Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 GMC Terrain Denali

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  • Safety

If you’re a little confused by GMC’s SUV lineup lately, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. GMC has been rejigging things, so everything has changed. Well, they’ve changed by a few millimetres here and there, at any rate.

The new Terrain is indeed smaller, but not by much – it’s simply more trim. And it’s substantially sleeker-looking too.

When the second generation of the previously full-sized GMC Acadia crossover SUV was introduced for 2017, it shrank by 191 mm in overall length (and a little in width and height) to become a mid-size model. This left the Yukon to handle the full-size SUV duties unimpeded. For this year, the 2018 GMC Terrain, formerly a mid-size crossover, has been trimmed by 108 mm in length (and a negligible amount of width and height) to debut for its second generation as a compact crossover SUV.

The Terrain’s size change isn’t immediately apparent up close, and poring over the specs shows that the only place it’s really any smaller inside than its predecessor is in terms of front hip room (down 18 mm to 1382 mm) and luggage volume (down 57 L behind the second row to 838 L, but only down 18 L with the second row folded, to 1792 L). The base curb weight is down too, by a little over 100 kg (it’s now 1,643 kg).

So the new Terrain is indeed smaller, but not by much – it’s simply more trim. And it’s substantially sleeker-looking too: Gone are the slab sides and chunky Tonka-toy fender flares, with the Terrain instead getting smoothly sculpted (and wind-tunnel optimized) sides, a “floating” roofline, and a front end that’s anchored by a bold grille (a multi-dimensional satin chrome mesh affair in Denali trim) and a smiling character line that ties into C-shaped headlights.

I like the look, although I don’t like the way the floating roofline’s D-pillars effectively block all rearward visibility (long live the back-up camera!).

Goodbye V6, hello diesel

Under the hood, the 2018 Terrain comes standard with a turbocharged 1.5L inline four-cylinder engine, which the Denali trim upgrades to a 2.0L turbo four. That’s right, there’s no V6 option for 2018. However, what GMC takes away with the right hand it gives back with the left, and diesel aficionados will be pleased to hear that while there’s no V6 on offer, there is an available four-cylinder 1.6L turbo diesel (the turbo diesel delivers excellent efficiency too, with city/highway ratings of 8.5/6.1 L/100 km).

The 2.0L turbo gas engine fitted in my test vehicle may be small, but it packs plenty of punch, with 252 hp at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque starting at 2,500 rpm. If you value the guttural rumble of a V6 at rest you’ll likely be a little disappointed by the 2.0L engine’s precision-machinery whirr at idle, but you shouldn’t be disappointed with its get-up-and-go (and you won’t hear it much at idle anyway, because a fuel-saving auto stop-start system shuts the engine off at traffic lights).

The throttle is mapped for economy, so you need to push your foot fairly deeply into the throttle to wake things up, but once you do, the engine rewards with strong acceleration. Working through an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission it’ll whisk the Terrain from 0–100 km/h in about seven seconds flat.

Fuel consumption with the 2.0L is good for a nearly midsize SUV at 9.6/8.3 L/100 km (city/hwy) for 2.0L front-wheel drive models and 11.2/9.0 L/100 km for my 2.0L AWD tester (the base 1.5L FWD model is rated 9.2 / 7.9). My real-world results were slightly higher than the official ratings, with a city consumption of 14.5 L/100 km and a longer-term mixed average of 11.1 L/100 km. According to the trip computer, a previous driver had managed a best highway run at a surprisingly good 7.5 L/100 km.

The nine-speed transmission, for its part, works smoothly and unobtrusively in the background, keeping the engine in the sweet spot with quick, crisp shifts and no discernible “gear hunting”. My one complaint is that the new-for-2018 button shifter, which is mounted in the centre stack to free up console space, is a bit of a long reach away. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that the low-range and manual-shift controls – which are the ones you might want to operate while driving – are furthest away of all.

The setup is easy and intuitive to use (at least, provided you don’t have extra-large drink cups blocking your reach). You push buttons for park and neutral and pull toggles for drive and reverse, so you’re unlikely to mix things up. With that long reach, however, it’s crying out for steering-wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.

