2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD
2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD. Click image to enlarge
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GMC Canada

Article by Steven Bochenek

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2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD

When we bought our first car as a family we were overwhelmed, not just by the choice but the jargon as well. New parents, we were concerned most about safety, space, fuel consumption and what cool bling was included in the newspaper ad’s deceptively low price — only after these did we consider ‘driving dynamics’ and ‘performance’.

So how safe is the 2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD? The USA’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Terrain a Top Safety Pick in 2012. Air bags? Yes, but they’re just the price of entry. If you believe other drivers are the worst hazard on the roads you’ll appreciate these two standards.

First, rear-cross traffic alert warns you when you’re reversing and another driver is approaching, hopefully averting a rear-ending. (Competitor Infiniti JX offers a feature that goes further, automatically braking if you don’t react to its warning.)

Second, ‘blind zone alert’ lights up a little icon on your side-door mirrors when someone is in your blind spot.

The Terrain also has features that snap sleep-deprived parents back to attention when they drift out of a lane, or when someone cuts them off, threatening a collision up front. Trouble is, the beeps can become annoying — chances are good you’ll hate them fast — and you can easily (too easily?) turn both off from your steering wheel.

2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD
2013 GMC Terrain Denali AWD. Click image to enlarge

Electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control (TC) are computerized safety features. When your steering and direction don’t match — never a good sign — ESC automatically brakes whichever wheels require it for stability. TC kicks in, braking also or cutting power from the engine, when the wheels are spinning fruitlessly.

NB: Lots of driving enthusiasts deride these features as ‘nanny controls’ (there’s an easy-access button beside the gear stick to turn TC off, for some thrills on snow and gravel) but Transport Canada estimates that ESC could have reduced the number of crashes by 29 percent in 2006, with 225 fewer deaths and 755 fewer serious injuries.1 Small wonder then that both ESC and TC are standard with the Terrain — and with pretty much all their competitors these days. They save lives.

Speaking of traction, this Terrain has AWD, aka all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is a popular feature that many Canadians have come to associate with safety. Power goes to all the wheels — hence the name — instead of just two, as in front-wheel or rear-wheel drive.

The Terrain also includes panic brake assist and hill hold assist. The former maximizes braking in milliseconds when it detects an emergency. (Most people don’t brake hard or fast enough when about to crash.) The latter prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards on a hill when you take your foot from the brake.

But beware the populist allure of AWD! It gets you started in spotty conditions but doesn’t help you stop if you’re going too fast. If most of your driving is urban, seriously consider whether you even need AWD. It’s optional — even with Denali, GMC’s premium leather-and-wood tier — adds 72 kg weight for a total of 1,873 (hello, gas pump!) and costs $1,950 extra.

Another consideration: before 2013, the luxury Terrain Denali model didn’t exist. Some people prefer a second or third generation product where the kinks have been sorted out — but nearly all Denali additions are cosmetic, so that’s not much of an issue here. If it were a computer system, that’s something else.

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