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The Buick of minivans is generally what we'd expect a Buick to be: big, quiet, comfortable and loaded with conveniences.
If anything stands out about the 2006 Buick Terraza, it's how well this minivan takes care of its passengers. It comfortably seats seven in a nicely designed and finished interior. The base Terraza CX is loaded with standard features, including a DVD entertainment system for rear passengers and a one-year subscription to GM's in-demand OnStar tele-aid service. Terraza is also available with GM's unique PhatNoise removable hard drive, which allows the onboard entertainment system to play or display MP3 music files, photographs, video games and the latest movie releases.
Terraza's build quality meets or beats the best in the class, and it has the minivan essentials covered. It comes standard with a V6 engine, and it's available with all-wheel drive. With the optional towing package, it can pull 3,500 pounds.
For 2006, the Terraza offers side-impact airbags for rear passengers, and Buick has increased the standard warranty to a premium-grade four years or 50,000 miles. Yet the biggest news for 2006 is an optional 3.9-liter V6 with variable valve timing and a 22 percent increase in horsepower. Choose this engine and Terraza morphs from one of the least powerful minivans available into one of the most powerful.
That's good, because if Terraza falls short of the best in class, it's most obvious in the driving. The standard 3.5-liter V6 is adequate, no more. And while Terraza is quiet and comfortable in the Buick tradition, it feels less responsive than the minivans from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota. That more powerful 3.9-liter V6 should help.
For now, Terraza's real strength lies in other important minivan virtues, and to considerable extent in its value. Comparably equipped, it retails for less than the Chrysler Town & Country or a loaded Toyota Sienna, and that's before the incentives GM frequently offers.
Like its contemporaries from Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn, Terraza stands on more solid competitive ground than previous GM minivans. It shares its chassis and mechanicals with the Chevy Uplander, Pontiac Montana and Saturn Relay, and the differences are defined by minor styling changes and varying equipment levels. While each brand may indeed appeal to different buyers, smart consumers will shop them all. Price differences among the GM minivans amount to a few dollars when they are comparably equipped, and all are available with the most popular features. The choice may come down to satisfaction with a particular dealership.
Like its GM counterparts, Terraza's long-nose, truck-style exterior design is intended to create the image an SUV more than a minivan. We say no one will mistake the Terraza for anything but what it is: a minivan with the flexibility, features and family-friendly conveniences minivan buyers expect.
The Buick Terraza offers a soft, smooth ride and is best outfitted with the optional 3.9-liter V6. This engine generates 240 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, compared to 196 horsepower and 213 pound-feet for the standard 3.5-liter V6. That quickly, the optional engine lifts the Terraza from the low-end of the minivan power spectrum to somewhere near the top.
We've sampled the 3.9-liter V6 in other GM products, and it delivers a nice, broad power curve, with lots of acceleration-producing torque at all engine speeds. We'd also guess that in real-world driving, it will not produce a significant drop in Terraza's fuel mileage, compared to the standard 3.5-liter V6. The problem is that the 3.9 is only available in front-drive Terrazas. Until we can evaluate the new engine in this minivan, we can't offer snowbelt drivers a sound recommendation: all-wheel-drive, or front drive with the big V6.
Our hunch is that we'd take the bigger engine, even for places where the snow flies and the roads freeze. That's because that standard V6 is the weakest link in the Terraza package. If this Buick falls off compared to the best minivans, it's most obvious in the driving, and the single biggest reason is the engine.
The fundamental design of the cast-iron 3.5-liter V6 goes back decades, which doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. At interstate speeds the standard engine is quiet and relatively smooth. There's enough quick-burst acceleration for safe freeway merging or left turns during rush hour, and excellent transmission response helps take full advantage of the power that's available. GM makes some of the best automatic transmissions available anywhere. Terraza's has four speeds (compared to five in some competitors), but it responds quickly and appropriately to the driver's action on the gas pedal. It never hunts indecisively for the right gear, and shifts up or down as smooth as can be.
Given all that, the standard 3.5-liter V6 isn't likely to generate emotion of any sort, let alone a thrill. The numbers speak for themselves: Terraza's standard engine delivers less horsepower and torque than any in the class (except other GM minivans), and it's noticeable on the road. When it comes to high-rev power, smoothness or fuel economy, it can't match the overhead cam engines in some competitors, and it can't match the low-end grunt of cam-in-block engines in others. We recommend you test drive the 3.9-liter V6.
GM's VersaTrak fulltime all-wheel-drive system works very well in snow, slush and ice, and we heartily recommend it. VersaTrak's mechanicals are relatively simple, and add less weight to the vehicle than many all-wheel-drive systems. There are no buttons or levers to engage, yet in operation VersaTrak can do things some similar systems can't. When the Terraza's front wheels lose grip, the system automatically shifts engine power to the rear wheels, greatly improving the odds of continued forward mobility. Yet VersaTrak can also shift power from side to side between the rear wheels. If the inside wheel encounters slush build-up near the center of the road, VersaTrak sends power to the outside wheel with grip.
Front-wheel-drive Terrazas come standard with StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability system. This is valuable, too. Let's say a driver inadvertently drops the right-side wheels off the pavement and onto a gravel shoulder. The right-side wheels would tend to lose grip on the low-friction gravel. Without StabiliTrak, the left-side wheels would continue to grip as before, quite possibly directing the vehicle toward the center line or opposite lane. StabiliTrak senses the disparity in traction and intervenes by applying brakes to the outside wheels or cutting engine power. The electronics help prevent a sharp change in direction and help the driver to regain full control without overreacting or overcorrecting. In short, Sta
The Buick Terraza is quiet, orderly, generally understated, and very well equipped for the money. Even the base model comes with sought-after features like GM's OnStar system and rear-seat DVD entertainment. With optional all-wheel-drive, it offers the foul-weather security of an SUV, without many of the SUV drawbacks. Build quality is first rate, and the cost-feature ratio is appealing. Terraza is fairly easy to switch from passenger to cargo hauling, though it lacks the tumble-in seat storage made famous by Chrysler's minivans. The standard V6 is not abundantly powerful, so we recommend test driving the larger, upgrade engine.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit.
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