All-wheel-drive models get a rotary drive-mode selector offering economy-minded two-wheel drive, grip-optimizing all-wheel drive, a trailer/tow mode and an off-road mode (although the mountain logo initially had me thinking “snow”). There’s also a push-button-operated hill descent control system. I found the rotary selector knob a bit more difficult to use than it should be, as you have to look down to see what mode you’ve selected, and there’s a delay before the selected mode lights up.

If you’re in two-wheel drive the system won’t automatically kick over to all-wheel drive when it detects slippage (it merely warns the driver), so Canadians will likely want to leave the system in all-wheel drive throughout the winter. Still, it’s nice to have the two-wheel drive mode for when the roads are dry and the emphasis is on fuel economy.

A practical interior, thoughtfully executed

Inside, the Terrain Denali impresses with perforated leather upholstery, nice use of contrasting colours, good use of soft-surface materials, thoughtful detailing, and, with my tester’s Denali Pro Grade Package, an enormous “Skyscape” panoramic roof. Where the interior perhaps falls a touch short is in the shiny faux wood trim, which I found a little unconvincing, and the stitching on the dash topper, which looks great but can’t disguise the dash topper’s moulded urethane roots.

The front seats are heated and ventilated, and the back seats are heated and offer recline adjustment as well as plentiful legroom and headroom. The rear seats fold flat in a split 60/40 configuration, and the front passenger seat can fold flat to let you carry long items such as eight-foot lengths of 2x4 lumber. In-cabin storage is taken care of with a big console box and lots of useful cubbies, and there are enough USB and power outlets for all, including a pair in the back seat together with a 120V outlet.

All trim levels get dual-zone automatic climate control, compass display, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, keyless entry with push-button start, remote start, and theft deterrent system, among other features. Denali trim adds tech features including wireless phone charging, satellite radio, navigation, HD radio, and ambient interior lighting.

The infotainment system is controlled through an 8-inch colour touchscreen (7-inch in lower trims), backed in the Denali trim by an excellent-sounding Bose audio system. Standard infotainment features include Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, OnStar (with a five-year basic subscription) and Wi-Fi hotspot capability. I like GM’s infotainment interface – it’s logically and attractively laid out, easy to learn and use, and offers snappy responses, although it can be a little slow to boot up when you first start the vehicle.

In terms of safety tech, all Terrains get a family-oriented teen driver mode (you can restrict certain settings and view an in-vehicle report card) and the expected basics (stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, back-up camera). Optional extras, all of which are included in the Denali trim, include things like park assist, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, and a rear seat monitor that alerts you if it suspects you forgot about your child or dog in the back.

If you want the full range of safety gear, however, you have go with a $41,695 Denali model and equip it with the $3,230 Denali Pro Grade Package, which adds forward collision alert, low-speed forward automatic braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic high-beam control. Included in the bundle are a trio of nice-to-have features including surround-vision rear-view camera, automatic parking assist, and the panoramic roof (this last item is an option on all trims).

European road manners

On the road, the new Terrain offers a good blend between comfort and control, and the suspension tuning feels remarkably European in the best possible way. My test vehicle soaked up the bumps and potholes of Vancouver’s downtown streets with calm aplomb, yet delivered taut, crisp handling on smoothly curved roads. The only time the Terrain didn’t feel entirely composed was on short, choppy bumps, which could get the suspension pitching fore and aft a little. Road noise is generally well-controlled, but some tire hum and driveline whirr does make its way into the cabin (enough to be noticeable, but not enough to be bothersome).

If you’re in the market…

Where the Terrain’s size-shifting perhaps shows up most starkly is in its competitive stance. Where before it was officially competing against mid-sizers like the Nissan Murano, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Ford Edge, now it’s officially up against the likes of the Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape. Unsurprisingly, as a bit of an in-betweener the Terrain comes in as plenty competitive against the former group (at least in base trim), but expensive compared to the latter group.

Dress the Terrain up in Denali trim like my tester, and it drops all pretense of competing on price, but instead steps up very nicely to compete on features and luxury. In terms of cross-shopping, it makes the Terrain an interesting proposition, and one worth a look for buyers in both the compact and midsize segments.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 252 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 260 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 11.2/9.0/10.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 838 / 1,792 L rear seats down
Model Tested 2018 GMC Terrain Denali
Base Price $41,695
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $46,900
Optional Equipment
$3,310 – Denali Pro Grade Package $3,230; Pro Grade Package Credit –$930; Trailing equipment $515; Graphite Grey Metallic paint $495