Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 GMC Terrain

GMC’s compact Terrain crossover has had remarkably consistent sales since it was launched for 2010. Any vehicle that sells that well for that long puts a lot of pressure on the second-generation model to deliver the goods and keep the sales pace of the original. So GMC has added content, dropped weight, and bolted on turbos. And made a host of changes to let the 2018 GMC Terrain conquer every... terrain.

The new turbo engines spool quickly, and lag is non-existent.

Starting with the foundation, the new model boasts an all-new platform that is lighter (by roughly 200 kg),  stiffer (by 30 percent), and quieter compared to the previous generation.

The Terrain has three new engines, and all of them get turbos. One of them is a class-exclusive 1.6L diesel four-cylinder, shared with its stablemate Chevrolet Equinox. The two gasoline options are a 1.5L four and a 2.0L four. They replace the 2.4L four-cylinder and the 3.6L V6 from last year.

Backing the new gas engines is a nine-speed transmission; the diesel uses a six-speed automatic. Front-drive is standard on lower trims and all-wheel drive is available. The new all-wheel drive system can be left in front-drive-only mode to save fuel, while in all-wheel drive mode it will only engage the rear axle when extra traction is needed. Rick Spina, GMC’s chief engineer for the Terrain, suggests switching to all-wheel drive when the snow starts and leaving it on until spring.

The Terrain’s new look maintains a strong resemblance to the recently refreshed Acadia. It has C-shaped accent lights shared with the Sierra, and a floating roof design with a blacked-out rear pillar. There are three different grilles available, with SLE, SLT, and Denali each getting their own unique nose. HID headlights are standard, with LED running lights and taillights. Denali trim adds LED headlights.

Inside, this is clearly a GMC. If you like great big buttons and knobs, the General has what you’re looking for, with the work-glove-friendly HVAC controls looking like they were just taken out of the big-brother Sierra pickup. The streamlined controls are a huge step forward over last year, both ergonomically and visually. It’s a refreshing change from the overwrought and overly complicated controls and designs that have spread across the segment in the last few years.

Just below those big buttons is the all-new electronic shifter that uses buttons instead of a lever or dial. The new way of shifting looks strange at first, especially the pick-your-own-gear “L” mode. But it doesn’t take long to get used to it, and reaching over for L  – and the plus/minus buttons that go with it – is straightforward. Forget to push the big P button when you shut down or open the door? The Terrain will do it for you. Drive and reverse buttons need to be pulled, not pushed, which helps avoid accidental shifting.

The infotainment system runs the latest version of GMC’s IntelliLink, with a 7.0-inch screen standard and 8.0 available. Already smooth and responsive in its previous iteration, the new version further improves on its strengths: the maps scroll more quickly, menus load faster, and new shortcuts let you hop between different systems for more intuitive operation. The best part of the system is the presence of physical buttons for the most important controls, helping you keep your eyes on the road. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is an OnStar 4G LTE hotspot.

A major new feature in this version of IntelliLink is the user profile system. It will store your settings to your key fob or online via OnStar. That means that if you’re sharing the Terrain with someone else, your radio presets will follow your key or your login. Same with your frequently used navigation destinations, such as your home or office. Even better, if you save the profile to the cloud, you’ll be able to load it in other GM vehicles equipped with the feature. The Terrain is the first to support user profiles across the range, but expect it to pop up in more models very soon.

As for the cabin itself: the Terrain has shrunk slightly, by about 60 mm, but still has lots of room for five passengers and cargo. There is 846 L of space behind the rear seat and 1,792 L with the seat folded flat. Even tall passengers will have plenty of head and knee room in the back seat. It will even hold 8' lengths of lumber (or an IKEA bookcase) with the hatch closed, thanks to a front passenger seat that can fold flat. If you’re using that fold-flat seat for rough or dirty objects, you’ll appreciate the hard plastic piece designed to sit up a little higher than the rest of the seat, that keeps your cargo from scuffing the seatback.

The Terrain is lighter, but can a 1.5L turbo four power about what is still a 1,509 kg crossover? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that the 170 hp, 203 lb-ft of torque, and nine-speed auto move the Terrain capably, if not spiritedly. The new turbo engines spool quickly, and lag is non-existent. It can handle itself on the road just fine.

The nine-speed shifts quickly and smoothly, and helps keep the turbo engines on boost when you’re asking for power. It does like to keep the revs down though, shifting at just 5,000 rpm even at full throttle. Lock it into a lower gear using the L mode, and the engine will spin to 6,700 rpm and accelerate a bit more quickly. The new transmission is quick to pick a gear, sometimes too quick. Running up steep but varying inclines resulted in lots of up- and downshifts, but it was always quick to drop gears when I called for more horses.

But if you’re worried about the 1.5L having enough power, you’ll probably prefer the 2.0L anyway. That engine has 252 hp, and 260 lb-ft, and moves the Terrain with authority, with more than enough power for this segment. It can’t quite match the 301 hp shove of the V6 but with a few hundred kilos less to move, it still feels quick.

The new jewel in the engine bay is the 1.6L diesel. At 137 hp, it doesn’t make huge power, but it makes lots of torque. 240 lb-ft, to be precise. The lower-revving engine has a six-speed auto, but the wide torque curve doesn’t need more gears for acceleration or mileage. Stomp on the pedal and the diesel delivers a solid shove of torque. It’s louder than the gas engines, with more vibration, but more sound deadening – including a special new sound-absorbing hood mat – means that it’s not intrusive. You’ll know it’s a diesel, but you probably won’t mind. All three engines have active sound cancellation and automatic stop-start shutoff, so there’s no clatter at idle.

Where you will notice it’s a diesel is at the pump. The gas engines are rated to get 9.2 L/100 km city, 7.9 highway for the 1.5 and 11.2/9.0 for the 2.0L, but the diesel trumps them with an impressive 8.5/6.0.

Our day of driving the Terrain started out in the glass and steel of downtown Pittsburgh but quickly move to the steep and windy hills and valleys surrounding the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. The Terrain isn’t going to convince you it’s a sports sedan, but it handled switchbacks and twists with surprising capability. It’s flat and stable through corners without being overly stiff on the highway. I found out later that the roads we were driving are part of GMC’s development route, which helps explain the back-road competence of the Terrain.

On the highway, the Terrain is quiet and stable, with surprisingly little wind noise for an SUV. It was stable and confident on the road, even in the torrential downpour I drove through later in the day. It feels more like a European design than it does the domestic SUVs of old.

The Terrain adds new safety features like a surround-view camera, parking assist, and lane-keep assist, in addition to blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert – all optional on the lower trims. Even the top-trim Denali needs an option pack added to get the full suite, which includes forward collision alert, low-speed emergency braking, and automatic high-beams.

Canada will get three trims of Terrain, dropping the SL base trim that the US market will see in favour of SLE, SLT, and Denali. The Canadian base model has a power driver seat, four USB ports, heated front seats, and keyless entry with push-button start. The SLE starts at $30,195, a $1,605 drop from last year, with more content. SLT starts at $39,645 and has the 2.0L gas engine as standard, and Denali drops $3,580 from last year to start at $43,495. SLE buyers can option any of the three engines, with SLT having the 2.0L and the diesel. The Denali is 2.0L only.

GMC has made big improvements to the Terrain. The new diesel is a delight, the suspension tuning delivers much better ride and handling, and the interior is nicer to look at, quieter to ride in, and easier to use. GMC calls it professional grade, I call it a capable crossover, and one of the more fun-to-drive compact SUVs on the market.

Pricing: 2018 GMC Terrain

SLE: $30,195
SLT: $39,645
Denali: $43,495