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2020 GMC Terrain to cover familiar territory with a refresh over the horizon

2020 GMC Terrain

What changes will make the 2020 GMC Terrain different?

Little other than new paint colors and perhaps revised feature availability. Significant updates to this five-passenger compact crossover are highly unlikely before a model-year-2022 midcycle refresh.

The Terrain bowed for the 2010 model year and gave shoppers of General Motors’ upscale truck brand an alternative to the larger, costlier three-seating-row Acadia crossover. As does today’s Terrain, the original shared much of its engineering with the Chevrolet Equinox. A model-year-2018 redesign of both downsized them, from among the largest crossovers in the compact segment to near-equivalents of class benchmarks like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Both shed available V-6 engines for an all turbocharged-four-cylinder lineup – and became the only compact crossovers available with a diesel engine.

Equinox, which appears to be on track for a model-year 2021 refresh, continues to outsell its GMC cousin. But demand for the Terrain grew a healthy 34 percent in 2018, outpacing the amazing 28-percent increase enjoyed by the rapidly expanding segment as a whole. It was Terrain’s best sales year ever, although it remains well behind compact-crossover sales champs such as the RAV4, Nissan Rogue, CR-V, Ford Escape, and Jeep Cherokee.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 GMC Terrain. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Consider a 2019 … or wait for the updated 2022. The 2020 (and the ’21) won’t change enough to justify what will certainly be ever-higher asking prices. And waiting for the ’22 will likely get you newer styling; upgraded convenience and infotainment features, and perhaps wider availability of key safety systems. Rumors also suggest a plug-in-hybrid version might join the line, too. All that should sustain this second-gen Terrain until a full redesign in the mid-2020s.

GMC added a few appealing items to the 2019 Terrain, including an available surround-view camera for the top-line Denali model. It updated driver assists with adaptive radar cruise control and pedestrian detection for the autonomous emergency braking system. Also new were the Chrome and Black Edition appearance packages.

Expect the 2020 Terrain model lineup to be a repeat of the 2019’s: base SL, mainstream SLE, upscale SLT, and flagship Denali. All would come standard with front-wheel drive, with traction-aiding all-wheel drive (AWD) optional for all but the SL. SLE and SLT grades will continue to offer a turbodiesel four-cylinder EPA-rated at up to 39 mpg in highway driving.

Will the styling be different?

Not until the model-year 2022 refresh. The ’20 Terrain will retain the styling that came with its 2018 redesign. It’s generally a clean look, with the Denali distinguished by its own grille, wheels, and exterior trim. By blacking out Terrain’s rear roof pillar, GMC jumped on the trendy “floating roof” motif and combined it here with a rear-fender kick-up we find vaguely reminiscent of some 1950s tailfins.

The ’20 Terrain’s interior should mostly hit the mark for functionality. Gauges will remain large and clear, with a nice multi-information display between the speedometer and tachometer. SL and SLE grades should retain a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto standard. Expect SLT and Denali to again have an 8-inch screen, the Denali’s again including an imbedded navigation system. The system will remain optional on SLE and SLT models, with the SLE receiving the 8-inch display as part of the package.

You’ll appreciate the large, simple audio and climate-system controls but might puzzle over GMC’s decision to ditch a traditional automatic-transmission shift lever or even a rotary dial in favor of a row of buttons and toggles at the base of the central dashboard. The arrangement debuted on the redesigned Terrain and is being adopted by the revamped 2020 Acadia

It requires that you push one button for Park and another for Neutral and pull separate toggles to engage Reverse and Drive. Once familiar with it, the unorthodox arrangement becomes second nature. Likely to resist easy acclimation, however, is the necessity to push one of three adjacent buttons if you wish to lock out upper transmission ratios or replicate manual gear selection, as when towing or exploiting engine braking. This odd setup forces the driver to look down and then stretch from the steering wheel just when maximum attention to the road is required. We’d urge GMC to introduce redundant steering-wheel paddle shifters with Terrain’s next refresh. Less critical would be relocating the electric parking-brake button from near the driver’s left knee to a more accessible place on the center console.

