2018 GMC Terrain Denali Review: A True Baby Brother to the Sturdy Yukon

2018 GMC Terrain Denali AWD
Words and photos by Derek Mau

Redesigned for 2018, the GMC Terrain Denali has been downsized into a sleek package with a lower profile and lots of chrome trim. Powering the compact SUV is a new turbocharged engine and nine-speed automatic. After a road trip to Southern California with the family, can the second-generation crossover convince us to drop a pretty penny on GMC’s newest mini-Yukon?


The fresh sheetmetal of the all-new 2018 GMC Terrain is a nice step forward over the previous generation. The square-ish front end, extra chrome trim everywhere and small rear quarter windows make for a bigger visual statement over its cousin, the Chevy Equinox. The lower, longer profile gives it a much sleeker look over the first generation Terrain.

Slip into the cabin, and you’re treated to comfy leather seats that are heated and cooled for the front passengers. Drivers will appreciate the heated steering wheel during the cold winter months. A look around the cabin shows a lot of flash from the real aluminum trim, but sadly, a lot of hard plastic on the dash and door panels take away from the premium feel.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali interior


Underneath the hood of the Denali is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivering 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. There’s abundant power to scoot the all-wheel drive crossover from a dead stop and enough grunt to effortlessly weave through traffic at ridiculously low RPMs.

Nonetheless, many will find the shifting functions of the new transmission a bit frustrating in the beginning since it needs a combination of pulling and pushing to select gears. It doesn’t require reading the manual to get going, but it indeed is not the most intuitive way to shift gears.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali 9-speed automatic transmission
9-speed automatic transmission push-button gear selector

If you like something tactile when downshifting, get used to using your right foot to mash the throttle and forcing the transmission into a lower gear. Reaching over to manually downshift and get the engine revving higher into the powerband is just absurd.

The all-wheel drive drivetrain is estimated to squeak out 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. After our 1200-mile journey to and from Southern California, we netted 24 mpg despite slogging through Los Angeles traffic.


The smaller and lighter 2nd-generation GMC Terrain won’t dazzle you with its acceleration, but it has plenty of thrust. It didn’t falter as we sprinted up hills and was more than capable of passing slower traffic on the busy highway or when traveling on two-lane country roads. Summed up, it’s fairly nimble and responsive for a compact crossover that weighs 3,800 pounds.

Competent, composed road manners are no surprise from Terrain Denali. Ride and handling compare favorably to others in its category, including rivals from German automakers.


Missing on our long journey to the city of angels is adaptive cruise control. Fortunately, this oversight is quickly forgotten by the Terrain’s generous 63.3 cubic feet of cargo space, lots of cubbies to stash goodies out of sight, and a plethora of USB ports to charge our devices. With all this goodness, the overall interior design and choice of materials don’t live up to the near $45,000 price tag of our generously optioned tester.

Standard features in the Terrain Denali include four USB ports and the IntelliLink infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen and navigation, Bluetooth, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. OnStar 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot is also standard.

GM’s IntelliLink system is user-friendly, and the well-organized interface makes it easy to find the controls you need. The Terrain also comes standard with plenty of connectivity features, and available wireless device charging, which also doubles as a nice pocket to hold your cell phone.

Available features include a panoramic sunroof, automatic parking assist, 360-degree Surround Vision camera system, ventilated (cooled) front seats; lane-keep assist with lane departure warning, forward collision alert, auto high beam, and tow package.

The rear seats and passenger front seat fold flat to open up the cargo area for some creative packing. A welcome bonus is the additional storage space hidden under the rear cargo floor.

On rough pavement, the Terrain could use some more sound insulation. Wind noise and tire rumble battle over the Bose audio system’s output, which takes away the otherwise premium experience.

Since the Denali stands at the very top of the GMC Terrain range – the company describes it as “the ultimate expression” of the crossover – one might expect it to arrive fully loaded. Wrong. Features like a panoramic sunroof, IntelliBeam headlamps, 360-degree Surround Vision camera system, and automatic parking assist are all add-on options. That pushes the price tag upwards even further and into to the realm of luxury brands such as Cadillac, Audi, Infiniti, and Volvo.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali wireless device charging


  • Six standard airbags, including frontal driver and passenger, roof rail-mounted head curtain and thorax side-impact airbags
  • Collapsible pedal assembly
  • Standard rear-vision camera
  • Rear Seat Reminder alerts when the second-row doors are opened before the vehicle is started
  • Driver Alert Package I is available on SLE and SLT and standard on Denali. Content includes Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, Rear Park Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Safety Alert Driver Seat
  • Driver Alert Package II is available and includes Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Following Distance Indicator and IntelliBeam headlamps
  • Advanced Safety Package is available and includes Automatic Parking Assist and Surround Vision


The sharp-looking, near-premium cruiser 2018 GMC Terrain Denali makes a bolder visual statement when compared to class competitors, such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Mazda CX-5. Yes, the all-new Terrain Denali has a higher starting price, but it delivers a smooth ride, a comfortable cabin that is both spacious and functional, and a robust suite of safety features.

The big pill we found hard to swallow is the Denali’s MSRP near $40,000 before choosing any factory options. For that much dinero, we expect more from a crossover with a fancy nameplate.

Here are three fun facts you should know about the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali.

Base MSRP $39,270
Price as tested $44,370
Engine 2.0L Turbo DOHC direct injection 4-cylinder
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Horsepower (hp @ rpm) 252 @ 5500
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm) 260 @ 2500-4500
Drivetrain (layout) Transverse mounted, AWD
Fuel economy mpg (city/hwy/combined) 21 / 26 / 24 (observed)
Fuel tank capacity (gal.) 15.6
Front suspension MacPherson strut with specifically tuned coil springs with urethane spring isolators, direct-acting stabilizer bar
Rear suspension Four-link independent rear suspension, urethane spring isolators
Brakes, rotor size (in.) Four-wheel disc with ABS and ESC
Front: 12.6  |  Rear: 11.3
Wheels and tires 19-in. ultra bright machined aluminum P235/50R19
EPA passenger volume (cu. ft.) 103.2
Max cargo volume (cubic feet) 29.6 (behind rear seat)
63.3 (rear seat folded)
81 (front pass. seat and rear seat folded)
Base curb weight (lb.) 3,801
Towing capacity (lb.) 3,500