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Car Review

2013 GMC Terrain Denali: First Drive

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2013 GMC Terrain

author photo by Tommy Flanagan

We recently had the opportunity to drive the 2012 GMC Terrain SLT. It was equipped with the SLT2 package, which included upgrades such as chrome exterior accents, a power liftgate, rear parking assist and a power sunroof. This Terrain was also equipped with the optional 3.0-liter V6, 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels and navigation. Even though we liked the way the Terrain drove and appreciated its commanding view of the road and easy-to-reach interior controls, something was missing: power. Even with 264 horsepower, the Terrain felt as if it was straining to pull away from stoplights quickly and when climbing small hills.

For 2013, the 3.0-liter V6 is gone, and in its place is the more powerful direct-injection 301-hp 3.6-liter V6. With a 22.5 percent increase in torque, the engine feels more powerful, and there's an extra level of refinement that's especially fitting for the Denali. We tested the 2013 Terrain Denali to see how this upscale crossover works as a whole package.


GMC upped the ante with the Terrain Denali, and it shows. The first thing you notice about the SUV is the traditional Denali styling. The exterior includes the signature Denali chrome honeycomb grille along with fresh headlamp and taillight treatments that are exclusive to the Denali. Satin chrome adorns the side mirrors, door handles, body-side molding, skidplate and exhaust tips. Body-color rocker panels sporting satin chrome molding also round out the exclusive Denali blueprint. Two unique wheel designs, which are exclusive to the Denali, are available depending on the engine of choice.


The Terrain Denali's interior is well laid out with controls for the radio, navigation and climate control within easy reach. Contrasting red stitching on the instrument panel and seats is quick to catch the eye. Mahogany wood and leather trim embellish the steering wheel and door inserts. Polished aluminum front sill plates are another premium feature of the Terrain Denali. The perforated leather seats feel comfortable without being too soft or too stiff. The rear seat, which slides fore and aft eight inches, provides plenty of legroom for adults and children and allows extra storage behind the second row.

GMC put a lot of thought into making the interior as quiet as possible. Triple door seals and an acoustic laminated windshield help minimize wind noise. Active noise cancellation in the 4-cylinder models also helps to diminish engine noise by creating counteracting sound waves through the Terrain's audio system.


In city driving, our SLT rode smoothly over bumpy streets thanks to its fully independent suspension. For the Denali, GMC is looking to improve comfort and performance. To provide a quieter and smoother ride, the suspension was softened using dual-flow damper shocks. However, After driving several miles over rough and uneven streets in the Denali, we didn't see a huge improvement over the 2012 SLT.

Our test vehicle was also equipped with the optional 3.6-liter V6 direct-injection engine that makes 301 hp. This engine, shared with the Cadillac CTS, is a definite improvement over the 3.0-liter V6 we sampled earlier in the SLT. Producing 37 more hp, it accelerates with more authority and, when climbing hills, doesn't feel strained or sluggish. When launching from stoplights, we felt acceleration was smoother with less hesitation. And there's more good news. Technology such as direct injection and continuously variable valve timing help the 3.6-liter achieve the same mpg figures the 3.0-liter V6.

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Driving Impressions

Northern Michigan was the perfect location to test the new Terrain Denali. The all-wheel-drive system performed well without slipping on the twisting country roads. Power from the V6 was ample when driving in the hills (although it could get a little loud when we climbed some of the steeper inclines). Given that, we didn't feel the need to shift the six-speed automatic into manual mode to help the engine do its job. Fuel economy on our 3.5-hour trek was around 18 mpg, which falls in line with the EPA's estimated rating of 16/23 mpg..

Heading back to the airport was a breeze with the color touch navigation. Setting the destination was simple and we appreciated the extra touches such as weather updates and travel alerts. Also, having voice-guided directions is an added convenience so we could keep our eyes on the road.


Pricing for the 2013 GMC Terrain Denali starts at $35,350. Since the Terrain Denali comes nicely equipped, the good news is the option list is pretty small. Adding the V6 will cost you an additional $1,500, and all-wheel drive raises the price an extra $1,750. If you feel the need to trailer the boat to the lake, you can shell out the additional $350 for the towing package. If you need to find the lake, color touch navigation with Intellilink will run $795. To keep the kids entertained on those trips to Grandma's house, a rear-seat entertainment system will cost $1,295.

GMC didn't skimp on standard amenities on the Terrain Denali, either. GMC equips the Terrain Denali for safety with forward collision alert and lane departure warning. Side blind zone and rear cross traffic alert help you maneuver through busy streets and crowded parking lots. Rounding out the standard features are a programmable power liftgate, a touchscreen audio system and Homelink integrated garage door controls.

The Terrain Denali we tested was priced at about $40,000. That might seem expensive, but consider that the Denali comes with many standard features. Tacking on similar options to the SLT2 such as navigation, rear-seat entertainment and forward collision/lane departure would cost around the same as the Denali. Since the price differential is only about $2,400, the Denali seems like the logical choice if you want comfort and a little extra style with your crossover SUV.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2013 GMC Terrain Denali: First Drive