2018 GMC Terrain first drive: New diesel and gas engines, fresh interior make a compelling case

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With its new Terrain compact SUV, GMC is trying to punch deeper into the premium side of the compact crossover world — that means nicer materials, more features and more options, but the two most interesting things to grace the new Terrain have nothing to do with upscale aspirations: A 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 diesel and a new pushbutton shifter. Terrain models with gas engines also come with GM’s new nine-speed transmission, though all get new styling and a redesigned media system. A push-button-style gear selector is how you go in and out of reverse, drive and neutral. Cool your jets Edsel fans — this isn’t on the steering wheel, but is instead nestled in the center stack.

For years the GMC Terrain was built on the same Theta platform that supported the Chevy Equinox, which meant the Terrain shared a lot with its Bowtie-badged cousin. While both the new Equinox and Terrain kept the tradition of sharing a common platform, Delta II, this new platform was actually produced with the Terrain in mind. Trying to sate outdoorsy type’s desires of hauling a shed’s worth of equipment, everything besides the driver’s seat can fold flat. Combine that with more upscale interior pieces like real aluminum trim and it’s a clear play to the outdoor enthusiast that also wants to drive something with some style


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The Execution

Aside from the diesel mill, the 2018 GMC Terrain has two different gasoline engine options: a 1.5-liter turbo four and a 2.0-liter turbo four, both driving through the new nine-speed automatic (the torquey diesel gets by with just six speeds). Shifts are smooth enough to ignore, and while there are nine gears, there isn’t a way for the driver to manually shift any of them. Behind the steering wheel, you’ll find some paddles, but those control the media system, not the cogs in the gearbox.

The engines attached to that nine speed, the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter turbo mills, couldn’t be more different. The 1.5-liter feels almost underpowered down in the rev range but rolls on well when you hit boost and wring out all 170 hp. The 2.0-liter turbo I4 is peppy from the start, with great throttle response and enough oomph to get out of its own way without hesitation. Unlike its smaller sibling, the 2.0-liter pulls strongly across the rev range. The 2.0-liter also is the only way to haul much of anything — if you opt for diesel power, you’ll be stuck with the same 1,500 lb tow rating as the 1.5-liter turbocharged gas engine. The 2.0-liter can raise that rating a ton, making it a useable 3,500 lbs.

It might seem strange to have a diesel option that’s not the ultimate stump-puller for the new Terrain, but the folks at GMC made clear that wasn’t ever the plan: The aim for the 1.6-liter turbodiesel is fuel economy, and it nets 28 mpg in the city and a remarkable 39 mpg highway on front-drive models. 



The GMC Terrain is more than just its new engines and transmissions. Separated into four trims, SE, SL, SLT, and the top-dog Denali, the various packages do different things well. The Denali feels notably more stable than its less-luxe counterparts, which is because of a retuned suspension. Despite the firmer characteristics, the Denali moves over dips in the road without telling your back, your passengers or the groceries you have jammed behind the seats. The SLT exhibits more roll and sway than the Denali but is just as good at managing the rough stuff.

The Denali’s nose dips under heavy braking, which is expected when trying to bring almost 4,000 pounds to a halt. With disc brakes all around — 11.8-inch front rotors on the diesel and small gas and 12.3-inch fronts for the 2.0-liter (all get 11.3-inch rotors in the rear) — the Terrain stops like a hippo in a tar pit. Changing direction is like most crossovers hitting the market today — not a lot of feedback gets through to the driver, but the steering weight is hefty enough to remind you that you’re driving an SUV.

The revised Intellilink media system is as user-friendly and functional as previous versions, but faster and with more features. The navigation offers real-time traffic updates as well as information about available amenities on exits along your route — useful for unplanned food or bathroom breaks during long road trips. The traffic updates aren’t as useful as the Google Maps and Waze maps you might be familiar with, but they’re not that far off.


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The Takeaway

The Terrain plays the role of an upscale utility well enough to forget it shares the same bones as the Chevy Equinox, but there is still lots of plastic and simulated wood. The excellent fuel economy of the diesel-powered Terrain almost makes up for its lack of towing grunt, but if you want to live up to the weekend-nature-warrior camp trail conqueror, you sort of need to have enough power to haul a camper or a small boat, and that means the 2-liter gas engine. Either way, it’s more attractive than the ubiquitous Jeep Cherokees at the campground.






On Sale: Now

Base Price: $25,970

Drivetrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged I4, 9-speed automatic

Output: 170 hp at 5600 rpm and 203 lb-ft of torque from 2000-4000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3449 pounds

Fuel Economy: 26/30/28 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Lots of room for hauling camping or work gear; diesel gets great mileage

Cons: Still some chintzy interior materials; modest towing on diesel models


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