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2018 GMC Terrain Denali Review By Larry Nutson

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2018 GMC Terrain Denali

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The more things change the more they stay the same. This statement can certainly apply to new vehicle design. Actually, these days, car company designers often have their hands tied. Once designers make accommodations for what the segment requires, what the buyer expects, government regulatory requirements and cost targets there is little room for creativity. In the case of the new GMC Terrain, its designers also needed to take into account the designers at Chevrolet with the Equinox being built off the same architecture.

I’ll bet there were lots of meetings between the two to come to agreement on who gets to do what on their vehicle. This sometimes ends up with someone getting the short-straw.

At first look I think the GMC design team did a good job on the new Terrain. I happen to like its looks much better than the outgoing version.

The GMC brand is more refined and up-market than Chevrolet. And within GMC, its Denali line is even more so and, interestingly, accounts for a significant portion of sales.

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2018 GMC Terrain Denali prices start at $38,595 for a front-wheel drive model and $40,295 for all-wheel drive, including the $975 destination charge. The Terrain AWD Denali I drove for this report had a bottom line of $41,660 with its added options.

The Terrain Denali gets some special treatment on the exterior with items like a bold satin-chrome grille, LED headlamps with signature lighting, 19-inch aluminum wheels with dark-painted pockets, body-color fascias and lower trim, bright roof rails, door handle surrounds, outside mirror caps and body-side moldings.

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On the inside the Terrain Denali gets its own leather-trimmed seats that are heated in front, Denali-logo aluminum sill plates and unique Denali interior trim color. Surface treatments vary on the inside from padding to hard trim to some wood grain.

Both FWD and AWD Terrain Denali models are powered by a 252-HP turbo 2.0-L four-cylinder mated to a nine-speed automatic.

EPA test-cycle ratings are 22 city mpg and 28 highway mpg for front-drive models. AWD models are EPA-rated one mpg lower in the city and two mpg lower in the highway. To reduce both tailpipe emissions and fuel consumption GMC has equipped the Terrain with an idle stop/start system. The system is always active and I found it to not have any detrimental effects in driving.

SUVs are for hauling stuff and the 5-seat Terrain has nearly 30 cu.ft. behind the rear seat that increases to a bit over 63 cu.ft. when folded. A nice item for the occasional hauling of something very long is the folding right front passenger seatback. And, a power hands-free rear hatch makes for easy loading. Also, the Terrain Denali with its 252-HP engine is rated to pull a 3500 lb. trailer.

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The array of driver-assistance safety features that come standard include blind spot monitoring, rear parking assist and rear cross traffic alert. Optionally you can get forward automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane keep assist, automatic parking assist and surround view camera.

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A rear seat reminder alerts drivers to check their rear seats before walking away from their vehicle…so you don’t forget your children. Carmakers have been reinventing the transmission gear selector and the Terrain uses a series of push buttons and pull triggers mounted in the center stack. When this feature was first introduced it caused quite a buzz in the auto-writer world. In reality, I found the buttons and triggers work just fine and are quite easy to adapt in using.

A heated steering wheel is standard. Ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are an option.

In this day of everything getting bigger this new Terrain is not. Riding now on a 5-inch shorter wheelbase it’s about 3 inches shorter than the outgoing model. However, where it counts, the cargo volume is negligibly smaller and barely impacted. All-in-all the new Terrain fits in quite well in a crowded city. It’s easy to maneuver and park, and yet has plenty of cargo carrying ability for the trip out in to the wilds on the weekend.

GM has done a nice job of tuning the 2.0-L turbo engine in combination with the 9-speed automatic. There’s good overall response with good acceleration and highway merging without hearing the engine thrashing about. We often think of the engine helping us to achieve low fuel consumption on a drive, but the transmission with all its gears is also a key contributor.

Denali gets unique suspension tuning and urethane spring isolators. Around the streets of Chicago and the surrounding highways overall I thought the Terrain Denali to be well composed with good ride and handling. Steering effort is comfortable with decent feedback and the overall compliance of the suspension delivered a comfortable and confident ride.

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More detailed information and specifications on the 2018 GMC Terrain can be found at Note that the Terrain is also offered in SL, SLE, SLT trim levels with pricing beginning at $25,990. In addition to the 2.0-L turbo, there are also two other engines offered in these models, a 170-HP 1.5-L turbo four and a 137-HP 1.6-L turbo diesel.

The Chevrolet Equinox has pretty much the same underpinnings and powertrain choices. However I think the Terrain, although higher priced, wins with its overall well-refined design and styling.

If you are shopping for a compact SUV and wanting to stand out a bit from the crowd with an attractive set of wheels, albeit at a price premium, I certainly would put the Terrain Denali on your test-drive list.

© 2018 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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