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2018 GMC Terrain: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer GMC Terrain, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 GMC Terrain Review

Semi-luxury is where the 2018 GMC Terrain lives. This is a new generation of compact crossover, stablemate to the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, but GMC hopes to position it among more rarefied company — especially in its fanciest Denali trim.

Exterior Angles

Admittedly, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, but there’s a case for arguing that the Terrain displays more agreeable styling than the Equinox. It has extra presence and seems less "designed by committee." GMC has taken things further with three looks for the grille according to trim level. Naturally, the Denali’s nose is the most ornate, but it’s not over the top. All versions are enlivened by high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlamps with LED accents.

One notable detail regarding the profile is the "floating" rear pillar, something that’s become a bit of a trend (Nissan Murano, Lexus RX).

Interior Angles

The cabin comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, pleasant soft-touch plastics on the dashboard, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (along with a touch-sensitive 7-inch infotainment screen) as standard. The front seats are comfortable and well-shaped, there are no hard spots where the elbows come to rest, and space for rear passengers is plentiful — despite this second generation being slightly smaller than the outgoing model.

In the rearview mirror, the back window looks undersized, but outward vision in general is fine. That said, it’s never a bad idea to go for the option of blind spot monitoring. See the 2018 GMC Terrain models for sale near you

Cargo space behind the rear seats measures 29.6 cu ft.; the seats fold virtually flat to make 63.3 cu ft. And the front passenger seat folds over completely, so the Terrain can handle objects up to 8 feet long. A kayak, perhaps.

One especially notable detail about the interior is the "Electronic Precision Shift." Instead of a gear lever for the automatic transmission, there’s a row of push/pull switches in the center console; pull for Drive and Reverse, push for Park. This frees up the area so GMC can add some extra storage space.

There are several vehicles these days whose shift lever is nothing more than a big multiposition switch, with no mechanical link to the transmission. GMC just makes it more obvious. It’s also another small step on the way to autonomous driving, where a vehicle can select gears for itself instead of requiring a human to do the donkey work.

It takes some getting used to, especially if the occasion arises where a driver needs to perform a quick 3-point turn while there’s a gap in the traffic. But the assumption is that a Terrain driver will soon become familiar with this arrangement and learn not to wave a hand around in search of a shifter that isn’t there.

Ratios and Rates

Speaking of transmissions, the Terrain uses a 9-speed automatic with both its gasoline engine offerings (the Equinox connects a 6-speed to its 1.5-liter engine). The Terrain/Equinox 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is turbocharged to produce 170 horsepower and 201 lb-ft of torque. Fuel consumption is 26 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in combined driving (with front-wheel drive).

The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder alternative develops 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, while achieving 22 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined (front-wheel-drive).

There’s a third option for the Terrain’s engine bay, a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine. Horsepower is a predictably modest 137 hp, but compensation comes in the form of 240 lb-ft of torque. The automatic transmission here is a 6-speed unit.

Every engine has a start/stop feature. In the diesel, this contributes to a fairly frugal drivetrain, at 28 mpg city/39 mpg hwy/32 mpg combined (front-wheel-drive). But towing capacity is only 1,500 pounds, the same as the 1.5-liter. The best puller is the 2.0-liter gasoline engine, rated at 3,500 pounds.

The all-wheel-drive system is optional with any engine and features a Traction Select dial to switch between modes (like freeway driving and driving on icy surfaces).

In Transit

This generation is lighter and has a stiffer body than the previous generation, meaning more refinement and less noise. During our test drive, the only time any road noise came into the cabin was when driving on concrete freeway surfaces. The diesel version has even more sound insulation.

While we’re addressing the diesel model, it doesn’t quite deliver the low-end torquey punch a driver might reasonably expect from an engine like this. But at least GMC is offering the option. Diesels are rare in this class, and some buyers might want that kind of frugal fuel consumption.

The top-flight Denali trim has its own suspension setup, and the ride quality is particularly smooth and unflustered. Every version has received reinforcements to the structure around the steering rack, resulting in a confident feel. It might seem a little specialist to talk about steering feel when many drivers possibly don’t care, but if there’s a numbness to the steering, there’s less sense of control. When there’s some tactility, the reverse is true.

Our test drive happened to include a thunderstorm with torrential rain, and we were glad of the stability provided by the all-wheel-drive system, but not so impressed by the lack of rain-sensing wipers.

Do the Math

The 2018 GMC Terrain range starts with the SL at $25,970, including the 1.5-liter engine, 17-in alloy wheels and a rearview camera. The SLT trim — from $32,295 — brings upgrades like 18-in alloy wheels, heated front seats, leather seating surfaces and dual-zone automatic climate control. The infotainment system includes Apple Carplay/Android Auto smartphone integration, and each user can create their own profile.

The plush Denali model comes in at the $38,495 mark. It has the 2.0-liter engine, 19-in alloy wheels, navigation, a heated steering wheel, real aluminum trim, contrast stitching and a hands-free powered tailgate. Safety features like blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors and the vibrating "Safety Alert" driver’s seat are also standard in the Denali and optional in the lower trims.

Other options include forward-collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, self-parking, automatic headlights, wireless device charging and a 360-degree camera system.

As a luxury vehicle, the 2018 Terrain doesn’t make quite as convincing an argument as the offerings from major players like Acura, Audi, BMW and Lexus. But for someone who wants a reasonable level of creature comforts and is prepared to splash out a little extra — splitting the difference between mainstream and traditional premium — the new Terrain could be the right patch of higher ground.

For access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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