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REVIEW: 2016 GMC Terrain Denali a Great Luxury Kid-Hauler

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Back when the GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox twins were newly redesigned circa 2010, my wife had a hots for the ‘Nox. I was just, OK with its curvy shapes. But the Terrain was a lot more appealing with its square jaws — and after a week living with the Denali version, I can say it would have made a great kid-hauler for us if we had been playing in the high-$30K, low-$40K range at the time.

Truth is, we’re still not playing in that price range when we car shop — but nowadays that’s mostly because we have two small kids and own a home. You know, priorities.

At any rate, the 2016 GMC Terrain won fast fans in my family. My toddler liked sitting up high and looking out the large glass, plus the floor was low enough that he could crawl in by himself. My wife liked the interior appointments, including the leather front bucket seats with lumbar and the rear bench seat that would slide fore and aft like her Nissan cube.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

My father, like me, was a fan of the squared-off design elements that did a good job tying the Terrain to GMC’s trucks and truck-based SUVs in terms of styling — certainly, it looked a lot more like its big brothers than the Equinox does. Dad and I also enjoyed the Pioneer premium audio setup, which included a strong subwoofer in the rear cargo area. GMC IntelliLink proved easy to use as ever and, unlike the Toyota Corolla S I reviewed a week prior, it had zero difficulty streaming music from my phone via Bluetooth even when I changed tracks or albums mid-stream.

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This subwoofer mounted in the cargo area of the 2016 GMC Terrain Denali provided plenty of punch for the Pioneer-branded speaker array. Photo: Lyndon Johnson

It’s nice to see GMC include availability of its Denali luxury package in this, its smallest SUV. The package brings with it a raft of Denali-exclusive trim and interior bits that really make the design pop: Chrome grille, different front and rear fascias, unique head- and taillight design, integrated rear exhaust outlets, and 19-inch wheels are among the stuff you can only get on the Denali package.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

As I do with a lot of cars I review, however, it is with those 19-inch wheels that I must take issue. Sure, they looked great. They also contributed, at least partially, to a fair amount of road noise making its way into the cabin.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a Chevrolet Equinox that had 18-inch chrome wheels, and I don’t remember it being this loud just driving down the highway. What I do remember is the Equinox feeling a bit crashy over expansion joints and potholes — and with even shorter sidewalls, the 19-inch rims on the Terrain Denali only felt moreso.

Those wheels comprised 50% of my complaints with the Terrain Denali. The other half: The powertrain. I was hoping that in the intervening years since I drove that Equinox, perhaps GM had figured out a way to move the torque peak of the 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 down several hundred RPM. The engine makes a hot-for-the-segment 301 horsepower and a respectable 272 ft-lbs of torque, according to GM specs. However, those numbers don’t peak until 6,500 and 4,800 RPM, respectively.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

It’s the high torque peak that hurts off-the-line performance. Compared to many SUVs, even much larger ones, the Terrain feels a mite lethargic pulling away from stoplights unless you plant your foot firmly on the skinny pedal. However, doing that also degrades the engine’s respectable fuel economy for a powerful non-turbo V6 gasser — 23 MPG highway — so you have to seek a balance of giddyup and efficiency.

I traded out of my GMC Terrain Denali into a much larger Nissan Pathfinder SV that felt 1,000 times lighter on its feet in town despite having a CVT and a less-powerful (260 horsepower, 240 ft-lbs) V6 engine. I’ll have a lot more about the Nissan in a later review, but suffice it to say I wish GM would do some work on throttle responsiveness or gearing or something to make the V6 Equinox and Terrain feel more sprightly during initial acceleration.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

My two nitpicks notwithstanding, the GMC Terrain Denali proved to be a great family crossover for us during the week I tested it. There was plenty of room in the second row for our two boys riding in child safety seats. There was also plentiful room out back to haul groceries, a stroller, or other trappings of our everyday life. Should we have encountered inclement weather during our test week, the tester’s all-wheel drive surely would have proven handy.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

However, if it were my money, I’d definitely go for the base four-cylinder engine. Thankfully, GMC does give us that option, even with the Denali trim. Rated at 32 MPG highway, I think its balance of efficiency would be a lot more welcome in our family since we seldom tow — our tester was equipped with the towing package — nor did we ever find reason to summon all 301 of those horses in the V6.  And at a base price of $33,975, a four-cylinder Terrain Denali would be a bit more obtainable for our working-class family of four than the $41,315 MSRP on our tested example.

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Photo: Lyndon Johnson

In sum, the GMC Terrain Denali is probably the most-loaded version of an SUV platform that proved to me why it continues to be such a strong seller even now, as it gets a bit long in the tooth relative to its competition. General Motors has its work cut out for it to improve upon this for its next generation — and if it does improve upon this, the competition better be on top of its game.

2016 GMC Terrain Denali

Base Price: $33,975

Price As-Tested: $41,315

Options: Cargo Package ($280), 3.6-liter SIDI w/VVT V6 Engine ($1,500), Power Sunroof ($995), Crimson Red Tintcoat Paint ($495), Color Touch Navigation w/IntelliLink ($495), 19-Inch Denali-Specific Wheels ($400), Trailering Equipment Package ($365), Cargo Area Close-Out Panel ($135)


  • Great interior trim, space, and functionality
  • Excellent sound system with easy-to-use infotainment interface
  • Strong-looking exterior design elements


  • Huge 19-inch wheels and short-sidewall tires bring plenty of road noise into otherwise quiet cabin
  • Sluggish powertrain response around town unless you manhandle the throttle
  • So-so fuel economy for the segment
Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson is a husband and father of two who has now spent more of his life as a journalist than as a non-journalist. He serves as assistant editor at his hometown weekly paper in rural Tennessee and freelances in the automotive journalism world.