A cabin-materials upgrade would also reinforce the upper-crust image GMC wants to portray. Above elbow level, most surfaces are nicely padded or grained. Below is a lake of budget-grade hard plastics, flawed here and there by sharp edges that look and feel unfinished. Instead of cloth, the ’20 SLT and Denali will again come standard with perforated leather upholstery, but the flagship’s interior comes across as hardly more special than that of the SLT — disappointing given its stiff price premium.

Passenger room is good overall, with the raised rear cushion providing back seaters with welcome “theater seating” elevation to go along with outstanding legroom. Prominent transverse seams in the lower cushions of the leather-upholstered front buckets are comfort compromisers, however. And very tall occupants might wish for more headroom beneath the housing of the available sunroof. Drivers, meanwhile, must contend with pinched rearward visibility through the rather small hatchback window; stingy outside mirrors don’t help.

Cargo capacity is a class-average 29.6 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 63.3 with them folded. A large center console and nicely sized cubby below the transmission buttons highlight ample interior storage.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The three engine choices will return for 2020: two turbocharged gasoline four-cylinders linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission and a turbodiesel for mated to a six-speed automatic.

Standard on the ’20 Terrain SL, SLE, and SLT will again be a gasoline 1.5-liter of 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. On paper, those ratings are impressive for the engine’s diminutive displacement. On the road, 1.5-liter Terrains are somewhat sluggish off the line. The transmission does its best to keep the engine in the ideal power band but can’t compensate for rather portly curb weights of 3,449-3,622 pounds, depending on trim and front- versus all-wheel drive.

Standard again on the Denali and optional for the 2020 SLE and SLT will be a gas 2.0-liter of 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It teams with the alert transmission to deliver satisfying, virtually lag-free acceleration off the line, around town, and at highway speeds. Much sprightlier than the 1.5, we believe this engine is well worth the upcharge, which should again be around $1,895.

Most interesting is the 1.6-liter turbodiesel. Expect it to again be optional on the 2020 Terrain SLE and SLT at roughly $3,800 over the 1.5-liter and some $1,800 over the 2.0-liter. This diesel should again have 137 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque and pair with the six-speed automatic. No Terrains so equipped have been made available for us to evaluate but expect off-the-line acceleration to be stronger than that of the 1.5-liter while midrange response and upper-end passing power trail that of the 2.0-liter.

All ’20 Terrains will again include GMC’s driver-controllable Traction Select system to optimize the powertrain for different driving conditions, such as hills or towing. Opting for AWD won’t transform this crossover into an off-roader, but we recommend it if you live where snow can impact travel. It includes a driver-selected front-drive mode that disconnects the AWD system to minimize drag and help fuel economy. Selecting the AWD mode lets the system automatically shuffle power between the front and rear wheels to quell tire slip, but we can envision a less-than-vigilant driver forgetting to engage it and wondering why slippery-surface traction is compromised.

Overall, Terrain is agreeable to drive, with a sense of refinement that exceeds that of most rivals. The gas engines sound pleasant during acceleration and fade to near silence at cruise. Other noise sources are kept in check. This focus on serenity means some handling tradeoffs. We’d like more road feel through the steering and less body lean in fast turns but don’t anticipate this generation Terrain approaching the athleticism of, say, the CR-V or Mazda CX-5.

Shared with the Equinox, Terrain’s structure is reassuringly solid, but the 19-inch wheels and tires standard on the Denali and optionally available on the SLE and SLT models transmit enough impact harshness over bumps to make rough pavement an uncomfortable experience. The 17s that come standard on the SL and SLE and the 18s standard on the SLT are noticeably more absorbent.

Will fuel economy improve?

Don’t count on it. With no significant changes expected for 2020, Terrain should reprise its model-year ’19 EPA fuel-economy ratings. That means models with the 1.5-liter gas engine would again rate 26/30/28 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/28/26 with AWD. Expect 2.0-liter Terrains to again rate 22/28/24 mpg with front-drive and 21/26/23 with AWD.

