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2018 GMC Terrain Test Drive Review
For years, bold and boxy styling has defined the otherwise unremarkable GMC Terrain. Now a conservatively redesigned 2018 Terrain arrives, and it could easily find itself crossed off consumers’ consideration lists for this and many other reasons.
Proving that a yummy-looking recipe can produce a yucky-tasting meal, the 2018 GMC Terrain is a conceptually appealing compact crossover SUV that falls apart under scrutiny in the reality of daylight. Not only that, it has lost the rugged look that used to set it apart from softer-styled competitors, and it doesn’t meet safety expectations for a brand-new design. Add a questionable value equation, and it’s difficult to recommend a GMC Terrain.
Look and Feel
Behold the redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain, which replaces what has proven to be a popular vehicle for the truck and SUV maker.
Bold and boxy, the original Terrain featured just the right look to appeal to a broad cross-section of people seeking GMC’s so-called “Professional Grade” design but in a crossover SUV package. That it also came with a roomy interior and plenty of utility made the Terrain an easier sell.
Trouble was, the Terrain’s cabin, from its materials to its technology, proved itself anything but “Professional Grade.” And the standard 4-cylinder engine was downright anemic.
Does this softer-looking 2018 Terrain resolve these problems? And can GMC justify a price that can top $44,000 before installing bits and pieces from the dealer-installed accessories catalog? That’s what we’re here to find out, but first you’ll need to get the lay of the land.
When you shop for a 2018 GMC Terrain, you’ve got lots of choices to make. First, you need to choose between four trim levels: SL, SLE, SLT, and Denali.
Next, GMC offers three different engines: A turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine, a turbocharged 1.6-liter diesel engine, and a turbocharged 2.0-liter gas engine. There are two drivetrains, too: front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD).
Luckily, there's just one seating configuration, and that’s for five people.
You can get a Terrain SL for as little as $24,995 plus a destination charge of $995. My test vehicle was maxed out with just about everything. It had Denali trim, with the turbocharged 2.0-liter gas engine, AWD, extra-cost paint, a panoramic sunroof, and option packages that installed a plethora of safety systems and comfort features.
The grand total came to just over $44,000 including destination. On one hand, that sounds ridiculously high compared to, say, a Honda CR-V Touring. On the other hand, it’s still less than a base Lexus RX 350 with no upgrades.
In any case, as far as styling is concerned, if you liked the old Terrain, this new one might prove disappointing. Before, the Terrain was an amalgamation of angles, creases, and bulges. It looked like nothing else on the road. Now, the Terrain looks like a bar of soap that’s halfway through its useful life.
Sure, GMC tries to spiff it up with C-shaped lighting and weird rear quarter windows, and the Denali trim level adds plenty of extra brightwork to impart an upscale look, but comparatively speaking, the new Terrain is rather dull.
Inside, GMC has improved the Terrain’s interior design, control layout, and materials quality. Plus, storage spots are everywhere, including a little tray embedded into the dashboard and a handy smartphone holder and wireless charger in the center console.
But, when the price tag reads higher than $40,000, the plastic paneling the lower half of the interior needs a low-gloss coating, if not outright replacement with more convincingly premium materials. And that’s why, despite the Denali’s real burnished aluminum trim and premium leather, the interior is merely acceptable at this price point.
However, at the same time, the presence of that plastic is also understandable when you consider the Terrain SL’s low base price.
Under the sheet metal and beneath the interior materials, the GMC Terrain is the same thing as a Chevrolet Equinox but wearing a different costume. Architecturally, mechanically, and technologically, they’re twins.
When I reviewed the Equinox earlier this year, it had the same 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that is standard in the Terrain. At the time, I called the power “adequate” and noted “disappointing” fuel economy of 23.3 mpg.
This time around, my Terrain Denali test vehicle had the more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is also offered in the Equinox. It whips up 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque and effectively cures the smaller motor’s mere adequacy.
It also swaps a 6-speed automatic for a thriftier 9-speed unit. That’s one reason why, on my usual test loop, the Terrain Denali averaged 22.6 mpg despite all its extra power. And that was the result despite driving half the miles with the AWD system engaged.
What’s the moral of this story? Skip the 1.5-liter, and get the much quicker and more satisfying 2.0-liter.
Otherwise, the Chevy and the GMC drive similarly. The ride is a little stiff, even busy at times, but handling is commendable. Steering effort levels are perfection, making it easy to guide the Terrain on any kind of road. Unfortunately, though, its turning radius is unexpectedly wide, which must be taken into consideration when parking and making U-turns.
On the most punishing portion of my test loop, the brakes faded a bit with temperatures in the high 60s, but they still brought the Terrain to a full-ABS panic stop, though it was a lengthy one. And when you’re not stomping on it with regularity, brake-pedal response and modulation are unremarkable… in a good way.
You engage AWD using a knob on the center console. Run the Terrain in FWD, and the turbocharged engine easily spins the front tires when you press on the accelerator with enthusiasm. You can also detect a slight wobble in the drivetrain when lightly accelerating in traffic. Run the Terrain in AWD, and the wheel-spin problem disappears, as does the weird wobble. But then fuel economy suffers.
Due to adverse weather conditions, I did not go 4-wheeling. I tested the Terrain just days after heavy rain and mudslides wreaked havoc on Southern California, turning everything in my local mountains into a muddy mess. I thought it best not to tempt fate with a lightweight crossover such as this one.
Form and Function
Every Terrain Denali is equipped with leather that looks and smells good. It is wrapped around small, heated front seats that are somewhat hard and flat, but which prove comfortable over time. Install the reasonably priced Comfort Package, and the front seats are ventilated while the rear seats are heated. Denalis also have a heated steering wheel, and it's quite comfortable to grip.
