2018 GMC Terrain review: Chrome and tech come at a price

  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine, Turbocharged
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG 28 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.6 Overall
  • Performance 7.5
  • Features 8
  • Design 6.5
  • Media 8.5

The Good Swift handling reflexes. Imposing looks with added flash from chrome trim. IntelliLink infotainment system is responsive, intuitive and feature-rich with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities.

The Bad Transmission hunts for gears on downshifts. Adaptive cruise control isn’t available. Some interior trim isn’t up to snuff for a $44,000 vehicle.

The Bottom Line The GMC Terrain Denali may be worth the price of admission for people who value flashy exterior style and sportier handling, but people expecting a more luxurious ride for the money will want to look elsewhere.

It's about time GMC launched a new Terrain. After nine years on the market, the original was looking and feeling every bit its age by the time it was put out to pasture. The slightly more luxurious cousin of the Chevrolet Equinox, the Terrain sets itself apart by way of beefier exterior looks, exclusive cabin touches and unique technology features to set itself apart.

The differences between the Terrain and its Chevy counterpart are even more apparent when you step up to the Denali trim level, mostly in the way of extra chrome and more standard niceties. The problem, however, is that if you get too carried away checking option boxes, the Denali's price tag can creep up to uncomfortable heights. In the case of my test car, that means an as-tested price of $44,370 for what's essentially a nice-ish compact crossover.

More stylish

With its Ebony Twilight Metallic paint job, the Terrain Denali receives a surprising number of compliments. Some on the Roadshow staff aren't fond of all the chrome slathering the grille, rockers, roof rails, mirror caps and door handles, but the elements really do pop, catching the attention and approval of folks in parking lots and gas stations.

A sharp black paint job with lots of chrome trim.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The fresh sheetmetal is certainly an improvement over the old Terrain, which admittedly is a low bar, but the blockier front end and small rear quarter windows do make a bigger visual statement than the softer Equinox. The whole package rides on Denali-specific 19-inch aluminum wheels with grey-painted insets.

Head into the cabin and you're treated to leather seats with heated and cooled front buckets, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel that is greatly appreciated in winter. Real aluminum trim dresses things up, but disappointingly there is still a lot of hard plastic on the dash and door panels.

Heavy on storage

Storage is certainly not a weak point in the Terrain's game with nooks and crannies to stash stuff everywhere. There's a massive center armrest compartment, door pockets and a slot on the passenger's side of the dash sized perfectly to accommodate a phone. At the front of the center console sits a sizeable area to hold more belongings, opened up thanks to a new push-button transmission shifter at the bottom of the center stack. While the additional console space is nice, the shifter isn't very intuitive, requiring a combination of pulling and pushing to select gears.

Moving four normal sized adults in comfort isn't a problem with sufficient space in the front and back seats. To tackle shopping trips, 29.6 cubic feet of space is waiting to swallow groceries and other treasures. Fold the back seats down and space increases to 63.3 cubic feet, handling everything I threw at the Terrain after an expensive voyage to Home Depot.

Rich in tech

As the range-topping model, the Denali comes packed with a substantial technology. Taking care of infotainment is GMC's IntelliLink system with an 8-inch touchscreen offering navigation, an OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth. It's snappy and visually impressive with clean menu screens and handy hard buttons to easily get to desired screens.

Navigation route calculations happen in short order, the seven-speaker Bose audio equipment sounds crisp and the Wi-Fi hotspot provides a quick data connection. Speaking of phones, IntelliLink also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities for the people who prefer hand infotainment management over to their smart devices. And to keep phones juiced up, the Denali can be equipped with a wireless charger.

IntelliLink includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

On the safety front, the Denali gets rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert and an all-important blind spot monitor. That last one is especially important, given the Terrain's massive blind spots thanks to the aforementioned small, high-mounted rear quarter glass. More safety technologies are optional including low speed forward auto braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and surround vision camera. All are present on my test car and all work as advertised, though they push the as-tested price into the mid-$40K range.

A capable performer

Elsewhere in the Terrain range, buyers can choose from a 1.5-liter turbo-four or a 1.6-liter diesel engine. But in the Denali, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder offers 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, easily scooting the all-wheel-drive Terrain off the line and up to speed to pass slower traffic on the expressway. Midrange thrust is punchy with peak torque on tap between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm. The nine-speed automatic transmission happily goes about its business in most circumstances, but does hunt for the right gear at times when downshifting.

The drivetrain combo is estimated to return 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. During my week of mostly city driving -- not to mention liberal use of the remote start feature during my wintry Michigan week -- I observed 22.4 mpg, supporting the EPA's figures.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 252 ponies is standard in the Denali.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Through corners, the Terrain feels athletic with respectable grip and minimal body roll. Steering is weighty and responsive, while brake performance is stout. No doubt the Denali's larger rolling stock plays a part in delivering better handling reflexes, but it gives up some in the ride comfort department. Impacts from medium to large road imperfections are felt, though the ride is still comfortable enough to handle crummy Midwest roads.

My Terrain

Engine availability is the biggest determining factor when it comes to building the Terrain I'd want to own. The base 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower provides leisurely acceleration. The available 1.6-liter diesel with 240 pound-feet of torque would normally do the trick, but sadly, it's kind of pokey.

That leaves the 2.0-liter turbo, which comes standard in the Denali trims. To keep the price tag from climbing too high, I would only option it with all-wheel-drive because of Michigan winters and the $525 comfort package for the wireless charger. All in, my Terrain Denali punches in at $40,820.

Make mine a Denali with not too many options.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Harder to justify

With the Terrain starting at $25,970, which includes $995 for destination, it's not too much of a stretch to upgrade from the $24,525 Equinox for the arguably more distinctive styling and nicer interior. The problem is when you reach Denali territory. My all-wheel-drive tester starts at $40,265 and shoots up past the $44,000, which puts it in the sights of the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC. There's a lot to like about the Terrain, but at that price, the Denali doesn't make as much sense.

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