Wednesday, November 13, 2019

No Longer A Chevrolet With Another Name

If you think a GMC vehicle is nothing more than a dressed up Chevrolet with leather seats, prepare to be challenged by the all-new 2018 GMC Terrain compact crossover SUV.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

Ready to go its own way

Going its own way in styling, interior appointments and even driver controls, the Terrain went through a process to differentiate itself from its more blue-collar Chevy Equinox sibling. Offered in SL, SLE, SLT and Denali trims, the Terrain’s styling is striking—particularly our ultra-tony Denali test driver.  

For 2018, the Terrain was cut down in size to become a true compact crossover. GMC lopped off 3.2 inches in length, almost an inch in height, and 5.2 inches from the old model’s wheelbase. That helped reduce weight by 350 pounds for front-drive models and 450 pounds for all-wheel drive offerings with range-topping engines.

Engine Choices

Buyers can choose from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four or a 1.6-liter diesel engine. But in the Denali, with standard all-wheel drive, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 252 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque. Power is managed by a new nine-speed automatic transmission.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

Under the hood, some choices–but all have power to please

Terrain’s gear shift controls are not high on the instrument panel and vertical, but low on the center stack, horizontal, and comprised of buttons for Park and Neutral and pull tabs for Drive and Reverse. The manual-shift rocker switch seems oddly placed—distant from the driver at the center stack’s lower far right near the front-passenger’s left knee. I would have preferred steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.

Our all-wheel drive Denali offered several drive modes, including:

  • Tour, to operate front-wheel drive and conserve fuel;
  • Off Road, for tailored-to-the-task throttle response and stability control;
  • Trailer, to alter transmission conduct while towing; and, of course,
  • All-wheel drive mode. Hill Descent Control is here, too.

Styling That Stands Apart

With its Ebony Twilight Metallic paint job and 19-inch bright aluminum wheels, our Denali received a surprising number of compliments. The front end is bold and truck-like, especially

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

The Terrain is all about style for 2018

with the chrome mesh grille of the top-shelf Denali. Other chrome touches—rocker panels, roof rails, mirror caps and door handles—really do pop, catching the attention and approval of folks in parking lots and gas stations. Geometric taillamps and headlamps add to the appeal.

Head into the cabin and you’re treated to leather seats with heated and cooled front buckets, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and hands-free power lift gate. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces along with wood and genuine aluminum accents that make the cockpit interesting and rich-looking.

The size reduction doesn’t hamper passenger room; a six-footer can sit behind a six-footer with no complaints. Second row seats recline, revealing a flat-load floor. For added hauling convenience, the front passenger seat back folds forward to accommodate long items. To tackle shopping trips, 29.6 cubic feet of space is waiting to swallow groceries or delightful finds at an antique store. Fold the back seats down and space increases to 63.3 cubic feet.

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 is a sizeable area to hold more belongings.

A Treasure Trove of Tech

As the range-topping model, the Denali came packed with substantial technology. Taking care of infotainment is GMC’s IntelliLink system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen offering navigation,

OnStar’s 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and BlueTooth. IntelliLink also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. To keep phones juiced up, the Denali can be equipped with a wireless charger.

Infotainment is sensible in typical GM fashion. The Bose audio system has radio volume and tuning knobs, the touchscreen is intuitive, and the center stack boasts lots of redundant hard buttons for fans like me of old-school controls.

On the safety front, the Denali gets rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert and an all-important blind spot monitor. More safety technologies are optional, including low speed forward auto braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and surround vision camera.

Those with young children or pets will appreciate Rear Seat Reminder. It alerts drivers to check the back seat as they exit their vehicles under certain circumstances. To check on teenage drivers, Teen Driver allows parents to set controls and review an in-vehicle report card in order to help encourage better driving habits, even when adults are not in the vehicle.

Piloting the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali

From the driver’s perch, the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali satisfies. It isn’t aggressively sporty, but it’s a smooth, pleasant and quiet companion. The ride got a touch crusty on rough pavement, but that’s true of many small crossovers. The nine-speed automatic transmission happily went about its business, but did hunt for the right gear at times when downshifting.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

Knobs, knobs, beautiful knobs

Through corners, the Terrain felt athletic with respectable grip and minimal body roll. Steering was weighty and responsive, while brake performance was stout. No doubt the Denali’s larger rolling stock played a part in delivering better handling reflexes, but it gave up some in the ride comfort department.

The drivetrain is estimated to return 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. During my week of mostly city driving, I observed 23.7 mpg, supporting the EPA’s 23 mpg combined number.

In the Marketplace

There is an intimidatingly long list of small crossovers that outsell the GMC Terrain. The , and command the biggest numbers. the , , Subaru Forrester and put up a strong fight.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

The reason you buy a crossover–stuff

While the 2018 Terrain’s SL, SLE, SLT trim levels will fight it out with the above, the Terrain Denali will put its sights on the Audi Q5, Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC. With the Terrain starting at $25,970, including $995 for destination, my all-wheel-drive Denali started at $40,265 and shot up past $44,000. You can get a nicely equipped midsize crossover for the same money.

But if a compact all-wheel drive crossover fits your needs, and you want one with pizazz styling, a luxurious interior and the latest tech features, don’t overlook the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali. Take it for a test drive and find out for yourself.

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].


Larry E. Hall is Managing Editor & Editor-at-Large at Smarticd. His interest and passion for automobiles began at age 7, cleaning engine parts for his father, a fleet manager for a regional bakery. He has written about cars and the automobile industry for more than 25 years and has focused his attention on “green” cars and advanced technology vehicles. Larry’s articles have been published by Microsoft’s and MSN Autos as their alternative vehicles correspondent and Senior Editor at He is the founding president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association and a member of the Motor Press Guild.

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