The 2018 GMC Terrain compact crossover is all new, from the downsized chassis, to the all-turbo/9-speed powertrain, to the new body that moves from macho to mundane. The Terrain is much like the Chevy Equinox, with the same footprint, but sheetmetal that’s sculpted into bold scoops and creases, and bigger fenders.
The compact crossover is a tough class. Terrain competes not only against its near-twin Equinox, but also Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, and others. Terrain’s acceleration is smart, its handling sound, and its ride well tuned.
For 2018, the excellent 3.6-liter GM V6 engine gets disappeared. Its 301 horsepower will be missed in a vehicle as heavy as the Terrain, at 3500 pounds. Its replacement is a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 making 252 horsepower, with vivid acceleration but a big thirst, achieving 24 mpg EPA Combined with fwd, 23 mpg with awd.
The base engine gets retired too. The old one was a 2.4-liter I4 with direct injection, making 180 horsepower and getting 25 mpg. The new one is a turbocharged 1.5-liter making 170 horsepower, but with more torque and fuel mileage of 28 mpg with fwd, 26 mpg with awd.
If the stats of the new engines don’t sound so impressive, look at it this way: the new 252-horsepower I4 gets just 1 less mpg than the old 180-horsepower one.
There’s also a diesel engine that gets better fuel mileage, 32 mpg with either front- or all-wheel drive. It’s entertaining in a grown-up way, but less energetic.
The new 9-speed automatic transmission pairs beautifully with the new engines, but lacks manual control, with audio controls where we wish there were paddle shifters.
GMC Terrain comes as SL, SLE, SLT, and Denali. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive available ($1750) on every model but the SL. The turbocharged 2.0-liter is an option on the Terrain SLE and SLT, and standard on the Denali.
Terrain SLE ($28,815) adds dual-zone automatic climate control. A trailer-tow package is an option on the SLE with the 2.0-liter turbo engine.
Terrain SLT ($32,315) gets leather seats and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, blind-spot monitors, a 110-volt power outlet, remote start, power driver seat, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof.
Denali ($38,515) adds a handsfree tailgate, a power passenger front seat, HD radio, seven-speaker audio, navigation, 19-inch wheels, LED headlamps, and a bundle of safety equipment including forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, and rear parking sensors. The forward-collision warning bundle remains an option, as are surround-view cameras and automatic park assist. So are wireless smartphone charging, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.
The turbodiesel is available in SLE and SLT trim.
The large grille is either a fat oval with chopped edges, or a big rectangle with chopped corners. It looks way better in black, like on the base SL, than with chrome, like the Denali. In fact it looks horrendous in the way GM does the chrome. The SL also has matte black plastic running the bottom perimeter of the car, front and rear fascia plus over the wheels and under the doors. It gives the Terrain some rugged purpose, and looks better than the Denali’s barely-flared metal fenders, although the Denali’s 19-inch painted alloy wheels smartly fill the wheelwells. The SL is cleaner, absent the Denali’s strip of chrome trim along the doors and over the window line.
The headlamps are shaped like the simplest bare-hand puppet, forefinger curved over the thumb, each facing center. They don’t grab you. Except if you imagine them yakking at each other over the top of the grille.
The rear end is shaped like midsize GMC Acadia but better looking.
Just for effect, that doesn’t work, the rear window is pinched, asymmetrically, and blacked out in back, continuing onto a wide band of black across the rear pillar. It’s supposed to flow, which it does about as much as painting a wide stripe on a box.
The cabin isn’t cohesive, it looks like three separate zones, although it can come together with leather in a warm color, and aluminum trim. Compared to the Equinox, the materials are softer and it’s quieter, with more sound insulation under the floor. But the door panels have big chunks of the same plastic that composes most of the buttons on the instrument panel. This shouldn’t happen on an SUV in this price range.
The standard infotainment system is lovely and simple, with a 7.0-inch screen and big icons. The display is clear, bright, responsive, fast, and doesn’t drop its smartphone connection. But mostly it’s clean, without too many features or too much information.
There is ample small storage in the cabin, with a deep console double door pockets. There’s a special slot for a cellphone for the front passenger. In the rear cargo area, there are bins under the floor.
The downsizing is felt more in the rear than the front; legroom has decreased a tiny amount, from 39.9 inches to 39.7, but it feels like more since the second-row seat doesn’t slide any more. The available panoramic sunroof cuts 1.6 inches from headroom, in front as well. The rear passengers will appreciate tall doors, so there’s less ducking to climb in, but the they won’t appreciate the flat seat bottoms, even in leather.
The seats fold but not quite flat, to provide 63.3 cubic feet of cargo space, way less than the Honda CR-V. Behind the rear seats there is 29.6 cubic feet, again less than the Honda. The good news is the front passenger seat folds flat, like the Honda Fit, to provide room for long things from 2x4s to kayaks. An optional liftgate opens at the wave of a foot, to make loading those things easier.
The transmission itself is smoother than other 9-speeds (Chrysler and Mercedes come to mind), but the method of shifting gears with a switch on the console, which is almost out of reach, is a what-were-they-thinking moment–more than a moment, it’s a lifetime with the car. And the notion of audio controls in the place of paddleshifters is one of the worst GM ideas since the Aztek.
The transmission pairs brilliantly with the new 252-hp 2.0-liter turbo that felt strong during our quick runs in the Appalachians, like it were capable of zero to sixty miles per hour in about 7.5 seconds. With 260 pound-feet of torque, it pumps out steady power and a cool whistling turbo sound as it climbs through the gears. If only it had a usual manual control, namely paddle shifters, we’d be comparing it to the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine of the Ford Escape, the benchmark for thrust and eagerness. Manual shifting would also be useful for towing, a likely prospect since this engine is rated to tow 3500 pounds.
Ironically, surprisingly, the new 1.6-liter turbodiesel can only tow 1500 pounds, same as the base 1.5-liter. Diesel torque aside, it only makes 137 horsepower. It’s heavier, slower, and vibrates a lot. It’s more expensive and only comes with a 6-speed transmission. It’s not worth the extra 9 mpg, at least not to us.
The optional all-wheel-drive is a part time, activated by a knob on the console, with different traction modes. It’s mechanically simpler, without a brain to self-activate.
The Terrain’s ride is biased more toward comfort than cornering. The ride only reveals its compact crossover nature with the sharpest of bumps. The suspension is same as before, struts in front and four links in rear, but the old hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering is replaced by electric power assist.
With the standard 17-inch wheels and tires, the handling is poised and predictable, if not very enthusiastic. But it helped us avoid six deer and two washed-out roads, during our seat time. The Denali has a higher state of suspension tune and 19-wheel wheels with better all-season tires. It tracks true but still doesn’t offer much feedback.
GMC Terrain is all new for 2018, a compact crossover SUV.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.