First drive: 2018 GMC Terrain

GMC\'s two-row is back, and now it offers diesel power.

The Terrain reinvented Eight years have passed since the first Terrain debuted, and little has changed up till now. A nip/tuck to the exterior and a couple additional powertrain options were added to keep their entry-level crossover vehicle current, but hardly competitive. In a hotly contested crossover market that has become one of the most popular automotive segments, it never stood out or provided any sort of excitement. With its generic boxy design, it didn't win over many hearts or even earn a second glance by many consumers in the marketplace. It screamed rental-car and for a good reason.

Enter the second-generation Terrain, all new from the ground-up, it scrubs the dowdy box-like appliance for an all-new more contemporary design. What really makes it interesting is the introduction of a turbo diesel, a first for the entry-level luxury crossover segment in the United States. An option that sets it apart from the sea of crossovers on the market that offers both power and fuel economy. It's a bold move for GMC at a time when diesels from all manufacturers are under extra scrutiny after the Dieselgate scandal in which the likes of VW and Audi were caught cheating the system to pass emissions.

We took a quick flight out to Pittsburgh to join the GMC crew and spent a day on the road with their latest offering through the city and into the woods, on both curvy roads and steep grades to get an idea of just how much has changed since the first generation Terrain.

First blush GMC was a brand we seldom thought about when thinking about the different options available for the crossover market. It had always been a brand that only offered trucks and proper SUVs. When the Terrain was launched back in 2010, it never really caught much attention. Content and powertrain options weren't particularly interesting and it had seemed like GMC had thrown it into the lineup to fill a niche. We can confidently say for the 2018 redesign, an honest effort has been made to become class-competitive in both content and design. With crossovers becoming the fastest growing segment in the industry, GMC is finally making a serious effort to compete and gain market share. Bucking the usual trend of growing in size like many of the other manufacturers, GMC decided to make the 2018 Terrain smaller and lighter than the outgoing model. Vehicle length shrinks 3 inches from 185.3 to 182.3 inches and the wheelbase drops a whopping 5.2 inches from 112.5 to 107.3 inches. The width remains just about the same only losing .02 inches. Through some clever packaging with the interior, front passenger space remains about the same and rear seat passengers receive a significant 2.5-inch increase in legroom to 39.7 inches compared to the previous generation. It also managed to lose approximately 160 pounds off the front-wheel drive model and 253 pounds off the all-wheel drive models. Impressive considering the amount of content and safety devices that have been added in this new generation.

Both the interior and exterior receive a complete revamp with both design and materials. You wouldn't recognize it as a GMC on the outside if not for the badging and the signature love-it or hate-it large rectangular chrome grille up front. Two c-shaped headlamps with integrated LED driving lights flank the front fascia giving it a unique yet aggressive look. The same design language carries over to the rear with similarly c-shaped tail lamps. It also sports a floating roof and a more sculpted body making the baby-GMC more visually interesting and appealing. It's a reminder of just how far the designers and engineers have come since the Terrain was first introduced.

The interior has also received a makeover with soft-touch materials through-out along with extra dash insulation on diesel models to further attenuate engine noise. Also redesigned is the leather wrapped four-spoke steering wheel with integrated cruise and info buttons on the front, volume and preset controls on the back.

The center stack is well organized with the large infotainment display sitting on top with redundant audio controls just below it. All climate control buttons and knobs are logically placed in the center and easily accessed while driving. Just below it is the new "Electronic Precision Shift" drive selector which replaces the traditional console mounted gear selector with separate buttons for Park and Drive modes. This gave the engineers space to add larger side-by-side cup holders which allows use of the armrest even when there are large cups occupying both the cup holders. There is also a small storage bin for your passenger's phone in the dash just above the glove box.

The new Terrain also sports a hands-free liftgate. Just wave your foot under the rear bumper and the power liftgate opens after a couple beeps. Standard on the Denali and optional on all other trims. A feature that carries over from the previous generation is the fold-flat passenger and rear seats which can fit objects up to eight feet in length inside. Great for those occasional trips to Home Depot or Ikea which sometimes require a little more cargo room than your standard CUV can fit. Or in our case, a kayak. The new platform, named GM D2XX is thirty-four percent more rigid than the outgoing model through the expanded use of structural adhesives and that help to tighten up the body and reduce overall NVH. The improvements were immediately noticeable on the first drive that I will get more into later.

