2018 GMC Terrain First Drive Review


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There is an intimidatingly long list of small crossovers that outsell the GMC Terrain. The Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue are commanding the biggest numbers this year with more than 200,000 sales each through July, and the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Subaru Forester, Jeep Cherokee, and Mazda CX-5 put up a strong fight. GMC has never positioned the Terrain as a major volume player, instead preferring to compete in the premium category. Although not a top-seller, the Terrain doesn’t hide in the background, at least not this time around. The 2018 GMC Terrain differentiates itself from others with atypical styling, an available diesel engine, and a wide range of model personalities and prices.

For 2018, the Terrain adopts a much more interesting look with revised grille designs, quote-shaped headlights, and a floating roof. It also shrinks to firmly position itself in the compact crossover segment. GMC lopped off 3.2 inches in length, almost an inch in height, and 5.2 inches from the old model’s wheelbase. It’s almost 350 pounds lighter than the previous Terrain in base form or 425 pounds lighter when comparing the range-topping engines with all-wheel drive. Like the 2018 Equinox, the new Terrain migrates to the D2 global architecture. With a 34 percent stiffer body structure, the Terrain sets itself up for an improved driving experience.

You’ll be able to buy a Terrain for as little as $25,970, but the chromed-out Denali runs at least $38,495. Recently, we drove a Terrain Denali with all-wheel drive and other content that drove the price to $44,450. Denalis comes standard with a 252-hp 2.0-liter engine, the most powerful of three new turbocharged engines offered on the 2018 Terrain.

Equipped with standard 19-inch wheels and a specially tuned Denali suspension, the range topper delivers a rather stiff ride. Driving through the city streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we could feel just about every little groove in the roads. Fortunately, the Terrain succeeded at keeping out wind noise, though road noise sometimes crept through to the cabin. A new nine-speed transmission did its job getting out of the way and delivering all that power seamlessly.

Today, Denali models account for about 10 percent of all Terrain sales, but GMC expects that number to increase a few percentage points as it enters the new generation. You don’t have to opt for the Denali to get the robust 2.0-liter—it’s available as an option on the midrange SLE and SLT trim levels.

The smaller 1.5-liter is targeted to be the volume engine, with GMC expecting it to make up about 55 percent of sales. When we hopped into a Terrain equipped with this engine, the standard nine-speed, and front-wheel drive, it felt refreshingly light and playful. Producing 170 hp, the model doesn’t feel like a compromise as it delivers power quickly and smoothly on demand. It didn’t feel like a huge drop-off from the 2.0-liter.

At last we arrive at the diesel Terrain. GMC admits this model will be niche and region specific, accounting for less than 10 percent of sales. Despite its expected low run, the option puts GMC in a favorable position in the compact crossover segment. It’s one of the only vehicles in the category to venture into this territory along with the new Equinox. Soon, Mazda will join the fray with a diesel CX-5.

The Terrain’s 1.6-liter turbodiesel produces 137 hp, but it also pumps out a healthy 240 lb-ft of torque. The combination proves sufficient to get you going in a hurry when you need it. Paired with a six-speed transmission instead of the nine-speed, the model feels a bit gruffer than the other Terrain variants. It runs quietly enough on the highway that you might forget you’re driving a diesel. And during our 80-plus-mile ride back to the airport, I witnessed our front-wheel-drive diesel averaging north of 38 mpg at one point in mostly highway driving. The diesel tops the Terrain range in terms of fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 28/39/32 mpg city/highway/combined.

All the Terrain models we drove had their unique merits, though we expect most customers will be quite happy with the 1.5-liter. Light and effortless, the steering feel helped make the SUV seem small and maneuverable, though it doesn’t have quite as much bite as competitors such as the Mazda CX-5. Another oft-overlooked point: We didn’t have any issue with forward visibility. The windshield drops low enough to see out the front, and the mirrors are just the right size to allow for an unencumbered view out the side windows.

The Terrain’s new shifter requires a little more rumination. A traditional gear lever takes up precious real estate between the driver and front passenger. The electronic gear selections on the new Terrain free up this area so it can be used for storage cubbies, cupholders, and other functions. On the center console, simply push the appropriate button to enter park or neutral, or pull the corresponding tab to select reverse or drive. It’s hard not to bristle when you have to think about whether you need to push a button or pull a tab. That said, the feature worked promptly, and it’s something drivers will likely adjust to over time. Making a final verdict requires testing it out in situations that require quick changes.

Above the shift buttons sits a new infotainment system that acts a lot like a smartphone, with scrolling capability and pinch-and-zoom maps. By rearranging the main map screen, GMC made it easier to access important functions such as the option to cancel the current route or change the volume of the voice turn-by-turn directions. We also noticed the back seat offers plenty of legroom.

From the athletic Denali model to the fuel-efficient diesel, the Terrain is a fish out of water in the compact crossover segment. But at the end of the day, only its merits will make the difference. We left the Terrain feeling satisfied, though further tests will shed more light on its strengths and weaknesses.


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