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GMC Terrain Denali: Rugged Luxury of Compact Crossovers

By Frank A. Aukofer, January 2nd, 2016

The best way to assess the 2016 GMC Terrain AWD Denali is to think of it in the context of an heirloom watch: expensive, old-fashioned, but serviceable and reliable.

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Terrain is offered in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models, in SL, SLE and SLT trim levels, as well as the Denali
Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Terrain is offered in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models, in SL, SLE and SLT trim levels, as well as the Denali

It's an unusual take on a compact crossover sport utility vehicle that is less than six years old. But the Terrain's heritage depends on others from General Motors, notably the Chevrolet Equinox, which also is a relative youngster introduced in 2005.

They are part of what has become the best-selling category in the current automobile firmament: Compact crossovers are proliferating everywhere, from economy models to all-out sport and luxury versions, which is the reason for the Terrain Denali.

The Terrain was originally penned as the Pontiac Torrent. But when GM deep-sixed Pontiac in 2009 after 83 years as a proud nameplate, the Torrent moved to the surviving GMC division with an assumed name. Later it became the GMC version of the Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of the curious phenomenon among some buyers of actually wanting to spend more money on their vehicles, manufacturers are increasingly coming up with more heavily optioned versions with high-lux names like Platinum and Titanium. At GMC, the top-level model designation is Denali, which is proving to be a sales success across its line of pickup trucks and SUVs. (By the way, Denali, in Alaska, is the tallest mountain in North America, at 20,310 feet).

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Terrain is offered in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models, in SL, SLE and SLT trim levels, as well as the Denali

The Terrain Denali tested for this review had a bottom-line sticker price of $41,215, not the most expensive compact crossover by a long shot, but higher than popular-priced competitors like the best-selling Honda CR-V or Ford Escape.

Included in the price were such state-of-the-art security and safety items as lane departure and blind spot warning, forward collision alert, and rear cross traffic alert. Of course, it also had standard systems like stability and traction control, backup camera, and tire pressure monitoring.

Among its convenience and connectivity features were rolling 4G LTE Wi-Fi, GM's OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation and automatic crash reporting, SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth communications, smartphone integration, voice-activated audio controls, memory power driver's seat, automatic climate control, motorized sunroof, and special 19-inch alloy wheels.

The priciest item on the options list ($1,500) was the all-wheel-drive test vehicle's 301-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine with direct fuel injection and 272 lb.-ft. of torque. City/highway/combined fuel economy is unexceptional at 16/23/18 mpg. The standard engine is a 182-hp, four-cylinder with 172 lb.-ft. of torque. Power goes to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

For 2016, the Terrain Denali receives an extensive re-skinning that includes new front and rear fascia, a new grille, so-called power dome hood, new wheels, and LED daytime running lights.

Manufacturer photo: The 2016 Terrain is offered in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models, in SL, SLE and SLT trim levels, as well as the Denali

It also has interior modifications that enhance the luxury persona, with quality materials and trim, big and comfortable leather seats in front and the outboard rear positions, and plenty of cubbies to stash stuff. Though there's generous headroom and a flat floor in back, the center rear seat cushions are lumpy and uncomfortable.

Though the Terrain Denali looks and feels a bit bigger than some of its compact crossover competitors, it delivers similar interior room. It is 6 inches longer than the best-selling Honda CR-V with 100 cubic-feet of passenger space and 32 cu.-ft. for cargo. But the CR-V has 102 cu.-ft. for passengers and 35 cu.-ft. for cargo.

Despite its array of features, the Terrain Denali has a few curious shortcomings, as if it missed out on some updates. For example, the tester does not have pushbutton starting or an express up and down power window on the driver's side. And though the V-6 looks powerful on paper, it lacks some spunk on road, almost feeling at times as if it is holding back when the driver presses on the accelerator pedal.

Handling is capable as long as the Terrain is not pushed too hard. Its forte is steady freeway cruising, where it tracks straight without much effort from the driver.

Consumer Reports gives the Terrain a better-than-average reliability record. With the Denali's luxury bonus, it can better please GMC's financially comfortable customers.


Base price $36,650 (as tested: $41,215)
Curb weight 4,204 lbs.
Displacement 3.6-liter
Engine type 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/DI
Epa mileage rating 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 20 gal.
Horsepower (net) 301 at 6500 rpm
Overall length 185.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 272 at 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD compact CUV
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