2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

It would have been something to be a fly on the wall at the GM corporate think tank that spawned the General’s new family of minivans. It probably went something like this:

“How can we make our vans more desirable?”

One gutsy engineer probably spoke up and suggested advanced and innovative technology, improved reliability, and top-notch interior quality. You know, overhead cam engines, five-speed automatics, clever packaging solutions, and the like. That would have been a fine idea, and one that would have made these vans more competitive in the marketplace. But that didn’t pan out.

Here’s the idea that stuck: “Let’s make it look more like a sport-utility vehicle. Yeah, a really big hood and high seating position. People will think of it as an SUV with sliding doors.”

And so General Motors’ new family of vans was conceived: The Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay, and the subject of this review, the Buick Terraza.

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Click image to enlarge

Ostensibly created to replace the Silhouette minivan from the defunct Oldsmobile brand, the Terraza is positioned as the most luxury-oriented member of the group. With a starting price of $33,880, the Terraza CX includes an independent rear suspension, power driver’s seat, dual sliding doors (the passenger side is powered), dual-zone climate control and rear air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, and an eight-speaker CD/MP3 stereo.

Step up to the CXL and dish out $39,195; in return you’ll receive alloy wheels, leather seats (heated in front), remote start, rear parking assist, an organizer in the rear cargo area, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and side-impact airbags for front seat occupants.

Our test example was the CXL AWD which includes all of the above plus GM’s Versatrak all wheel drive system. Add the power sliding door on the driver’s side ($630) and the as-tested price is $43,940 plus freight.

Nuts and Bolts

The substantial 2,115-kg van gets its motivation from GM’s 3500 Series 3.5-litre pushrod V-6 engine that generates 200 hp at 5,200 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Introduced last year in the new Malibu, this six-pot also does duty in the Pontiac G6 and all other crossover sport vans in the GM family. No other engine is currently offered.

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Click image to enlarge

Power is routed through a four-speed automatic to the Versatrak “on demand” all wheel drive system. Versatrak operates in front-drive mode most of the time and sends power to the rear wheels when one or both front wheels lose traction. It can also shift power side-to-side in the rear to make the most of available traction.

As the top-dog version of GM’s new van family, front-drive Terrazas enjoy the benefits of a fully independent rear suspension, where the more lowly variants from Pontiac, Saturn, and Chevy make do with a twist-beam axle. All Versatrak-equipped vans, however, get the same unequal-length control arm independent setup in the rear.

Stopping hardware is equal among all models though, with vented front and rear discs and four-wheel anti-lock.

Inside and Out

Okay, so it’s clear that I’m not buying into this big-snout SUV look. The proportions are all wrong – they reminded a friend of mine of the first-generation Mazda MPV which, as you may recall, is not high praise. The extra length necessitated by the Pinocchio-inspired appendage also hurts the garageability of the Terraza: at 5,207 mm in length, it’s more than 100 mm longer than the Odyssey and Freestar, and that gap is greater when compared with the Sienna and Grand Caravan. Only the shapely Quest comes close.

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Click image to enlarge

I must admit, though, that the Terraza garnered its share of second glances during its weeklong stint in my possession. I’d like to say that it only happened because the Terraza is big and it’s new. But one person I met actually said, “Wow, what a machine. Is that ever gorgeous.” To each their own, I guess.

The most impressive aspect of the new Terraza is in the look and feel of the driver’s surroundings. As the most stately of GM’s new vans, it checks off most of the boxes on the list of interior must-haves.

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Photos: GM. Click image to enlarge

The ‘cashmere’ leather interior is pleasing to the eye, with different hues of beige coupled with tasteful chrome accents. But since any fake wood trim is too much for me, I have to take exception to its use here, however restrained it is. The dash plastics have a high quality appearance, as if they’d be soft to the touch, even though that’s not the case.

