PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — When Chevrolet announced that the company would be replacing the aging Equinox crossover, we knew that a new version of the Equinox’s Theta platform-based twin, the GMC Terrain, wouldn’t be too far behind. And after sampling the 2018 Terrain on winding, tree-lined Pennsylvania back roads near Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater home, we’re sure that this GMC is as capable and rugged as shoppers hope.
On the outside, it’s a handsome 4×4. The front fascia is unique among the crossover segment, and gives the Terrain a very sharp, aggressive front end. Unlike many other offerings, which are toned down and feminine, the Terrain—and GMC’s new Like a Pro ad campaign—aims to appeal to a demographic looking for more masculine styling. The LED headlights and taillights both offer severe angles, which complete the car’s new design.
New 17-inch wheels are standard, as are active aero shutters in the Terrain’s grille, which help improve fuel economy to its EPA-rated 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway for the standard 1.5-liter turbo-four, which puts out 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. There are three turbocharged engines available in all, the other two being a 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder that makes 252 hp and 260 lb-ft and an all-new 1.6-liter turbodiesel four good for 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. All three work superbly in the Terrain, easily carting around its sub-4,000-lb mass—although, if we were spending our own money, we’d likely choose the higher-output 2.0-liter as it offers a more responsive character than the rest of the group.
Inside, GMC paid extra attention to what the driver touches and interacts with. Occupants are treated to soft hewn leather, supremely cushiony seats, the newest version of GM’s infotainment system (which comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), and interior space for days. One new addition that’s unlike its Equinox kin, however, is the Terrain’s new push-pull gear selection system.
Whereas FCA has experimented with a rotary dial and Ford has gone with a center-mounted push-button setup on Lincolns, GMC’s new setup is by far the easiest to use. In a line on the dash, right below the HVAC controls, there are buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Low, with all nine of the crossover’s gears selectable. Both Reverse and Drive are push-pull buttons that are a snap to use. Even when making a three-point turn, the buttons are easily reached, and the transmission never jerks or stutters, as other transmissions with electronic shifters are wont to do.
While ample, space in the Terrain isn’t always ideal. The panoramic sliding glass roof makes the Terrain feel open and breezy, but the position of the front seat and its lack of maneuverability make it feel slightly cramped. The seats themselves sit far too high and the vertically gifted will be unable to achieve a good distance between themselves, the dash, and the steering wheel. We ended up with the seat far too rearwards, the steering wheel as high as it could go, and our arms stretched. It wasn’t as bad for our shorter driving partner, but he too had spacing issues.
In the rear of the Terrain, things are a little different. Legroom is quite good, as is headroom, thanks to the recess of the panoramic glass roof. Where the Terrain truly shines, though, is storage space. With the rear seats up, there’s 29.6 cubic feet of space, or about the same as Mazda’s CX-5. Seats down, the Terrain offers 63.3 cubic feet— nearly four more cubic feet of space than the Mazda. And unlike the CX-5, the Terrain’s front passenger seat can be folded completely flat, increasing that space to over 81.0 cubic feet—22 cubic feet more than its Japanese crossover competitor. However, it’s not quite as spacious as the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V, which offer 73.4 cubic feet and 75.8 cubic feet behind the second row, respectively, though like the Mazda, neither boasts the flat-folding front seat.
Unfortunately, the driving characteristics aren’t as good as the competition mentioned above. Winding through the emerald-green forests of the Pennsylvania mountains, there’s a supreme lack of connection between the steering wheel and what the wheels are doing, along with an unhealthy amount of play. As we zigged and zagged through the countryside, we became less confident in the system and soon slowed our velocity. It’s not expected to be a Corvette or Camaro, but a more in-tune connection to the road would be welcome.
The new 2018 GMC Terrain can be had with a base price of $25,970. However, according to GMC, the average retail price of a new Terrain is around $45,000. The Denali model we used to travel Pennsylvania’s jade forests and sparkling blue waterways was closer to $50,000, which is a lot to ask for something that’s a mildly more luxurious Equinox.
While peeling away the Terrain’s skin will reveal the same bones, dash layout, and drivetrains as the frugal and family-oriented Chevy Equinox, the second-generation GMC seems to have transcended those economical roots. It’s better looking, both inside and out, and far plusher than its skeleton implies. The Equinox is already a damn fine people hauler, but by giving it a slightly more luxurious appeal, GM made a crossover that’s attractive to premium SUV buyers and mass-market consumers alike. If you’re shopping for a premium crossover, and only have Acura, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus on your list, we recommend adding GMC.
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