This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Review our Privacy and Cookie Notice for more details. X

PowerSteering: 2018 GMC Terrain Review

PowerSteering: 2018 GMC Terrain Review

By Liz Kim, February 20, 2018
While the original Terrain has been a big hit for GMC since its introduction for the 2010 model year, by 2017 it competed in a vehicle segment rife with excellent choices. Not surprisingly, in the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM last year’s aged Terrain ranked near the bottom of its segment.

GMC hopes to change that with the redesigned, second-generation 2018 Terrain. Smaller in almost every dimension and lighter by more than 300 lbs., the new Terrain suffers little loss in terms of passenger and cargo space while receiving a significant update in terms of technology. The approach to the styling is new, too, a bit of a gamble considering that last year’s Terrain buyers said that the boxy design was their favorite thing about their SUV.

For this review, we evaluated a 2018 GMC Terrain Denali equipped with all-wheel drive, upgraded paint, front license plate mount, SkyScape panoramic glass sunroof, Comfort package, Driver Alert II package, Advanced Safety package, and a Trailer Equipment package. The price came to $44,540, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the GMC Terrain, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this compact SUV and what they liked most and least about it.

According to J.D. Power research data, the previous-generation Terrain successfully appealed to men, with 56% of buyers saying they were male compared with 50% of buyers across the Compact SUV segment. They were slightly older, too, with a median age of 61 years (vs. 58 years). Also, despite upscale Denali trim availability, they were slightly less affluent with a median annual household income of $87,857 (vs. $88,094).

Terrain buyers are more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (88% vs. 66% for the segment). They agree more often that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (59% vs. 54%), they more frequently agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (69% vs. 65%), and they are more likely to disagree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (61% vs. 57%).

Paying extra for the latest safety features is of less interest to Terrain buyers (74% vs. 78%), and they’re also less willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (53% vs. 58%). Terrain buyers are also less likely to agree that fuel economy is their first consideration in choosing a vehicle (63% vs. 68%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the previous Terrain were (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, seats, and storage and space. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the previous Terrain were (in descending order) visibility and safety, the infotainment system, climate system, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2018 Terrain performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 U.S. APEAL Study.

Styling was the chief reason that the original Terrain became so popular, and even after several years on the market buyers cited exterior styling as their favorite aspect of the vehicle. Defined by right angles, straight edges, and exaggerated forms, the Terrain had a more rugged and masculine appearance than a typical crossover SUV.

The new 2018 Terrain loses some of that unique flair, opting for a smoother, curvier look, with an oval grille and C-shaped front and rear lighting elements. The result is not as distinctive as the previous Terrain, but aside from the glittering grille, few people will find the new styling offensive.

Notably, the Terrain Denali test vehicle sported big 19-in. wheels, which helped the SUV to look bigger than it was.

Because my Denali test vehicle was coated with the extra-cost Red Quartz Tintcoat paint, it was available only with a Jet Black interior. The resulting monotony was depressing, the dark tones broken up only by the gray headliner and burnished aluminum trim, which looked dirty rather than classy. Teal accent lighting did the cabin no favors.

It’s worth keeping in mind that a Terrain SL starts at less than $26,000. That’s what I kept telling myself every time my hand came to rest on the cheap, brittle plastics that cover significant portions of the much more expensive Terrain Denali’s cabin.

Soft material covered the upper part of the dashboard and front door panels, as well as the armrests. And the Denali’s leather was top-notch. But the lower half of the interior was paneled in glossy, hollow-sounding plastic that might rightly be questioned by someone who just paid as much as $45,000 or more for a loaded-up Terrain.

Yes, certain concessions have to be made to account for the Terrain’s low base price, but when you’re evaluating a GMC compact crossover that is priced at parity with larger or more prestigious vehicles, quality is a virtue. And a value.

Though both of the test vehicle’s front seats included heating, ventilation, and 8-way power adjustment, I had trouble getting comfortable in the Terrain. The seat bottoms and backs are remarkably flat, and this, in combination with firm cushions, makes it feel like you sit on the seats, not in them.

Previously, the original Terrain included sliding rear seats that gave you more or less legroom, and more or less cargo room, according to your needs. This feature is no longer available in the new Terrain, but the rear seats are relatively spacious for the segment, offering good leg, foot, hip, and shoulder space. Plus, they recline a bit for added comfort.

In the Denali test vehicle, goodies like heated outboard seat cushions, USB charging port, a 110-volt electrical outlet, and air conditioning vents further boosted passenger satisfaction.

Climate Control System
Last year, the Terrain offered a single-zone automatic climate control system, even in the upscale Denali trim. Now, every 2018 Terrain has a dual-zone automatic climate control system, which addresses complaints from owners who stated that the climate control system was their third least favorite thing about the old Terrain.

Changing the cabin temperature is easy, thanks to clearly marked buttons and knobs. They are located right above the dashboard-mounted transmission buttons, though, and care must be taken not to accidentally press the wrong button.

Infotainment System
Limited in terms of its technological gewgaws, the original GMC Terrain received few updates following its introduction in 2010.

Now, GMC makes up for lost time by giving Terrain buyers the latest features supplied by the most recent version of its IntelliLink infotainment system. Highlights include standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, as well as OnStar subscription services including a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

Upgrade to a navigation system and the 7-in. display screen grows to 8 ins. GMC also improves the system’s controls compared to the previous setup, and includes free Teen Driver technology, which allows parents of young drivers to track their behind-the-wheel habits and to limit access to certain vehicle features and functions.

