The new Terraza minivan adds a third truck to the Buick product line in four years, joining the Rendezvous and the Rainier. The Terraza is one of four long-nose minivans GM designed to emulate the look and feel of sport utility vehicles and to get a step or two away from the so-called minivan/soccer-mom/suburbia stigma.
These four minivans represent a new family built on the old minivan platform, a family that includes the Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay, Chevrolet Uplander, and Pontiac Montana SV6. All built on common chassis, with common powertrains, the same general dimensions, and similar standard and optional equipment offerings, depending on the price class. It's the same, exact strategy as GM used before on the J cars and X cars and W cars.
Buick is at the top of the new Gang of Four in terms of price and equipment, and is designed to compete with the Chrysler Town & Country, Mercury Monterey, Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler Pacifica. The Terraza is quiet, benefiting from more sound-deadening measures than the other GM minivans.
Buick is calling the Terraza a "crossover sport van," but it is essentially a minivan. They have certainly made the Terraza look like a low-riding Buick SUV, with its vertical-toothed grille and integrated lamps leading off that long, long nose section.
The long-wheelbase Terraza is adorned otherwise by only a single strip of chrome down the side and six large windows, the after four tinted and dark, and a chrome-railed roof rack. The standard layout is four captain's chairs and a split/fold rear bench, nothing new here, with a power sliding door on the curb side and a second one optional on the left side. Unlike many another minivans, the Terraza tailgate is manually operated, unlocked by the key fob.
Terraza has at least a short-term exclusive on a standard independent long- and short-arm rear suspension with automatic load leveling, a system which may migrate to the other brands over time. But don't expect SUVesque off-road performance, because it has only 5.5 inches of ground clearance. It may sort of look like an SUV, but it isn't one. We call it a minivan, GM calls it a midvan (arguably the most accurate description), but no one would call it an SUV. It's more like an all-weather family transport unit with some flair.
The outside mirrors fold for parking in tight garages.
Inside the Terraza, black and white gauges, chrome and egregiously fake wood trim accents provide a standard minivan interior layout. The printed fake wood isn't very convincing, even extending to the multi-control steering wheel's spokes. The four chrome-ringed main gauges are large, with large numerals, easy to see, read and use. The instrument panel, center console and door panels are well integrated, and follow GM interior schemes to the letter. Most of the materials look good and are soft to the touch. Nothing in here will confuse anyone for very long.
Likewise, there's nothing confusing about the operation, adjustment, and stowage of the seats. The second-row captain's chairs are as tall, comfortable and supportive as the front seats. The hidden rear area cargo organizer on our CXL was well thought out for small, medium, and long cargoes, though not very deep.
Terraza CX seats have cloth inserts with leather bolsters in the first two rows, while the CXL has leather seating surfaces in the first two rows.
Terraza's second- and third-row seats are both foldable and removable for cargo hauling, while the third-row seat has a 50/50 split. While the seats fold over to create a relatively flat load area, they do not disappear into the floor like the Ford, Honda and Chrysler minivan seats. With the seats up, you get 27 cubic feet, with the third row down you get 74 cubic feet, and with second and third row taken out, you get 136 cubic feet.
All Terrazas have a front overhead console and a standard overhead rail system, with optional snap-in accessory and storage modules. The rail system is designed to hold the rear climate and audio controls, or the rear-seat DVD entertainment system in a single unit. The storage modules store CDs, DVDs, sunglasses or cell phones.
Optional seat-mounted side air bags provide head and torso protection for both the front passenger and driver during side-impact crashes, but unfortunately, that's the end of the major safety equipment story. Curtain airbags to cover the passengers in the second and third seats are not available.
GM's terrific OnStar communications system is, in some ways, a safety feature: If the airbags are set off, an OnStar operator will try to contact you and will then direct paramedics to your exact location if you don't respond. More commonly, the OnStar operators can give you directions, locate the nearest five-star Italian restaurant or help you find the nearest gas station. They can unlock the doors if you lock yourself out and direct police to your vehicle if it's stolen.
An optional three-way entertainment system allows listening to as many as three separate entertainment sources simultaneously, DVD, CD and radio, through the speakers and two-channel wireless headphones.
The brand-new PhatNoise entertainment option is a 40-gigabyte hard drive that installs in the Terraza's standard overhead rail system. It can store and play back up to 10,000 songs in MP3, WMA or WAV, store and play up to 40 movies, or store and play a combination of songs and movies. It can play video games, and has a voice-browsing interface to call up movies or music by name. It can transfer digital camera pictures through a USB port in the cartridge and play them back on the DVD screen. The cartridge is portable, so it can be used to download files for playback in the Terraza. This option clearly breaks new ground in-car entertainment systems.
Our Terraza CXL was loaded: front seat side air bags, rear air conditioning, the cargo organizer, 6-CD changer, XM Satellite Radio, remote starting, heated front seats, and chrome wheels, about $34,520 at the bottom line.
The Buick Terraza is powered by GM's 3.5-liter V6 rated at 200 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, a cast iron V6 that's been around for decades yet still manages to be the strong, silent type when it comes to highway running.
And, speaking of silence, the Terraza has been treated to Quiet Tuning, Buick's package of sound blockers, attenuators, and deadeners from the firewall to the tailgate. Considering the size of the hole the Terraza cuts through the air, the big tires and the huge glass area, it is very quiet at high cruising speeds on good pavement. Any minivan, because it is a big empty box with lots of glass, is an acoustic nightmare, and Buick has done a first-rate job of quieting things down.
The Terraza offers good acceleration, steering, and braking performance and nice road manners.
If things get out of hand the traction control and the Stabilitrak electronic stability control systems step in. With these systems working to operate throttle, brakes, suspension, and torque distribution to the two front driving wheels, there's a lot more peace of mind available in bad weather conditions. which helps drivers maintain control in sudden maneuvers, particularly in low traction conditions, in emergency lane changes, and during avoidance maneuvers. StabiliTrak assists the vehicle in maintaining the driver's intended path by applying braking force at any corner of the vehicle independent of the driver's use of the brake pedal. StabiliTrak uses sensors to compare the vehicle's actual path with the driver's desired path. If the difference between the driver's desired path and the vehicle's actual path becomes great enough, StabiliTrak takes appropriate action to assist the driver in maintaining the desired path. If the vehicle begins to understeer (snowplow), StabiliTrak applies the inside rear brake to help turn the vehicle. If the vehicle begins to oversteer (fishtail), StabiliTrak applies the outside front brake to straighten the vehicle. StabiliTrak is integrated with the traction control and ABS systems. StabiliTrak is not available on Terraza models equipped with Versatrak all-wheel drive.
Versatrak is one of the most advanced approaches to all-wheel drive and we recommend it for anyone who has to drive on snow and ice. The optional system works full time and is particularly helpful in slippery conditions. The driver need do nothing; there are no buttons to push or levers to throw. If one or both front wheels lose grip, the system goes into action progressively. The system makes use of the traction available by not only transferring torque from front to rear, but also from side to side between the rear wheels, an ability not found in many competitive systems.
Buick's first-ever minivan, the new Terraza, is a quiet, orderly, handsome family transporter that offers tremendous flexibility in family entertainment with the standard DVD system and the new PhatNoise option. With its conventional folding rear seats, it's not as easy to convert to major cargo hauling as some of its direct competitors, and it doesn't offer a big price advantage over the competition. It doesn't offer side air curtains for the rear compartment. All in all, a very nice truck, but not a great truck.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan.
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