2018 GMC Terrain Denali

It offers a class leading interior and one of the best turbo charged 2.0L engines in the business.
It offers a class leading interior and one of the best turbo charged 2.0L engines in the business.

by Zack Zeraldo | January 18, 2018


GMC is a strong truck brand, and General Motors has done a good job in recent years setting it apart from Chevrolet by positioning it as little more upscale positioning; aided by the luxury sub-brand, Denali. Nearly two decades ago, the Denali brand was originally affixed to highly optioned GMC Yukons and has grown to adorn every offering in the GMC fleet today. Not only has the brand grown in its application, but it seems a growing number of consumers recognize the brand as a true premium offering. This is great news for GMC and with the Denali package now available on GMC’s freshly redesigned Terrain, we’re likely to see a lot more of the Denali name out on the streets. Following a recent test of the Terrain’s lower-rent sibling, the Chevrolet Equinox (reviewed here), we decided to spend some quality time with the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali review

The first thing to notice is that the new Terrain looks nothing like the outgoing model with its awkward proportions, nor does it look anything like the new Equinox; rather generic in the segment. The Terrain, and especially the Denali with its signature grille, body colored cladding, upgraded 19” wheels, LED lighting and bold squared-off dual exhaust tops, looks fantastic! Its cohesive lines, pillar-less rear window and pleasing proportions avoid the tall stubby look that plagues most other compact CUVs. It’s distinctive, but tasteful and finished in Ebony Twilight Metallic, the test vehicle really did accomplish its goal of looking upscale and refined in a small package.

Inside the Terrain also surprised and impressed with a dashboard layout significantly improved over the Equinox, which wasn’t bad to start with. The Terrain removes the tablet-style touch screen in favor of a proper in-dash integrated 8” screen running the latest GMC IntelliLink system. The controls are clean, easy to use and overall the dash has a more mature feeling to it than the Chevrolet sibling. Another trait unique to the Terrain’s interior is that the traditional console mounted gear selector has been replaced by a button system mounted below the climate controls. It’s a bit awkward and takes some getting used to, but the advantage is that a large console space has been freed up, allowing for two side-by-side cupholders and a big storage bin which are not only very handy, but make the interior space feel larger and more like a full-sized SUV.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali review

Novel re-organization aside, the rest of the interior is a fairly nice place to spend time. The Denali comes with heated and ventilated leather seats up front, the driver’s side gets eight-way power while oddly, the passenger only gets 2-way and will need to adjust the backrest portion manually. Regardless, the seats are quite comfortable, including the heated rear bench which gets plenty of head and legroom for adult rear passengers. That rear bench is split and will fold relatively flat for bulky cargo. The cargo area isn’t the widest in the segment, but it’ll tackle most jobs and does offer a lot of usable space even with the rear bench upright. There’s a heated steering wheel as well, wrapped in soft leather, and the rest of the interior makes extensive use of a soft-touch plastic. It’s not exactly top shelf, but at this price point and segment you’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer or  better laid-out interior.

In the Equinox, I complained about the base 1.5L turbo engine and its uninspiring acceleration and inability to tow more than 1500lbs. The 1.5L is only available in the base SLE trim Terrain. Higher trims get either the very interesting 1.6L diesel option or the world-class 2.0L turbo four-cylinder used in everything from Camaro (reviewed here) to Cadillacs. This tester happily came with the 2.0L making 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque at 2,500RPM. The Terrain also gets the new nine-speed automatic like the Equinox.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali review

Now, I really crave the authoritative sound and smooth power delivery of a V6 in a smaller CUV like this, but that is a dead offering now and I need to get with the times – and this 2.0L turbo is surely a good way to get there. Throttle response and acceleration are both brisk, and passing at any speed is easy and doesn’t feel strained. Best of all, the power comes on with a smooth refinement that is absent from many of the competitive four-cylinder turbo powerplants out there.

Lesser trim levels of the Terrain can be had with front-drive, but the Denali comes with an interesting AWD system that, unlike most AWD systems in this segment, actually allows the driver to turn it on and off at will. Cruising along on dry roads? Turn the system to FWD and conserve fuel; if the weather turns, put it back into AWD and enjoy the benefits of a capable all wheel traction system. It even has an off-road mode if the going gets really rough, and a tow mode if you decide to make use of the 3500lb. tow rating (2.0L engine only). One thing to note though; leaving the system in FWD does make the Terrain very susceptible to torque steer since all of the torque is going to the front wheels.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali review

A week’s worth of commuting in the Terrain netted an average fuel consumption of 9.7L/100km. Compare that to the 9.4L/100km I got under similar conditions in the 1.5L Equinox and I’ll happily pay the penalty for the more powerful 2.0L. It’s worth noting though that the 2.0L does recommend premium fuel.

My biggest complaint with the Equinox was the substandard ride and handling characteristics, which somehow are nearly totally resolved in the Terrain Denali. In fact, the Terrain rides very nicely and only the largest city potholes disrupt its comfort despite the big 19” wheels. The steering isn’t inspirational by any means, but its light, smooth and feels confident on-centre. The thing that remains an issue is the turning radius which is surprisingly wide; not good for a vehicle that’s going to appeal to a lot of urban buyers. On a happy note though, the cabin is quiet while driving along with no significant suspension, road or wind noise, even with the tall cross bars installed on the roof rack of this particular tester.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali review

The nice thing about the Terrain Denali is that it delivers on the style and features of the Denali namesake at an affordable price. While a base Terrain can be had as low as $30,245, the Denali starts at $41,695; at that price it comes very well equipped, and opting for the $2,300 GMC Pro Grade package adds a long list of active safety features and camera views, along with a nicely executed full-length glass sunroof. That pushes the as-tested price to $44,048.

If you need a small crossover, but don’t want it to look and feel like one, the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali is a winner. It cashes in on GMC’s signature Denali styling and offers a class leading interior and one of the best turbo charged 2.0L engines in the business. The Terrain also delivers on some real capability with its tow rating and selectable AWD system. This could be an ideal vehicle for a young urban family craving something a little more upscale than the typical compact CUV yet still practical enough for everything from daily commuting to weekend adventure getaways.

See Also:

First Drive: 2018 GMC Terrain

2018 Jeep Compass North

2017 Mazda CX-5 GS AWD

Vehicle Specs
Engine Size
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Zack Zeraldo

Staff Writer

Despite his relatively young age, Zack has owned more cars than most people will own in their lifetimes. From F-Bodies to pickups and Corvettes, he is a GM enthusiast through and through. When not writing about cars, Zack can be found in his garage messing with one of his eight vehicles.

Current Toys: ’11 XKR, ’85 Trans Am, ’07 DTS Luxury, ’84 Camaro, ’01 Sonoma, ’06 Escalade, ’96 Firebird, ’78 MGB