Both front seats in my test vehicle offered power adjustment, including for height. Also, if you’re tall, be sure to check out the Terrain, because it offers more seat-track travel than many of its competitors. Of course, if you slide the seat too far back, rear passenger space evaporates.
With the driver’s seat set for my comfort, however, the rear seat is comfortable for two adults, a squeeze for three grown-ups. Air-conditioning vents will help passengers keep their cool, as do two USB charging ports.
Behind the rear seat, the Terrain offers 29.6 cubic feet of cargo space, accessible through an available hands-free power liftgate. Large bins under the cargo floor are handy, and levers allow you to fold the rear seats while standing at the back of the vehicle. Maximum cargo space measures 63.3 cubic feet.
Compared to the most popular compact SUVs, these numbers are unimpressive. For example, a Honda CR-V supplies 39.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat and up to 75.8 cubic feet of cargo space. But the Terrain does come with a fold-flat front seat, allowing it to accommodate items up to 8 feet in length with the rear liftgate closed and to carry up to 81 cubic feet of cargo with just the driver aboard.
Back up front, the Terrain’s control layout adheres to the standard playbook, GMC thoughtfully providing knobs for commonly used radio, infotainment, and climate functions. I did, however, accidentally activate the window lock button on several occasions when trying to use the front-window switches.
GMC takes a new approach with the Terrain’s transmission controls, a collection of buttons and switches located on the dashboard beneath the climate controls. Unlike a traditional gear selector, they require the driver’s attention with each use, but are otherwise inoffensive. In fact, by the end of the week, I was getting accustomed to using them by feel rather than sight.
Undoubtedly, the approach frees up lots of space on the center console. In addition to a large center bin, there are nooks and crannies for lots of things. GMC also carves plenty of storage space out of the door panels and even provides a small shelf on the dashboard. If you can’t find a place to put something inside a Terrain, you’re not trying hard enough.
The 2018 Terrain’s top-shelf IntelliLink infotainment system boasts new graphics and a revised layout, and the result is a clean and modern interface presented on an 8-inch touchscreen display.
Highlights include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, OnStar subscription services with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, a navigation system, an SD card reader, and four USB data ports. A wireless device charging system is included for the Denali model, which is also equipped with a 7-speaker Bose premium sound system.
Generally speaking, I find IntelliLink easy to understand and use. However, while this new version is improved in some ways, it's a step backward in others.
The clean, crisp, minimalistic graphics are modern in a no-nonsense kind of way, but because the display is recessed into the dashboard, it can be hard for people with larger fingers to easily make selections.
Furthermore, changing radio stations is a multi-step process. Twist the tuning knob to activate the channel-selection menu, and then twist again to select a new station.
Even more frustrating, the station list would often load with the knob corresponding to an adjacent station instead of to the one that was already playing. So, if I wanted to switch from, say, SiriusXM’s “80s on 8” to “Pop 2K,” I would need to twist to pull the station list up, check to make sure it was on “80s on 8” instead of “60s on 6” or “70s on 7,” and then twist up to “Pop 2K” based on whatever station was showing on the screen. Would it be two stations? Three stations? Four stations? It was always a surprise, and it was always distracting.
Adding insult to injury, it was easy to forget that the knob that tunes the radio works only when the radio display is on the screen. If you have the navigation map up for reference or to monitor traffic, that knob zooms in on the map instead of changing the station.
On a positive note, IntelliLink includes standard Teen Driver technology, which allows concerned parents to program specific vehicle limitations and to obtain vehicle-use reports when the kids have borrowed the family car.
Rear Seat Reminder technology is also standard, and that's useful for people with younger children and pets, reminding them they may have left someone in the back seat and not to leave the Terrain without them.
As far as driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems go, the usual suspects are present and accounted for on the Terrain, most of them available as options. Missing are adaptive cruise control and an automatic emergency braking system that can operate at higher speeds. Both omissions are odd for a brand-new design aiming to compete in a premium-brand segment.
Also, in federal government crash testing, the 2018 Terrain gets a mediocre 3-star rating for rear seat, side-impact protection, resulting in an overall rating of 4 stars. The old version of this SUV got 5 stars in the same test.
That’s no good for any vehicle likely to serve families, and especially for one that is a brand-new design. As soon as I discovered this 3-star rating, I quit putting my own kids in this GMC, shuttling them instead in our own crossover.
Realistically, you’re not going to buy a Terrain SL. It’s offered only with FWD, only with the turbocharged 1.5-liter engine, and only with white, black, or silver paint. Aside from the metallic black and silver paint colors, which insultingly cost an extra $395 on this GMC but are free at the Chevy dealership, the only factory option for the SL is an engine-block heater.
That means you’re looking at the Terrain SLE at a minimum, which commands $2,905 more. Add AWD, and you’re up to more than $30,500 before adding a single option. Shiny paint and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert push the price beyond $33,250.
Know what a loaded Honda CR-V Touring with AWD costs? Not much more than that. And it has more cargo space, better crash-test scores, leather seats, higher quality interior materials, more driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, and a more engaging driving character for just hundreds more.
Clearly, value is elusive with this GMC, and in exchange for the high prices, the company doesn’t offer a competition-slaying warranty, roadside assistance, or years of full OnStar subscription benefits that could help to justify them.
As you might have guessed by now, I’m not a fan of the 2018 Terrain, for this and many other reasons. The ultimate deal-breaker for me, though, is that rear-seat side-impact crash-test rating from the NHTSA. Especially if you have kids, you should get something else to drive.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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