2013 GMC Terrain Denali Review

Denali trim brings luxury to small GMC crossover that thinks big

2013 GMC Terrain Denali Review

Sharper and more unique, the new Denali luxury trim available on the truckish GMC Terrain for 2013 is an almost nostalgic throwback to the American luxury SUV days of a decade ago. And yet the Terrain Denali is a notably modern interpretation, from its technology, to the fact that this chiseled and chunky truck is actually an efficient crossover.


1. Introduced on the Denali trim for 2013 is a more powerful 3.6L V6 with 301 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque, with the same EPA-rated fuel economy as the previous 3.0L V6.

2. Denali trim include signature badging, chrome accents and black leather interior trim with sporty red stitching.

3. An available Safety Package adds Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Rear Park Assist as well as Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

4. Pricing for the Denali trim starts at $35,350.

It’s everything you would expect from a GMC truck – thick, brawny and imposing. With the Denali badging and chrome accents, the Terrain no longer looks like the stubby little brother of the Yukon and Sierra but an SUV of its own breed.

The new outer upgrades feature stylized satin chrome 18-inch wheels (19 with the V6), exhaust tips, a honeycomb front grille, side mirrors and door handles. The lighting treatments are impactful with large headlamps, bumper-integrated fog lights and muscular tail lamps. Spirited body-color fascias and rocker moldings set the Denali apart from other SUVs on the road, tying together what already looks good. Standard is the signature Denali script displayed prominently on the outside of each front door, while paint finishes come in exclusive color coats such as Quicksilver Metallic, Crystal Red Tintcoat, Carbon Black Metallic, Summit White and Iridium Metallic.


The standard engine in Terrain and Terrain Denali is the Ecotec 2.4L four-cylinder with power rated at 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. Those familiar to the compact crossover segment should find this perfectly suitable, although anyone from a truck background will likely desire more torque.

2013 GMC Terrain Denali Engine

To satisfy their needs GMC is introducing an all-new V6 engine for 2013 in the Denali trim. Up from the old 3.0-liter V6, this larger displacement 3.6L unit with direct injection delivers 301 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. An increase of 14 percent more horsepower and 22 percent more torque than the previous 3.0L V6, it delivers the same 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

Both front and AWD drivetrains are available for either engine, while the tow rating is set at 1500 lbs for the four-cylinder and 3,500 lbs for the V6.

The overall drive feeling of the Terrain Denali is “repose.” While the engine power with the V6 is more than sufficient, the throttle is sluggish. There’s a transmission shifting option located within the shift lever, but it’s not a joy to use. The plus/minus toggle switch on the side of the lever is uncomfortable because your arm is resting in unnatural position and after a while the discomfort will force you to abandon the choice of choosing your gears. Paddle-shifting would have been ideal and brought a little more meat to the drive – particularly on a luxury truck.

2013 GMC Terrain Denali wide parked

What makes the overall driving experience of the Denali model an improvement, however, is the extensive list of technology aides – though some may find them bothersome. Included in the list are safety technologies such as Forward collision alert, lane departure Warning and Rear Park Assist.

The lane departure function is helpful,but experienced drivers will probably prefer to turn it off and avoid the annoyin alerts. This is, after all, a compact crossover and not a truck.

As for the forward collision alert (FCA) feature, it doesn’t tamper with braking, leaving reaction time and responsibility up to the driver. Notifying you if you’re approaching another vehicle too quickly, FCA should be incorporated into all future vehicles in a time where people are talking and texting behind the wheel more than ever.

The electric power steering is nicely weighted, although overall the Terrain does feel a bit more SUV-like in terms of the driving dynamics than some of the new crossovers to hit the market – particularly cars like the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5.


2013 GMC Terrain Denali interior close

In Denali trim, the Terrain features premium materials and includes equipment such as a standard sunroof, soft-touch leather, mahogany wood in the steering wheel, illuminated badged sill plates and distinctive red stitching on the seating and dashboard console. Seating is attractive with 8-way power driver and passenger seats embossed with Denali logos.

Unfortunately, while buyers can choose from varied metallic paint finishes outside, black leather is the only interior trim available.

Rear seat room is spacious thanks to the Terrain’s MultiFlex sliding second row, that can move forward and back by up to 8-inches. When pushed all the way back, the Terrain offers best-in-class second row legroom – making the space even more enjoyable to enjoy the independent dual 8-inch seatback-mounted screens for movies and video games.

2013 GMC Terrain Denali rear standing

Standard on the Denali trim is a power liftgate, giving easy access to the 31 cu-ft of rear cargo space – which expands to 64 cu-ft with the rear seats folded flat. More than a luxury touch, it’s a great piece of functional technology, especially for shorter stature drivers.

Seeing out the back is also made easy thanks to a back-up camera incorporated in the navigation screen.


2013 GMC Terrain Denali INtellilink

One of our most-liked features is the IntelliLink software within the central infotainment console. The graciously-sized standard color touch radio with IntelliLink provides smartphone connectivity and voice activated control of the audio system and is easy to use to initiate phone calls, change radio stations, stream internet radio or control an iPod. The IntelliLink homescreen is even configurable, like your smartphone, with icons and functions that can be rotated or removed to accommodate the driver’s desire.

There are even icons for internet radio providers like Pandora and Stitcher, though the drawback is that internet streaming through a smartphone can pile up data charges on your monthly bill.

In addition to this technology, GM has developed the OnStar RemoteLink app for iPhone and Android devices, allowing drivers to lock and unlock doors or check fuel and tire pressure levels remotely. Plus, the app can also start the engine with the remote start accessory from anywhere a cellphone signal is present.

What’s missing on such a premium draw is the ease of getting in and out via features like keyless entry and push button ignition.


2013 GMC Terrain Denali low standing

The Terrain Denali is better than the standard model in all ways, providing an improved interior while capturing the attention of sidewalk onlookers with imposing SUV looks and plenty of chrome. Add V6 power to that and an extensive list of new technology features and there’s a lot to appreciate.

Of course, that also means there’s a lot to pay for with the Denali starting at $35,350. A still somewhat reasonable price for a compact crossover, add AWD and the V6 engine and the $38,600 puts it above the starting price for some luxury brand compact crossovers like the Acura RDX.

Still, the Terrain Denali is a worthwhile product with perhaps its best feature continuing to be its truck looks. Overshadowed in may respects in the past by its brother, the Chevy Equinox, perhaps the Denali trim is what the Terrain needed all along to make this boldly-styled small crossover relevant.