The All-New 2018 GMC Terrain Denali Refines Its Style, But Falls Short Of Luxury

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

Downsizing just sounds ominous, like something the big bosses in that tower a thousand miles away might do with our paychecks.

“Hey, your pants will fit better with less cash in your wallet.”

Pardon my cynicism. For better or worse, I arrived with linebacker’s blood in a punter’s body, and I’m still wondering where the rest of me went.

It sort of lowers my expectations.

So, I didn’t have high hopes for the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali, formerly a large, square-cut compact crossover that shrunk to a size closer to the smaller end of the segment.

Moreover, the General decided to leave the former Terrain’s V-6 engine on the factory floor and replace it with a four-cylinder.

I think that’s what the pinstripes call doing more with less – as in 10-hour days with “occasional” Saturday overtime.

Could we maybe do less with more instead?

I have to admit the white all-wheel-drive Terrain I had recently didn’t look particularly diminished or overworked.

Now about 3-inches shorter and 350 pounds lighter, the Terrain still stands fairly tall and proud, flashing a shiny signature oversized grille for all to see – particularly lesser SUVs.

The bold grille was fashioned of silver strands that kind of resembled a polished fence and was flanked by U-shaped headlamps.

It shouted GMC – a tall, blunt front topped by a flat, fairly long hood.

Square-shaped wheel-openings reinforced the rough-and-ready urban-warrior vibe, filled reasonably well by 235/50 tires on slotted 19-inch wheels.

However, that was about the only element left from the square, slightly militaristic-looking 2017 Terrain.

The new truck’s mostly smooth sides, for example, carried a gentle curve in them stretched lightly by character lines above the door-handles and rocker-panels.

Someone, though, must have decided that the more refined-looking Terrain needed a flourish or two, slapping an abrupt Nissan-style rise atop the rear fenders that compressed the rear side-window into a useless slot.

But, hey, from certain angles it kind of resembled the fin on a ‘57 Chevy, giving the truck an unintended dash of family retro.

In back, the Terrain’s push for distinction was focused on odd U-shaped tail lamps that were, uh, different.

Still, the styling worked pretty well.

My concern with the new Terrain was a four-cylinder engine in a stout crossover weighing more than 3,800 pounds.

Fortunately, my well-equipped Denali model got the optional turbocharged 2-liter 4-banger with 252 horsepower twisting a nine-speed automatic. (Besides the 2-liter, the Terrain offers a basic 1.5-liter four and a 1.6-liter diesel.)

It was the biggest surprise in GMC’s fresh new trucklet.

Smooth and fairly strong around town, the 2-liter – which has 260 lb.-ft. of torque – jumped up to speed with ease, hitting 60 mph in a swift 6.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

That is just 0.1 of a second slower than the ’17 Terrain with a V-6, and the new motor gets 21 miles per gallon in town and 26 on the highway, compared with 17/24 in the V-6.

Although I occasionally noticed a faint touch of turbo lag, the Terrain generally responded with a solid surge, even chirping the front tires once when I really hit it hard.

In addition, the steering felt reasonably quick with decent road feel, and the Terrain even handled moderate-speed curves and corners confidently.

While I had anticipated a fairly busy ride from the all-wheel-drive, what I got was pleasantly firm with little bounce – another unexpected smile.

Hang on to those. GMC obviously spent most of its development budget on the Terrain’s platform, suspension and engine – not the interior.

The black interior in my Terrain wasn’t bad. It just didn’t fit a pricey, $44,000 compact crossover.

A deep, heavily plastic dashboard, for instance, slid over a large, slightly dated center-stack topped by an 8-inch display screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Happily, it included buttons and knobs for the climate-control and stereo, as well as somewhat strange switches at the base of the center-stack for the transmission (p,r,n and d).

Shades of the Edsel and ’64 Plymouth Fury, I guess.

Likewise, the black plastic door-panels didn’t look particularly high-end, though they contained wood trim around the door-handles and padded armrests.

Smooth black leather seats with excellent leg- and head-room in back were the highlights of the interior, offering sectioned centers with white piping on the edges.

Meanwhile, the options on my Terrain included a power sunroof ($1,495); a safety package with automatic parking assist and surround vision ($745); a driver-alert package ($495); and trailering equipment ($450).

The new Terrain is unquestionably better overall and more economical than the old one, but at what price? The heavy-hitting Honda CR-V costs roughly $10,000 less.

I guess we’ll see if GMC’s perceived cachet is worth it.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali

  • What I liked most: The pleasantly stout turbocharged 2-liter engine and smoother, more refined styling.
  • What I would change: If GMC is going to charge a premium price for the Terrain, it needs a premium interior.
  • MSRP: Base price, $39,275; as equipped, $43,975.
  • Fuel economy: Rated at 21 miles per gallon in town, 26 on the highway and 23 mpg overall with filler on the left.
  • Official color: Summit White.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 5,094 miles.
  • Weight: 3,850 pounds.
  • Length-width-height: 182.3 inches long/72.4 inches wide/65.4 inches tall.
  • Fuel-tank capacity: 15.6 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.
  • Spare tire: Temporary compact.
  • 2018 GMC Terrain Denali in a few words: A thoroughly upgraded new crossover that continues to push into lofty pricing territory.
  • Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
  • Final assembly location: San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
  • Manufacturer’s website: www.gmc.com.
  • E-mail me at terry@carprousa.com
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