With this infotainment upgrade, the Terrain now keeps pace with the competition, and the system represents a vast improvement over the previous Terrain.

Storage and Space
Around the new Terrain’s cabin, you’ll find plenty of pockets and trays in which to store your loose things, and the sizable center console bin is especially commodious. Under the center console there is another small storage area, but it’s not terribly practical.

Though overall vehicle dimensions have shrunk, cargo space measurements remain similar to last year’s Terrain. The new version of the SUV supplies 29.6 cu. ft. of space with the rear seats in use, and 63.3 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded flat using handy levers located in the cargo area. GMC includes a fold-flat front passenger’s seat, too, and if you maximize that additional space the Terrain can hold 81 cu. ft. of cargo.

These are not impressive numbers by any means. However, I found the covered underfloor storage space in the trunk to be useful, and by waving my foot near the bumper the power hands-free liftgate rose to accept two hands full of grocery bags.

Visibility and Safety
Forward visibility poses no problem, but the Terrain’s narrow, pinched rear quarter windows emphasize form over function. That means the driver must rely on technology to safely operate the Terrain, including the standard reversing camera, available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert system, and optional park-assist sensors and surround-view camera.

Unfortunately, at night, my test vehicle’s rearview camera projected a remarkably low-resolution image on the infotainment screen, rendering it virtually useless after sunset. Naturally, this made backing up in the dark an exercise in good faith, though the surround-view camera did help somewhat.

As far as safety is concerned, even if you choose the spendy Denali trim, you’ll still have to pay extra for features like forward-collision warning and a low-speed automatic emergency braking system. Adaptive cruise control isn’t available on any version of the Terrain, and that means you can’t get full-speed-range automatic emergency braking, either.

However, a Rear Seat Reminder system is standard for all Terrains, helping forgetful parents and pet owners to remember precious cargo. This thoughtful inclusion makes the Terrain’s mediocre NHTSA crash-test ratings all the more disappointing. The SUV earns a 4-star (out of 5) overall rating instead of the highest rating because, in rear-seat, side-impact testing, this GMC gets an unfortunate 3-star score for occupant protection.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not performed testing on the Terrain as this review was written.

According to the people who own them, the least favorite aspect of the previous Terrain was the standard engine—a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that struggled mightily and loudly against the forces of inertia while returning lower fuel economy than owners expected. A far more powerful 3.6-liter V-6 was an option, but few people chose it.

Now, for 2018, GMC provides buyers with three engine choices: a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder making decent torque and decent horsepower; a turbocharged, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder diesel making amazing torque and meager horsepower; and a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making copious torque and healthy horsepower.

That latter engine is standard in the Terrain Denali, matched to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is spirited, and the transmission does a fine job of choosing the correct gear for the given circumstances. Engine noise is rather loud and hoarse, though, taking away from a peaceful ride.

Notably, GMC replaces the Terrain’s traditional gear shifter with a row of buttons and switches on the dashboard. This is fairly intuitive to use after you’ve spent some time living with the Terrain.

The test vehicle had the optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Choose the 2-wheel-drive setting and it disconnects the driveshaft and rear axle in order to conserve fuel. Choose the 4-wheel-drive setting and the system actively distributes torque based on driving conditions, but it does have a palpable impact on efficiency.

People who are conscientious about remembering to put the AWD system into the correct mode won’t mind this setup, but there are more sophisticated axle-disconnect systems available in competing vehicles that manage all of this automatically.

Fuel Economy
Slotting ahead of engine/transmission dissatisfaction, buyers of the previous Terrain cited observed fuel economy as the most dissatisfying aspect of ownership.

Has GMC solved for this? I can only speak for my experience with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and the AWD system, but I averaged 21.5 mpg during a week of mixed driving. That falls short of the 23 mpg that the EPA says I should have expected in combined driving.

Driving Dynamics
When driving the new 2018 Terrain around the curves of the canyon roads that comprise a portion of my test loop, I found the SUV rather pleasurable. The suspension does a decent job of managing the vehicle’s weight, and both the steering and brakes turned in predictable, trustworthy performances.

Around town, however, the tautly sprung Terrain Denali sometimes suffered an undue amount of noise, vibration, and harshness on all but the smoothest of roads. The SUV’s turning circle is unexpectedly large as well, meaning that you have to give yourself plenty of room when prowling for parking spaces or making U-turns.

Final Impressions
Collectively, we will look back upon this decade as the golden age of crossover SUVs, and in particular, those of the compact variety. Their popularity knows no limits, sales are burgeoning, and auto manufacturers are scrambling to come up with new and different ways of creating as many of them as possible, hoping to strike while the iron’s hot.

Among the many excellent choices in the segment, the redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain has little to offer aside from a powerful turbocharged gas engine, an efficient turbocharged diesel engine, and an overpriced Denali trim level in order to distinguish it and potentially vault it head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Denali trim writes interior quality checks that the plastics can’t cash, and GMC asking buyers to pay extra for active safety features on a vehicle suffering sub-standard rear-seat crash protection ratings adds insult to injury. Furthermore, a fussy AWD system and unimpressive fuel economy results do the Terrain no favors, and the SUV has lost what people liked most about it: design by T-square styling.

GMC might need to go back to the drawing board with this Terrain.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 GMC Terrain review.

Additional Research:

Untitled Document

Subscribe to J.D. Power Cars Newsletter

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.


Get A Quote
Get a Quote