Unveiled earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show, the all-new 2018 GMC Terrain reflects a major recasting of the division’s premium compact SUV with a bolder look, more refined platform architecture, enhanced comfort/convenience/safety features and a trio of new turbocharged 4-cylinder engines including a super-efficient turbodiesel. Collectively, these changes promise to make the 2018 Terrain an even more formidable player in what’s become one of today’s hottest market segments. To better judge the full impact of the upgrades on the second-best-selling model in GMC’s SUV lineup, we headed to Pennsylvania to spend time in several Terrain variants. Our eclectic and enlightening drive route took us from Pittsburgh to Mill Run -- location of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Fallingwater house -- and back in a journey that encompassed everything from inner-city rush-hour crawling to Interstate cruising to negotiating hilly, twisty rural two-lane roads.

Refined exterior style

Even at a glance, the recast Terrain displays greater curbside presence with specific trim cues reserved for each of its SL, SLE, SLT and Denali grades. Introducing GMC next-gen design cues, all versions boast edgier fascia treatments and more sculpted body panels set off with a “floating” D-pillar roof and alloy wheels across the board. At Denali level, the HID headlamps give way to full LED units. The transition to a new platform -- which is shared with the 2018 Chevy Equinox -- left the new Terrain marginally shorter than its predecessor and with 5.2 inches less wheelbase. However, that changeover also trimmed its turning circle to improve maneuverability in tight confines and helped shed some 350 pounds which resulted in a notable boost in agility and fuel economy.

Greater cabin charm

The interior of the 2018 GMC Terrain also got a major shot of upscale appeal, complementing even more contemporary styling with some impressive technology. For openers, GMC graced its compact hauler with luxo touches that range from a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors and real aluminum accents, to OnStar with 4G LTE as well as active noise cancellation on all models. Also on hand is the latest GM infotainment system that debuted in Cadillac ATS/CTS/XTS models. Whether using a 7.0-inch or 8.0-inch high-res screen, it provides new personalization possibilities and comes with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Even the base Terrain SL comes with dual front/rear USB ports, two 12V powerpoints and Bluetooth, while moving up the model hierarchy adds or offers things like a 110V AC outlet, Wi-Fi, a Bose audio system and wireless charging.

While its well-contoured front buckets remain the Terrain’s preferred perches, the fixed-position 60/40 split rear bench maintains sufficient head and legroom to carry a pair of full size adults in comfort or three in a pinch. Although the downsizing had only marginal impact on people space in the aft quarters, the 2018 GMC Terrain’s basic cargo capacity does dip from 31.6 to 29.6 cu ft and from 63.9 to 63.3 with the rear seatbacks folded flat. However, the 2018 iteration gains a new flat-folding seatback on the passenger-side front bucket which effectively bumps total toting capacity and allows items up to eight feet long to be secured inside with the tailgate closed.

More competent in corners

While it remains more sport utility than sports car, the Terrain has a surprisingly confident feel with impressive body control even when being cornered at a fairly brisk pace. A good deal of that engaging character is attributable to its 34-percent stiffer core structure and a well-tuned, fully independent suspension that can be matched with a 17-inch or 18-inch wheel/tire package on the SL/SLE/SLT models or a standard 19-inch upfit on the Denali. The Terrain’s range-topping variant also get its own modestly tauter chassis tuning which enthusiasts should enjoy but others may find a tad harsh over rougher pavement.

A trio of turbos

Although the veteran 182-horsepower/2.4-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder and 301-horsepower/3.5-liter V6 depart, the new turbocharged inline-fours in the trimmer Gen II Terrain proved to be solid if not exactly exhilarating replacements. Anchoring the group is a 170-horsepower/1.5-liter that makes 203 lb-ft of torque, while the Denali now comes with a 252-horse/2.0-liter that cranks out 260 lb-ft of twist and can be had as an option on SLE and SLT models. Both are backed by GM’s smooth and responsive 9-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.

Those seeking maximum mileage can opt for the new 1.6-liter Turbo Diesel that makes 137 ponies but 240 lb-ft of torque. A late-arriving alternative to be offered on Terrain SLE/SLT models, this 50-state oil-burner is paired with a 6-speed Hydra-Matic and is commendably quiet thanks to additional sound deadener under the hood and on the firewall. It carries an EPA city rating of 28 mpg in FWD/AWD configurations while returning 39-mpg highway in the former and 38 mpg in the latter. Like the 1.5-liter, the tow rating on the 1.6-liter Turbo Diesel maxes out at 1,500 pounds regardless of driven wheels while Terrains with the 2.0-liter can pull up to 3,500 pounds.   

Regardless of their cog count, all 2018 GMC Terrain transmissions are controlled by GMC’s new Electronic Precision Shifter mechanism. Frankly, we’re less convinced than GMC about the extent of its added user friendliness and rue the lack of a Sport mode. But there’s no denying this replacement for the conventional floor-mounted gear lever is far more space-efficient and allows for an even-larger covered center stow bin and new side-by-side cup holders.

Enhanced safety features

In keeping with the times, GMC also bolstered the list of driver assists available on the 2018 Terrain. New features include a 360-degree Surround Vision camera, Automatic Park Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Low-speed Automatic Braking, Following Distance Indicator – although still no adaptive cruise control – and Front Park Assist while GMC’s Rear Seat Reminder feature becomes standard across the lineup.

Pricing for the 2018 GMC Terrain starts at $25,970 for a front-drive SL model with the SLE kicking off at $28,795. The more feature-rich and leather-lined SLT features a starting sticker price of $32,295, with the range-topping Denali commencing at $38,495. Although its absolute sales numbers won’t come close to those of the segment-dominating Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, we anticipate the all-new and significantly improved GMC Terrain will turn up on the short lists of even more potential buyers seeking a compact SUV with premium character and a winning personality.

More New Compact SUVs and Crossovers

The 2018 GMC Terrain is one of more than a dozen choices in the segment. Check out our Compact SUV Buyer's Guide to see what's new, what's next and who's winning all the awards.


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