A few short years ago, the thought of a GMC Terrain based on the Chevrolet Equinox would have made us cringe with low expectations of badge engineering, a now infamous practice allowing the former General Motors Corp. to share vehicle platforms across eight divisions with little or no differentiation.

The strategy often watered down the auto maker's brands, leaving little to distinguish a particular Chevrolet model from a GMC, a Pontiac or a Buick.

In retrospect, it's hardly surprising such a sea of blandness eventually would play a role in capsizing the old GM.

But with the emergence of General Motors Co. from bankruptcy comes a fresh twist on that same approach, and the reborn auto maker swears it will work this time around.

So far so good. The exterior of the new-for-'10 GMC Terrain 5-passenger cross/utility vehicle bears little resemblance to its platform mate, the Chevrolet Equinox, with which it also shares the same assembly plant in Ingersoll, ON, Canada.

The Terrain has just begun arriving at dealers, and the Equinox precedes it by no more than a few weeks.

The chiseled-from-stone horizontal shape of the Terrain stands in stark contrast to the smoother, more family-friendly styling of the Equinox.

That could not have been said of the previous-generation Equinox and its near-twin, the Pontiac Torrent, a vehicle GM chose to discontinue. The Terrain's exterior is so boxy and unlike any other GMC product, it looks as if it came out of GM's former Hummer division.

The most striking element might be the “cow-catcher” grille, which plunges deeply into the front fascia.

That look will take some getting used to, as will the Terrain's protruding, boxy fender flares that leave an enormous amount of visible space in the wheel wells.

No reservations over the projector headlamps. That's the sort of premium feature GMC customers expect. Fog lamps also come standard, another rarity in the middle CUV segment.

Inside, the Terrain loses its distinction from the Equinox. That's not altogether bad, as both cockpits are nicely laid out, and the second row includes a nifty adjustable bench seat that slides fore and aft.

The Terrain receives more ambient lighting than its platform mate, although buyers must step up to the top-of-the-line SLT2 equipment groups for lighted cupholders and door pulls.

Also standard is a camera integrated in the liftgate that gives the driver a view of objects behind the vehicle, another exclusive premium gadget.

Fit and finish is lock-tight, even at the tricky junction between the door and dashboard. The Terrain also gets the same noise-damping technology as the Equinox, including a subwoofer in the rear of 4-cyl. models that emits a frequency to offset engine clatter.

We wish the Terrain carried over more of its unique exterior to the interior, but that's an investment even a healthy OEM would consider risky, let alone one recently removed from bankruptcy.

A fifth head restraint for the in-board passenger in the second row also would have been a worthwhile safety addition.

As expected, the 2.4L direct-injection gasoline 4-cyl. performs as well with the Terrain as with the Equinox. A 3.0L DIG V-6 is optional.

In the end, we find the Terrain a fine-performing vehicle that demonstrates GM can succeed at platform-sharing. We look forward to the day when the auto maker has deeper pockets to do so with even greater differentiation.


Terrain Marks Rise of GMC Design, Demise of Badge-Engineering
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