2016 GMC Terrain Denali Quick Spin

Here’s a bewildering statistic –
General Motors sold over 347,000
GMC Terrain and
Chevrolet Equinox
crossovers in 2014, making the Theta platform twins the
best selling vehicles in their segment.
GM sold more
Terrain crossovers than
Honda did
Ford did
Escapes, and
Toyota did
RAV4s. After a week behind the wheel of the 2016 Terrain Denali, we can’t fathom why
GMC’s entry, which accounts for nearly a full third of GM’s annual small
CUV sales, has been so popular.

An inefficient engine, cheap interior plastics, uncomfortable seats, a shortage of technology, and a high price left us questioning why anyone would order this Denali over a Titanium-trim
Ford Escape, a
Jeep Cherokee Limited, or a
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with the Unlimited Package.

Driving Notes

  • While looks are subjective, we’d posit that GMC didn’t go far enough with its 2016 mid-cycle refresh. New accents on the front bumper, a tweaked grille surround, and LED running lights round out the changes up front, while the rear gets a slightly different bumper. GMC claims there’s a new hood, although we challenge you to pick out the differences – here are the official galleries for the 2013 and 2016, if you’d like to try. GMC missed a tremendous opportunity here. New headlights, some restyled taillights, and tweaked mirrors would have given the impression of a more significant refresh. As it stands, these changes don’t add up to much.
  • GMC also claims it made changes in the cabin, adding a «revised instrument panel center stack.» Aside from the missing CD slot, which has been replaced with an oddly shaped and not terribly useful shelf, it’s hard to spot much of a difference.
  • The Terrain Denali’s cabin materials feel cheap. You’ll be spending at least $35,000 to park one of these in your driveway, but aside from the leather-and-faux-wood steering wheel, no material feels worthy of that price tag inside. The lower dash plastics are hard and scratchy, the center stack feels hollow and creaks when pressed on, and the too-small shade over the seven-inch display feels flimsy. The upper dash is covered in a cheap-feeling, leather-like material that looks unchanged from when the Terrain Denali debuted back in model year 2013. These materials don’t make sense in a vehicle that, as tested, exceeded $41,000.
  • The most egregious thing about the refreshed Terrain is the lack of content. Sure, you can now get blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, a rear-view camera, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning. All of these are nice, but a lot of the things that we’ve come to take for granted in the Terrain Denali’s competitors simply aren’t available. Where are the heated steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, vented seats, LED taillights, panoramic sunroof, or push-button start!? If GMC wants to charge premium prices for its Denali trim, it needs to start offering more than just some extra chrome and faux wood.
  • We wouldn’t be so hard on the Terrain’s poor materials, indifferent styling, and short equipment list if it drove well. But it doesn’t. GM’s corporate 3.6-liter V6, which has been featured on a wide array of the company’s sedans and crossovers, sounds rather harsh at the higher reaches of the rev range. However, its 301 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque does a good job of disguising the Denali’s 4,204-pound curb weight. Although peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4,800 rpm, there’s a generous helping at the lower points in the rev range. This engine is also relatively willing to rev, but it just doesn’t sound all that nice when you get on the gas pedal hard.
  • The downside to this V6 is that the Terrain Denali is laughably inefficient, netting a rated 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway. That makes one of this segment’s worst performers. The V6-powered Jeep Cherokees seem comparably efficient at 19 city and 26 highway. Still, we were able to beat the EPA combined rating of 18 mpg, returning just over 19 mpg in mixed driving.
  • The Terrain’s aging HydraMatic 6T70 transmission was cutting edge in 2006, but lacks the performance and efficiency the market now demands. Shifts are either glacially slow or jarringly abrupt, depending on how much throttle you dial in. Downshifts are a bit more predictable, but still on the slow side of the equation. It’s also rather unwilling to engage from a standstill, all of which makes the Terrain feel slower than many of its competitors.
  • There are other disappointments here, too. The hydraulic steering has an oversized dead zone, is overly light, and completely devoid of feeling. GMC’s Denali vehicles should also offer quieter, more refined rides than the standard models, but the Terrain is too harsh and too loud.
  • Easily the most astonishing thing is the price. At $41,315 for our tester, the top-end Terrain far exceeds the price of more efficient, better equipped, and better to drive competitors like the aforementioned Escape and Santa Fe Sport.

Perhaps the best thing we can say about the Terrain is that GM has been damn smart with this update. Not because of what it did, of course, but what it didn’t do. With over 95,000 sales in 2012 and 2013, over 100,000 sales in 2014, and the pace for over 110,000 sales in 2015, where’s the incentive to add options and improve dynamics to match the competition? It simply isn’t there, which makes the 2016 Terrain’s multitude of shortcomings a prudent financial decision. We can only hope, though, that GM keeps these failings in mind when it comes time to redesign Theta-platform CUVs.

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