The instrument cluster is of a tasteful and ergonomically sound design. The wipers and turn signals are operated from the stalk on the left of the steering column, and thankfully the controls for the cruise are located on a smaller stalk mounted on the right side of the steering wheel hub, a la Toyota. Redundant controls for the audio system are located on the steering wheel spokes and operate with a high quality feel, much like all of the switchgear on the dash.

The seats are comfortable, and the leather is of average quality – perhaps a bit sub-standard for a $45,000 automobile.

The overhead console system includes a screen for the DVD entertainment system and is mounted on rails that also serve as holders for snap-in accessories and the overhead map lights and storage bins.

While all of Terraza’s key competitors have some form of fold-away third row seat, GM’s solution to this is the provision of a storage container that fills the space behind the third row and raises the floor to the level of the folded rear seat. Not exactly ingenious packaging, but it is nicely finished and opens to reveal bins that will keep smaller items from sliding around in the cargo area. On the downside, it significantly raises the level of the cargo floor making it harder to load awkward items.

For maximum cargo space, the second and third row seats (and the storage container) are removable.

The Driving Experience

Let’s do some math here: 2,120 kg plus a four-speed slushbox plus 200 hp equals 4,664 lb, one less than it should be, and not nearly enough. The imported competition is walking all over the General in the power department, and even the Freestar, which has only one more horse in its corral, is lighter and has significantly more torque (263 vs. 220 ft-lb) than the Terraza.

Although power can only be described as adequate under most conditions, the engine is smooth, quiet, and happily goes about its business. It’s just not in a hurry to go anywhere. And the transmission, while generally smooth, hiccuped a few times after I slowed the vehicle down to almost a stop and then accelerated.

Throttle response on initial tip-in is somewhat abrupt, resulting in a perception of power, but that’s about where the neck snapping ends.

2005 Buick Terraza CXL AWD
Click image to enlarge

The roads were dry during my week with the Terraza, so I didn’t get to really test the all wheel drive system. I’m generally skeptical of these “on demand” systems, though, because they are more reactive than proactive when delivering power to the pavement. I validated this viewpoint during my uphill ramp test: I stopped part way up a ramp (shifting the car’s weight to the rear) and then accelerated rapidly to evaluate the ability of the system to shift power rearward. The result? Steady wheelspin from the front until I had to let off the gas. For the record, that didn’t happen in the full-time all-wheel-drive Infiniti M35x that I drove a few weeks later.

A drive down bumpy Wilkes Avenue in Winnipeg caused the overhead storage system and various interior panels to shake and rattle all around me. It’s in this department – and the drivetrain – that the General would have been well served to put some resources into during development.

But hey, it kinda looks like an SUV, doesn’t it?

Shopping around

Buyers insisting on all-wheel-drive in their minivan are limited to the GM vans mentioned here and the Sienna AWD from Toyota. If AWD is not a prerequisite the list of high-end vans grows:

  • Chrysler Town & Country ($43,995)

  • Ford Freestar Limited ($43,515)
  • Honda Odyssey Touring ($46,900)
  • Kia Sedona EX Luxury ($31,695)
  • Mazda MPV GT ($37,195)
  • Nissan Quest 3.5 SE ($45,700)
  • Toyota Sienna XLE ($44,630)

Technical Data: Buick Terraza CXL AWD

Base price (CX) $33,880
Base price (CXL) $43,210
Options $630
Freight $1,100
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $45,040
Type 7-passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine 3.5-litre overhead-valve V-6, two valves per cylinder
Horsepower 200 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque 220 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission four-speed automatic
Tires P225/60 R-17
Curb weight 2,120 kg (4,664 lb.)
Wheelbase 3,077 mm (121.1 in.)
Length 5,207 mm (205.0 in.)
Width 1,830 mm (72.0 in.)
Height 1,830 mm (72.0 in.)
Cargo capacity 762 litres (26.9 cu. ft.) behind third row
  2,097 litres (74.1 cu. ft.) third row removed
  3,865 litres (136.5 cu. ft.) 2nd & 3rd rows removed
Fuel consumption City: 13.8 L/100 km (20 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 9.5 L/100 km (30 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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