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Review of the 2019 GMC Terrain: Best Supporting Actor?

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The GMC Terrain plies its trade within one of the most hotly contested segments in the industry. The category overflows with high-quality products. In some cases, those products are quite literally franchise players for their brands (hello Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue).

So where does GMC’s Terrain fit into all that? Somewhere down the list is where, if you go by those all-powerful sales figures. Last year, for example, GMC delivered just under 13,000 Terrains to customers. Toyota and Honda? Each moved over 50,000 units of their cash-cos utility models in 2018.

There’s a caveat to this, mind you: the GMC Terrain has a close cousin at Chevrolet, called the Equinox. That model sells nearly twice what the Terrain does, and if you combine the two, you get a little over 34,000 unit sold in 2018.

This is enough to earn the Equinox/Terrain duo fifth sport in the segment, behind the models cited above as well as the Ford Escape.

All things considered, that’s not a bad performance at all.

Photo: GMC

What qualities are missing that prevent the model duo from climbing to the top of the charts? Nothing and everything, at once.

A unique personality
As soon as GMC decided to market the Terrain as a twin of sorts of the Chevrolet Equinox, it sought to give it its own distinct character. The resemblances are there, clearly, but it’s virtually impossible to confuse one for the other. Entirely redesigned last year, the Terrain carries a more masculine demeanour and features sharper angles. And though it all comes down to taste, those who dislike the SUV’s looks are in the small minority.

As for the product offering, it consists of three trims: the SLE, SLT and Denali. The first two of those get 4-cylinder turbo engines (1.5L and 2.0L, respectively). Each can also be had with an optional 1.6L 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine.

In our case, we we given a Denali version, which sits at the top of the product line and is powered by a 2.0L engine.

Photo: GMC

Pizza all-dressed
Across the range of GMC products, the Denalis are those that offer buyers the most. Think of them as the Cadillacs of the brand. When you pick one of these versions, elements like LED lights, ventilated seats, wireless smartphone charging and more safety functions than you can shake a stick at are a given. In return, GMC hands you a truly hefty bill. Where the Terrain SLE with FWD starts at $30,800, a Denali will cost you at least $42,300. Our edition carried a final price tag of $46,600.

To be blunt about it, that’s too much – especially since at the competition, top-end models generally sell for a few thousand dollars less. GMC is counting heavily on its Denalis line and it’s hard to blame the division; these versions account for between 20% and 35% of the brand’s sales.

All of that doesn’t change the fact that, pricing aside, this plush Terrain is of undeniably high quality. And that’s more than could be said of the outgoing generation. Clearly, the GM division did an excellent job when it revised the model for 2018.

The interior
This new generation benefits from a more-modern presentation and the layout of the materials makes for an interior environment that stands out. Of note is the absence of a traditional gear shifter on the central console. Instead the driver chooses gears using buttons located at the lower end of the console. This does require a short adjustment period, but the approach has the merit of clearing up space.

Photo: GMC

As for comfort, quite simply it’s impeccable. The seats of the Denali version in particular offer a level of support that’s cozies up to perfection. If you have a finicky back, you will find these seats absolutely divine. In the rear, space is very generous for passengers, though the bench is not quite as plush. On the other hand that bench can be folded down fully to provide a fully flat floor for loading in cargo. In that case total capacity is 1,798 litres.

Spend even a bit of time in the GMC Terrain Denali and you’ll quickly feel at ease. It’s an experience marked by conviviality. It’s easy to see the appeal for this kind of vehicle for owners with certain needs.  

The drive - up to it
One of the elements that sabotaged the old Equinox/Terrain duo before it got overhauled in 2018 was the driving experience. In short, it was more messy than marvelous. The refont of the model focused on upgrading quality, but it also prioritized making the vehicle more positive to drive.

The 2019 edition reveals an SUV so improved in this respect that it no longer has any reason to shy away from the competition. This is a significant step forward.

Photo: GMC

Mechanically, of the three engines that can be had for the Terrain, the 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that reposed under the hood of our tester is the most convincing partner for the SUV. The 1.5L turbo is a little too anemic to do the job right, in our view. As for the diesel-powered version, it’s not any more impressive, plus the savings it delivers at the pump are marginal.

Beyond question, the GMC Terrain is a far better product than when it first hit the market. Is it now fighting on equal terms with the segment big shots? We’d have to say, not yet. But the gap has closed so much that we consider this SUV a good buy.

In 2010, I was taken to task by some of the brain-trust at Chevrolet for my criticism of the then-new Equinox. My verdict was that, though it had good qualities, the model was far from being in a position to take charge of the segment.

Let’s just say that in 2019 the model has gotten a lot closer to that goal.

Photo: GMC

As for what’s still missing from the SUV for it to make up that last bit of ground, the answer is simple: time, which will allow the model to prove its reliability.

Added thoughts…
The automatic transmission that works with the 2.0L engine does its job with utmost discretion, which is a good thing.
Official fuel consumption figures: 11.2L/100 km and 9.0L/100 km (city/highway).
Our totals during our test period: 8.8L/100 km.
The navigation system’s voice recognition system is relatively well-perfected.
The pre-collision warning system is annoyingly over-sensitive.

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Photo: GMC