Car Reviews First Tests

2018 GMC Terrain Denali 2.0 AWD First Test: Shifting Debate

Nice pairing of nine-speed automatic with GM’s I-4 engine in this upper scale SUV

Nice pairing of nine-speed automatic with GM’s I-4 engine in this upper scale SUV

The new gear shifter in the 2018 GMC Terrain AWD Denali is a major topic of debate.

GM has gone for a row of buttons on the center stack of the instrument panel, freeing the space in the center console for side-by-side cupholders to avoid any confusion as to which latte is the driver’s.

The new shifter requires different finger skills: pushbuttons for neutral, park, or low, but if you want to go forward or reverse, you pull the toggle switch. That is to avoid accidentally slipping into a moving gear. And if you are searching for a Sport mode, the closest option is Low.

Some of the Motor Trend staff appreciate the effort to do something different. “It’s different for the sake of being different, but it’s intuitive enough to use easily,” said features editor Christian Seabaugh.

Others were dead against it. Associate editor Scott Evans and executive editor Mark Rechtin called it a deal breaker against buying an otherwise much-improved vehicle, and Evans predicts it won’t make it past the midcycle refresh.

My take: it takes some getting used to, but I have no major objections. And it does set in motion the new nine-speed automatic that GM developed in partnership with Ford, which shifts quickly and decisively without hunting.

Mated to a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, the four-cylinder produces 252 hp at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,000-4,000 rpm.

It is enough to propel the 3,848-pound (1,745 kg) Terrain from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. That’s quicker than the Mazda CX-5 AWD Sport and Touring, which took which took 8.3 and 8.7 seconds, respectively. The quarter mile is achieved in 15.4 seconds at 89.0 mph (143 km/h) (the CX-5 Sport needed 16.3 seconds), and the brakes bring it to a stop in 130 feet in the 60-0-mph test.

This new-generation Terrain has taken some nice steps forward. It is quieter with reduced wind and road noise. It is well-planted with little body roll on the handing course. The figure-eight test took 27.5 seconds at 0.64 g average lateral acceleration, and the SUV hit a peak lateral acceleration of 0.79 g.

But ride quality suffers on rough highways, where the car bounces a lot and wind noise and rattles were detected.

Mileage is EPA rated at 21 mpg (11.2 L/100km) in the city and 26 (9 L/100km) on the highway for a combined 23 mpg (10.2 L/100km).

I suspect most buyers won’t take their Terrain off-road, but the 2018 has an off-road mode that performed well in some deep sand and ruts and ably climbed some dirt hills. Hill-descent control kept the speed consistent on the way back down.

The Terrain won’t automatically activate all-wheel drive when it detects slipping, but it will warn the driver when AWD is needed. The selection knob makes it more confusing to pick the right mode than it should be, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the graphics are a bit obscure. Owners should not have to guess what they stand for.

Inside there is nice use of contrasting materials and colors, though international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie dismisses it as “faux-lux”: trying to look more expensive than the materials actually are.

There was praise for the comfortable seats, but the new seat belts in our test vehicle were tight to pull and adjust. That might be a temporary problem. Passengers in the second row can recline their heated seats with plenty of legroom and headroom, and enjoy the armrests complete with cupholders. They also have access to air vents, two USB plugs, and a 120V outlet. The rear seat is roomy, the seats fold flat, and there is underfloor storage space to stow even more gear. You can fold the seats flat from the trunk by pulling a lever. Editor in chief Ed Loh applauds the massive sunroof.

GM has one of the better infotainment systems on the market today with crisp, clean graphics and easy integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The base price of the 2018 Terrain is $40,245 USD, and our tester was not substantially higher at $43,900 USD. The question is whether it is worth $7,000 USD more than its more plebian cousin, the Chevrolet Equinox. Many will find the more responsive chassis, quieter and more luxurious cabin, and available nine-speed, even with a base 1.5-liter engine, to be worth it.

Because the test surface we used for this review is a mere month old (and still curing), our braking and handling results show longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report. With that in mind, this vehicle’s numbers are not necessarily comparable with previous or future test results.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali AWD
BASE PRICE $40,245
PRICE AS TESTED $43,900
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/252-hp/260-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,848 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 107.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 182.3 x 72.4 x 65.4 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 89.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 130 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.5 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21/26/23 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 160/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.84 lb/mile