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First Drive: Redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain

Stronger, faster, lighter seem to have become the new #lifegoals – and I’m not just talking about the beautiful people of Instagram. It’s essentially the same directive when developing anything tangible, from smartphones to refrigerators to, well, automobiles.

With the average transaction price of a new vehicle hovering at a since-when-and-why $35,000, car buyers expect all the fuel economy, all the power and all the technology to be available. And they wanted it yesterday. For the GMC Terrain, its all-new second-generation model couldn’t arrive soon enough.

2018 GMC Terrain: New Dog, Fancy Tricks

Seven years after the first Terrain debuted for GMC, competition has grown only larger and fiercer as the crossover segment has practically taken over the market. While we can’t explain why a brand that positions itself as a premium maker of trucks and SUVs took the road less traveled in developing its all-new Terrain, we will say it’s mostly worth the wait. (C’mon, no one’s perfect.)

With so much newness to the vehicle, let’s start with the weird: there is no shifter. Not in the center console area or attached to the steering wheel column. Zip. Zilch. Nada tostada. No, the 2018 Terrain is not autonomous but replacing the traditional shifter is what GMC calls Electronic Precision Shift (EPS), a P-R-N-D-L button interface positioned just below the climate control settings.

Admittedly, it looks wonky. In execution, it’s effortless. You can’t even shift into the wrong gear if you tried. Push P while driving 75 mph on the highway and you won’t believe what happens next! Nothing. Nothing happens except for the appearance of polite warning stating that “Conditions Not Correct for Shift.” There isn’t even an annoying beep like you’ll find with some blind spot monitoring systems.

Want to go nuts and press N? Then you’ll go into neutral. Even at higher speeds, simply pressing D again gets you back into the correct gear. You won’t even break a sweat or even blink because the entire process is unintimidating. If there was anything I missed about the old-school shifter, it’s that I no longer had a place to rest my hand and wrist.

The EPS system becomes such a space saver that the Terrain’s interior features more nooks, crannies and black holes for stuff I didn’t know I had. And as if to inspire me into buying more things I didn’t know I needed, the front passenger seat also folds flat.

Although you’ll need to load your stand-up paddleboard on the rooftop, your surfboard, canoe, or sleepy road-tripping self can all lay comfortably in up to 8 feet of cargo room when all three rows are folded down. This flexible front passenger seat is a GMC-only feature that is standard in all Terrain models.

More Engines, Much Torque

Also standard is a new base engine with two new optional ones, and all three are turbocharged. A 1.5-liter gasoline engine is first in line with 170 horsepower and 201 pound-feet of torque, while a punchier 2.0-liter gasoline engine brings 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to the table. Also available is a 1.6-liter diesel which offers 137 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. That engine makes the Terrain, and its corporate sibling the Chevrolet Equinox, the only compact crossovers to currently offer a diesel powertrain.

The diesel is paired with the carryover six-speed automatic transmission to achieve an EPA-estimated 28/39 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive. Gasoline-powered vehicles receive an all-new nine-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive fuel economy on 1.5-liter-equipped models is estimated at 26/30 mpg and the 2.0-liter engine is rated at 22/28 mpg. Start-stop technology also is now standard for all engines.

Dynamics was never a selling point for crossovers, as the vehicles could generally get by on storage space and style. But it’s not for lack of trying (read: Mazda CX-5). So, where does the Terrain rank amongst this group of generally ho-hum grocery getters? Less ho-hum and more holy hell, at least for a crossover. The Terrain’s handling isn’t eye opening as much as it is surprising for the segment.

With a test fleet of only prototype and early-production vehicles, the all-new Terrain was still quite good. Road manners are pleasant and steering is precise. The power from the 2.0-liter is more than plenty, meaning the extra horsepower is really just to make you smile. The diesel maneuvers well, but can seem strained at times, like when climbing a steep hill if the vehicle is loaded with four adults and their airport luggage.

The new nine-speed was impressive in how non-intrusive it was, as if merely humming along in the background. Shifts were smooth and relatively unnoticeable. As for why a six-speed in the diesel? GMC stated there were no significant efficiencies benefits when the nine-speed was utilized.

And although we didn’t get a chance to test out its towing prowess, trailering numbers are identical to last year’s model at 1,500 pounds (1.5-liter gas and 1.6-liter diesel) and 3,500 pounds (2.0-liter gas).

Plenty Safe, Pretty Face

Arriving in dealerships now, the 2018 GMC Terrain is available in four trims and starts at $24,995 (plus a $975 destination fee). Prices have gone up but there are additional standard features and trim-engine pairings are more streamlined.

The SL remains a front-wheel-drive-only base engine model and features 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, keyless entry, push-button start, cloth upholstery with 4-way manual adjustments for the front seats, a 3.5-inch driver information screen, a 6-speaker audio system, and complimentary OnStar Basic service for 5 years. Connectivity features are a 7-inch infotainment display, smartphone integration, two 12-volt outlets, four USB ports and Wi-Fi hot spot capability with a three-month trial data plan.

Design-wise, the exterior features new HID headlights with LED signature lighting in the front and rear. The overall shape of the all-new Terrain is muscular and further accentuated by three new grille designs.

The interior features new materials and more soft-touch surfaces.

Moving up to the midlevel SLE and SLT trims allows you not only to choose from additional packages and accessories but also the mix-and-match ability of front- and all-wheel drive with any of the three engines. The top-of-the-line Denali is equipped solely with the 2.0-liter, but it’s also available in either front- or all-wheel drive.

And not to be outdone by the competition, the all-new Terrain features double the safety offerings of its predecessor. Standard are a rearview camera and the Teen Driver system (which allows for custom settings to vehicle features) while rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear park assist and lane departure warning remain as available options. New-for-2018 safety offerings include lane keep assist, front park assist, a following distance indicator, automatic braking, a safety alert seat, automatic parking assist and a 360-degree surround view camera system.

Overall, this second-generation redesign of the GMC Terrain is surprisingly impressive, especially with its handling. Although the vehicle isn’t the cheapest or even the handsomest in the segment, its capability, flexibility and performance should place the all-new Terrain higher on shopping lists than its predecessor.

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