How do you explain the continued popularity of the GMC Terrain, a vehicle that has more or less remained the same since it debuted in 2010? The old adage "a rising tide raises all ships" comes to mind. As compact crossovers have become a commanding force in the marketplace, even elderly entrants such as the Terrain have enjoyed revitalized sales. But with redesigned rivals hitting dealer lots year after year, the Terrain's mere existence wasn't enough to keep buyers interested. The fully redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain aims to reverse that course, with changes highlighted by a more traditional exterior design, a reimagined cabin, and a variety of new turbocharged engines.
2018 GMC Terrain First Drive
Terrain Brings a Touch of Luxury to Compact Crossover Class
Down(sized), but Not Out
While the last-generation Terrain was positioned as the more luxurious alternative to the related Chevrolet Equinox, its boxy, square-shouldered design didn't reflect the GMC's status. Buyers don't often buy a practical, small crossover with the intent of making a statement, and the original Terrain was nothing if not bold. GMC learned that a polarizing design doesn't necessarily equate to sales success and wisely toned down the extreme styling for the 2018 model. While it still bears pronounced wheel flares and a chrome grille the size of a studio in midtown Manhattan, the new Terrain's overall sleeker shape and sheet metal curves make it look far more refined, even elegant.
The previous model slotted between the compact and midsize crossover segments in terms of size, but the 2018 Terrain's shorter wheelbase and overall length places it securely in the compact class. Despite its smaller footprint, reductions in front and rear legroom are barely perceptible, as is the minor hit to cargo space behind the first row. In fact, the Terrain's new fold-flat passenger seat presents greater storage versatility, allowing drivers to transport long items bow to stern as needed. The single largest benefit to the Terrain's downsizing is reduced weight. Depending on the engine configuration, the new model weighs 340 to 420 pounds less than its predecessor.
All Turbo, All the Time
Speaking of engines, the 2018 Terrain's lineup is powered entirely by turbocharged four-cylinder engines, all of which use a mandatory stop-start system and can be paired to front- or all-wheel drive. Standard on the base SL, SLE and SLT models is a 1.5-liter engine producing 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. A much more powerful 2.0-liter engine (with 252 hp and 260 lb-ft on tap) is optional for the SLE and SLT and standard on the top-trim Denali. Both of these engines are matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission. These engines effectively replace the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6, respectively, and offer superior fuel economy. The smaller engine's gains are most evident at lower speeds, by as much as 4 to 5 mpg, according to the EPA. The 2.0-liter sees benefits across the board, with a similar increase of 3 to 5 mpg, depending on configuration.
Those who want the ultimate fuel-sipping crossover will be enticed by the new 1.6-liter diesel engine that becomes an option later in the model year. Producing 137 hp and 240 lb-ft, this efficient engine is optional on SLE and SLT trim levels. Its EPA city rating is only marginally better than the smaller gas engine's, but it promises notable improvements in highway driving. Hampering its appeal is a substantial price bump — $3,770 on SLE models and $2,845 for the SLT — though the cost is partially justified by the standard Driver Convenience package for the SLE and the SLT's standard Preferred package. Unlike the gasoline engines, the diesel sends it power through a six-speed automatic.
What's It Like to Drive?
On the road, the redesigned Terrain feels comfortable and composed, just as a modern small crossover should. During our test drive, we found that the ride was never unduly harsh over rough roads, though our SLT tester's 18-inch wheels produced considerable road noise on anything but glassy-smooth surfaces. In contrast to the noisy tires, the diesel engine remained silent at cruising speeds. The only time we noticed the typical chatter that diesels are known for was at idle and even then it wasn't very prominent.
While GMC predicts a nominal take rate, the diesel is worth considering over the standard 1.5-liter gasoline engine. It feels more responsive to throttle inputs, and the difference in thrust when you put your foot down is palpable. Unfortunately, you don't get the boosted tow capabilities that diesels typically provide; both of these engines are rated to tow 1,500 pounds. And given that the EPA city and combined ratings are so similar between the two, the diesel only makes sense from a financial standpoint if you do a lot of highway traveling.
We weren't able to test the larger 2.0-liter engine, but we have some experience with this engine in the mechanically similar Chevrolet Equinox. In that application, the 2.0-liter is considerably more powerful than the others, with smooth acceleration and a greater willingness to downshift when you dip into the throttle. You also get the benefit of a 3,500-pound tow rating when equipped with the 2.0-liter engine.
A Modern, Reworked Cabin
By the end of the previous Terrain's life cycle, its button-heavy interior looked well past its prime. The latest Terrain is thoroughly modern with a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen that commands the upper portion of the center stack. It's loaded with the newest version of GMC's infotainment system, which is slightly different than what you'll find in a Chevrolet or Buick. There are a few physical buttons just below the screen, which provide easy access to high-level functions that the driver and front passenger will frequently use. Below the center stack is a nifty storage bin, housing a pair of USB ports (including one Type C connector) that connect smartphones to the infotainment system, which comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Two charge-only ports are located behind the center console for backseat passengers, and most models will have two additional ports inside the console.
Sandwiched between the climate controls and center bin are the transmission shift buttons, and they're easier to use in real-world driving than similar setups in the Lincoln MKC and Acura MDX. The Reverse and Drive buttons have distinct cutouts and pull forward to activate, reducing the chance of the driver selecting the wrong action.
There's plenty of room all around for front passengers, and the back is similarly airy. Tall rear-seat occupants will have no problem with headroom even with the panoramic sunroof, though they will have to put the seatback in its reclined position so they won't brush their hair against the headliner. Forward visibility and side visibility are both excellent, but the rear three-quarter view is reduced thanks to a fairly small window with a much higher beltline than the others.
What Does It Cost?
The 2018 Terrain starts at $25,970 for the base SL trim. With standard HID headlights, heated mirrors, the 7-inch screen and onboard 4G LTE Wi-Fi, it sounds like a lot of car for the money. But it's not a widely available model, and finding one at a dealer lot will be nearly impossible. The next level SLE doesn't add much in the way of feature content, but it does offer several additional options packages and an expanded exterior color palette, and can be ordered with AWD and any of the three engine choices. The SLT ($34,045) goes one step further by adding larger wheels, the larger 8-inch touchscreen, leather upholstery and heated front seats. The top-trim Denali is the heavily optioned trim equipped with LED headlights, navigation, a heated steering wheel, advanced driver aids and a $38,495 price tag. Aside from the SL, all models have several options packages that bolster the Terrain with more comfort and technology features. All-wheel drive is an additional $1,750 across the board.
The Bottom Line
Although General Motors considers GMC a more premium alternative to Chevrolet, the truth is that the Terrain is a few thousand dollars more than a comparable Equinox, and the interior appointments are about the same. And although the Equinox can be fairly expensive when you start checking boxes on the order sheet, the pricier Terrain maxes out near the $45,000 mark for the Denali trim level. Many of its fully loaded rivals cost roughly $5,000 less, so the Terrain's value proposition isn't quite as enticing at that level. Stick with the midgrade trim, however, and the newly revamped Terrain has all the features it needs to compete in this hotly contested category.