The 2020 Terrain SLE and SLT models equipped with the diesel engine should remain among the most fuel-efficient crossovers of any stripe — including hybrids such as the Nissan Rogue. Look for them to rate 28/39/32 mpg with front-wheel drive and 28/38/32 with AWD.

The 1.5-liter engine uses regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. GM recommends, but does not require, premium-grade 91-octane for the 2.0-liter turbo. All Terrain models include idle stop/start that shuts off the gas engine in certain conditions to save fuel. It automatically restarts when the driver releases their foot from the brake pedal. There is no switch on the dashboard to disable this function, but we think GMC will add it as part of Terrain’s upcoming model-year-2022 refresh.

Will there be new features?

We hope so. Our biggest wish would be for GMC to democratize driver-assistance features. Items such as lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and adaptive radar cruise control are optional and even then, only on upper-crust trim levels. A similar suite of safety gear is included on all versions of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

SL grades are not widely available for retail sale. They’re more for fleet and commercial buyers. They are not lavishly equipped but do come with some niceties such as LED daytime running lights, keyless access with pushbutton engine start, CarPlay and Android Auto, fold-flat front-passenger seat, and GM’s OnStar telematics.

Gas-powered SLE models have little of consequence as standard equipment over the SL, but this grade offers several option packages, which we will discuss below. Diesel SLE grades include heated front seats, programmable power liftgate, power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and remote engine start.

The gas SLT gets 18-inch wheels (up from 17s), leather upholstery, and 8-inch infotainment screen. The diesel also nets you a hands-free power liftgate, heated steering wheel, power front-passenger seat, and driver-seat memory positioning.

Denali grades get the 2.0-liter turbo engine, 19-inch wheels, full LED headlights, rear-obstacle detection, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, Bose-brand audio system, wireless smartphone charging, and imbedded navigation.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They should increase but probably not by a lot considering that the 2020 Terrain will most likely be a carryover model. Note that our base-price estimates include manufacturer destination fee, which was $1,195 on the 2019 model. Option prices also reflect model-year-’19 figures.

With front-wheel drive, the 2020 Terrain SL will likely start at about $26,500. The gasoline SLE should check in at about $29,500, with the diesel at around $33,500. Expect gas and diesel SLT models to start around $32,500 and $35,000, respectively. Terrain Denali will continue to be among the most expensive compact crossovers with a starting price of around $39,500. All-wheel drive should command a $1,700 premium across the board.

Expect most paint colors to cost an extra $395-$595. Among appearance packages, the Black Edition ($795-$995) adds black exterior mirror caps, gloss-black wheels, and a dark-tined grille. The SLT’s Chrome Package ($795) has chrome mirror caps, grille, and wheels.

The SLE Driver Convenience Package ($1,375 and not available on SLE diesel) would again add a power driver’s seat, remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heated front seats. An Infotainment Package I ($895) would again add a 8-inch infotainment screen with imbedded navigation, extra 110-volt power and USB ports with Type-C connectivity, and SD Card reader. The $495 Driver Alert Package I should again include rear-obstacle detection, blind-spot alert, and rear cross-traffic detection.

On ’20 SLT models, the $1,250 Preferred Package would add power front-passenger seat, driver-seat memory, hands-free power liftgate, and heated steering wheel. The $1,180 Infotainment Package II should return with imbedded navigation and Bose audio. Expect the SLE’s Driver Alert Package I to remain $445 on the SLT. Ordering this will likely be necessary to add the $745 Driver Alert Package II, which includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, forward-collision alert, adaptive radar cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights.

On ’20 Denali models, the $450 Comfort Package should continue to include heated outboard rear seats and ventilated front seats. The SLT’s Driver Alert Package II was the same price and probably will again be mandatory if you want the $745 Advanced Safety Package. The package should again consist of hands-free parallel parking assist and a high-definition surround-view camera.

When does it come out?

Look for a 2020 GMC Terrain release date in fall 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]