Detroit 2017: GMC Terrain

10 January 2017 | by Chris Maillard

GMC may not be a familiar name unless you're in the USA or the Middle East; the GM-owned brand doesn't sell outside these territories. But in America it has a much-admired rough, tough bluecollar image, largely due to its trucks. These are the connoisseur's pickup; comfortably above lesser models from Ford and Chevy, they're known for rock-solid construction, massive durability and lashings of good old American chrome.

But more recently the brand has moved further into the all-encompassing SUV market, and launched its newest model, the Terrain, at Detroit. Where else?

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Confusingly for a brand that is as American as coonskin caps and Levi's, the lead designers are two Brits and a Canadian. The Executive Director of Global GMC Design is even (gasp) a woman. Helen Emsley is from Yorkshire, in little old England.

“Our buyers have great brand loyalty,” she explains. “The husband may well own a full-size truck, and when it comes to a vehicle to take the kids to soccer practice and so on, they look for something else from GMC. That's where the Terrain comes in.

“However, GMC is all about authenticity,” she continues. “We’re respected for reliability and tough engineering so you can’t just take any flimsy SUV and slap a badge on it. On the interior of the Terrain, for instance, we've used solid aluminium trim, not just clip-on pieces. The stitching on the IP gives it a handcrafted feel, and the whole interior is designed to feel solid and well-built.”

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The exterior, too, while more elegant than the brutally masculine trucks, has its share of brand cues as Helen's fellow Brit, Matthew Noone, Director of Exterior Design, explained. “The upright chrome grill, of course, links back to the trucks. We have made it slightly more sculptural than some older models, which had a really basic one which was known as the ‘shower drain’ grill, but it still refers to our heritage. It’s a very American look.

“The outside is a lot more sculpted than older models too. We tried to deliver something a little surprising; the older ones were very boxy. There's a C-shaped signature which goes from the lamps to several other details, which brings it all together. However, we're not trying to be overly fashionable. These should feel timeless.”

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The third member of the foreign triumvirate, Canadian Director of Design, Interiors, Michael Stapleton, did point out one missing detail, however. “There's no shifter knob. We've gone for what we call Electronic Precision Shift – a push-button gearshift, which frees a whole lot of very valuable space in the centre console. We've managed to fit in cupholders, cubbyholes, charging points and lots of other storage options. The shifter itself was interesting to make, though – for functional reasons, of course you don't want a button that does something serious, like make the car move, pressable accidentally. So though it looks like a row of buttons, Drive and Reverse are a pull action so you can't press them by mistake.”

There is a bewildering variety of options in the Terrain range; the red car in our shots, with the tan interior, is a mid-market model, while the top-of-the-range Denali trim level (the grey one) has body-coloured mouldings and higher-spec interior trim. But GMC buyers won't be too obsessed with the finer points of the UX – these SUVs are shooting for an entirely different market from the effete offerings of the Europeans.