Pricing starts at $25,970 for the base SL and $32,295 for the SLT trim, roughly an 8 percent increase over the 2017 model. The SL is outfitted with the 1.5 liter Turbo 4-cylinder, and comes standard with HID headlamps, 7-inch infotainment system, and 17 inch wheels. Step up to the SLT and it comes with larger 18 inch wheels, 8 inch infotainment system, fog lamps, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, remote start, and chrome exterior accents.

The Denali trim sees a similar 8 percent increase and starts at $38,495 which comes standard with the 2.0 liter turbo 4-cylinder mated to the 9-speed automatic. As their top-of-the-line trim, it gets 19-inch wheels, LED headlamps, hands-free power liftgate, simulated wood trim inside, Navigation, heated steering wheel.

Forced Induction With the redesign, comes a three new turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. The two gasoline fed engines come with an all-new nine-speed automatic while the only diesel offering is paired with the existing sixspeed automatic. The increasingly popular CVT is not an option with any of the engine configurations, unusual in the crossover segment that is dominated by them.

There are two options for the standard gasoline motor, a 1.5 and a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbo. The 1.5 liter makes 170hp and 201 ft/lbs of torque, and the 2.0 liter makes 252hp and 260 ft/lbs of torque.

The most efficient motor in the lineup then, is the 1.6 liter turbo diesel making a scant 137hp but offering up 240 ft/lbs of torque while returning good mpg. The official epa numbers have it at 28mpg city and 39mpg highway with 32mpg combined.

The Drive The GMC crew set us up with both the 1.6 liter turbo diesel in SLT trim for the beginning half of trip and the Denali with the standard 2.0 liter turbo for the drive back. The planned route took us through the city and into some curvy back roads to test the suspension for both comfort and handling. Both the SLT and Denali were well optioned and had such niceties as the panoramic roof, power liftgate, leather seating, and the upgraded 8-inch infotainment displays with Android auto/Apple CarPlay.

We started the drive in the diesel model in heavy city traffic and our initial impression was good. The ride was firm but comfortable and did a good job insulating us from the expansion joints, potholes, and train tracks we encountered driving out of the city. Outside noises were well attenuated and although there was some buzzing coming from the panoramic roof and squeaking coming from somewhere in the rear interior, a problem the Denali trim did not have over the same roads.

The diesel Terrain averaged approximately 38 mpg in mixed driving conditions and we weren't light on the gas pedal. With the abundance of torque on-tap from a low rpm, we never felt the need to floor the pedal to merge onto the highway and it had no problems keeping the momentum ascending a few of the steep grades we encountered. The six-speed automatic also performed remarkably well with smooth shifts through the gears on acceleration and it never had to hunt for gears when ascending long steep grades.

Being a crossover, buyers won't expect it to be a barn burner or have sports car handling, but it held its own when we hit the country back roads. Take a turn too hot and the tires will scrub and exhibit a bit of under steer. Push the Terrain any further and it will quickly remind you that it's still an SUV. Cruising down the interstate, engine noise in both the diesel and the gas versions were near silent, unusual for small displacement motors. The downside is with the powertrain muted, it seemed to amplify the tire and road noise on anything other than smooth asphalt.

The Terrain we drove also came equipped with perforated leather and power driver and passenger seats. Surprising to us is that both driver and passenger seats also came with power adjustable lumbar support. Most vehicles in this class don't even offer such a feature on the passenger side. Unfortunately, even with the ample lumbar support, the padding was just slightly too firm and it was difficult to find a comfortable seating position for the extended drive on the diesel SLT trim. The Denali was softer and comfortable on the two hour drive back.

For the technology minded, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are offered in all trim levels with either a seven-inch or eight-inch touch-screen. Having sampled infotainment systems across various manufacturers, the GMC units are by far the quickest to boot and the simplest to navigate and use. We plugged in an Android phone, answered a few prompts, and voila, it was connected almost instantly. We won't go into detail about all the benefits of offering this feature, but let's just say being able to run Google maps on the large LCD display is a great perk, one that costs nothing extra and is constantly updated for free.

Of note on the Denali trim, we inadvertently got to test the collision avoidance system when the vehicle ahead of us made a sudden stop. Red lights flashed on the dashboard and the driver's seat vibrated before it activated the brakes, which brought our vehicle to a halt well before it made contact with the rear of the other vehicle. It was hair-raising and impressive at the same time.

Leftlane's bottom line GMC has made great strides to reinvent itself with the 2018 Terrain. It sets itself apart by offering the only diesel motor in its class for the domestic market, responsive infotainment system with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay across all trims, and with decent driving dynamics at a reasonable sticker price. It may not be class-leading but it is class competitive and merits consideration if you're in the market for an entry-level luxury crossover.

Photos courtesy of GMC.

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