Auto review: 2018 GMC Terran Denali is not the champagne of compact crossovers
The 2018 GMC Terrain reminds me of mass-produced beer. It’s more similar than different from compact crossovers such as the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue Honda CR-V and other contenders in America’s hottest segment.
But fans of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, know it’s different (and better) than PBR, Budweiser or MGD. It’s 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 doesn’t mean it’s 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 GM’s portfolio.
The truck family DNA carries over to the inside. There’s 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 Jeep’s 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 Denali’s 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 wouldn’t fit as easily in similarly sized vehicles. It’s 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 GMC’s new design language, the new Terrain has shrunk by 3 inches in length and an inch in height. It’s 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 doesn’t 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 we’ll 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. It’s 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.
COMPARE IT TO: Kia Sportage »
COMPARE IT TO: Mazda CX-5 »
COMPARE IT TO: Best compact crossover rankings »