Road Test Review – 2016 GMC Terrain Denali AWD – By Tim Esterdahl

Review: 2016 GMC Terrain Denali AWD Falls Short In Key Areas

While most people think of a “Denali” as a large, luxury SUV, the name really applies to a whole range of products GMC offers. One of these is the small Terrain SUV with ample cargo room and lots of features. However, if you are looking for the Yukon or Sierra Denali experience in this smaller package, it just falls short.

Officially, GMC lists the Terrain as a mid-size crossover utility and it was launched in 2010 – replacing the Pontiac Torrent when the Pontiac brand ended. It shares the same platform as the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and received the Denali trim in 2013. It also recently received a new facelift for the 2016 models consisting of new exterior styling with front/rear fascias, grille, hood, LED daytime running lights and wheels. Inside, it received a new gear selector, second storage shelf under the dash and the door lock buttons were removed from the dashboard.

The new exterior looks and interior updates help the Terrain blend in better with the existing lineup as it looks more like a smaller Yukon. Yet, the sheer size of the Yukon helps it pull off the look while the smaller Terrain doesn’t quite do the same. Instead, much of the chrome accents seem too large for the small SUV and the rear is quite large in comparison to the front seats.

On the road, any similarities with the Yukon are further diminished. The Terrain simply doesn’t ride as smooth nor does the powertrain feel like it is well suited for the vehicle.

In fact, our test model was equipped with the optional 3.6L V6 ($1,500) upgrade which GMC says produces 301 HP at 6500 RPM for a “satisfying” 0-60 MPH time of 6.7 seconds. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the SUV felt flat off the line.

Also, the fuel economy was pretty disappointing in our AWD version with an EPA estimated 16/23/18 city/highway/combined. I say disappointing because compared to say a Ford Edge Titanium in 2.0L EcoBoost four-cylinder, which will feel similar if not more powerful than the non-turbo V6, the Edge returns 20/28/23 city/highway/combined fuel economy – a vast improvement.

Behind the wheel, the interior layout is just OK with most knobs and buttons within easy reach. However, the red color emitting from the dash screens along with the sun-light hood over the infotainment system makes it seem draconian.

While the Terrain didn’t leave me with a good impression, it is quite popular with GMC customers. According to GMC, it is their second-best selling vehicle with the majority of buyers being female – some 44 percent. These female customers cite the exterior as the number 1 purchase reason.

My belief is these customers are looking at different color combinations and trim levels of the Terrain. For example, during my week of driving the SUV, I saw quite a few in my area with white, red and silver exterior colors in SLE and SLT trim levels – not so much chrome editions. I’m not anti-chrome and in fact, I really like the new Yukon. I just think in this SUV, less is more.

Besides looks and styling, the GMC Terrain does offer an ample amount of rear cargo room and entry/exit are excellent for kids and those of shorter stature.

If you are in the market for an AWD cross-over SUV with features and plentiful cargo room, the 2016 GMC Terrain is worth a look. However, if interior layout and driving dynamics are more important to you, this may not be the SUV for you.


Model: 2016 GMC Terrain Denali AWD

Engine: 3.6L V6 (optional upgrade from 2.4L four-cylinder)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

EPA Fuel Economy: 16/23/18 city/highway/combined


  • Cargo Package (trunk convenience net, rear security cargo cover, roof rack cross rails) – $280
  • Engine, 3.6L with Dual Premium Exhaust Tips – $1,500
  • Power Sunroof – $995
  • Color Touch Navigation with Intellilink – $495
  • 19” Denali Specific Wheels – $400
  • Ebony Twilight Metallic – $395
  • Trailering Equipment Package – $365

Price as Tested: $41,080 with $925 Destination Charge


  • Cargo Room
  • Entry/Exit
  • Exterior styling improvements


  • Powertrain performance
  • Interior layout
  • Dash lights and red accent colors

Tim Esterdahl is a married father of three who enjoys all things automotive including wrenching on his collection of old pickups. You can find his work here and in print in Truck Trend magazine as well as on  Recently, he is growing a huge audience at his website

He also plays an absurd amount of golf. Like, really absurd.

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