Auto review: 2018 GMC Terrain Denali is not the champagne of compact crossovers

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 21, 2018


The 2018 GMC Terrain Denali is an AWD compact crossover powered by a 2-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with a nine-speed transmission. The second-generation model shrinks by 3 inches and over 200 pounds.

The 2018 GMC Terrain reminds me of mass-produced beer. Itís more similar than different from compact crossovers such as the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue Honda CR-V and other contenders in Americaís hottest segment.

But fans of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, know itís different (and better) than PBR, Budweiser or MGD. Itís all about the nuances, the flavor notes. Denali trim is the Sam Adams of the big beers, richer, fuller, pricier. But dollar for dollar, that doesnít mean itís better.

At about $40,000, the Terrain Denali competes for more refined palates in a tasting flight shared by the Buick Envision, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX50, and even the trimmed-out Kia Sportage.

Exclusive to Denali is a broad and bold chrome mesh grille, which gives it a tall, wide fascia like a truck. Standard on Denali are 19-inch wheels and chrome surround on the grille, LED headlights, lower fascia and fog lights. That chrome band extends top and bottom over the doors and rocker panels into the narrow rear quarter window. It rounds the boxy edges yet maintains the truckish profile for the workhorse in GMís portfolio.

The truck family DNA carries over to the inside. Thereís gear stick, but there is a panel of toggle gear switches on the bottom of the center stack that are easy to operate with gloves or big fingers. This unconventional layout is better than other newfangled electric gear controls ranging from dials to panels to Jeepís thing; it opens up the center console for side-by-side cup holders and storage areas for phones. Elsewhere, the hard plastic and fake wood trim undermine Denaliís premium price.

New for 2018 is a fold-flat passenger seat that along with the fold-flat rear seats creates an extended cargo area for longer items such as two-by-fours or hockey sticks that wouldnít fit as easily in similarly sized vehicles. Itís a little thing that could provide a big relief.

This is important because the second-generation Terrain is actually smaller than the outgoing model, which is not very trucklike. Like the Acadia midsize, as part of GMCís new design language, the new Terrain has shrunk by 3 inches in length and an inch in height. Itís also over 200 pounds lighter.

Like its Equinox platform mate, Terrain no longer comes with a six-cylinder engine. GMC offers three turbocharged four-cylinders, including a diesel, all with a nine-speed transmission. Denali comes with the 252-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder, which is much greater than the 182-horsepower in the 8-year-old model but of course trails the 301-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy straddles them both; we averaged 25 mpg in combined driving in 2WD, and about 23 mpg in AWD. The diesel is the most efficient choice for highway drivers.

The powertrain is smooth, with virtually no turbo lag from a stop or hiccups from the nine-speed transmission. Like most modern crossovers, Terrain provides comfort over any driving fun, but it doesnít lack for aggressive moves when needed.

There were some glitches with the controls in our tester, such as nonfunctioning radio buttons during one evening ride. Restarting the car did the trick, so weíll just blame the electro-gremlins proliferating in our electro-world.

The 2018 Terrain Denali is smoother, more efficient and smarter. But adaptive cruise should come at this price point. Itís nice overall, yet not enough to reach into the specialty cooler by paying $5,000 to $8,000 over premium trims from the mainstream competition.


2018 GMC Terrain AWD Denali

Vehicle type: Compact crossover

Base price: $39,270

As tested: $40,685 (excluding $975 destination)

Mpg: 21 city, 26 highway

Engine: 2-liter turbo 4-cylinder

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Parting shot: Nice for a price.