver people and packages with sufficient room and minimum operating cost -- and does it well. It just won't offer those over-the-edge driving thrills in the process. (The V-6 offers more gusto, but predictably is less wallet friendly at the pump.)

If your drive needs to accommodate space and people in handsome, upgraded sport utility style without breaking the bank, we recommend the GMC Terrain. If you can't resist burning rubber once in a while, we suggest garaging it for a day and begging or borrowing a two-seat roadster when the urge to surge takes over. You'll have a blast even it others have to wait on the sidelines until you get back.

For more info on GMC brands, click here.