Cadillac XT4 Vs GMC Terrain Denali: Which Crossover is Right for You?

Evan Williams
by Evan Williams

While it’s a far cry from the mid-2000s when the General offered what seemed like a dozen SUVs all basically the same underneath, there are now four different compact crossovers on the sales floor at your local full-line GM dealer.

Two of those, the GMC Terrain Denali and the Cadillac XT4, are targeted at luxury vehicle buyers. Have GMC and Cadillac managed to differentiate their two premium crossovers, or are these two peas in an all-wheel-drive pod? And which one is right for you? Here’s a look.

Get a Quote on a New Cadillac XT4 or GMC Terrain Denali


Take a look at Cadillac’s all-new XT4 and, well, it looks tiny. At first glance, there’s no way that this vehicle should compete in the same size class as the Terrain. But if you look at the spec sheet, it appears that Cadillac’s designers are playing some clever tricks. This is a smaller crossover than the Terrain, but we’re splitting hairs.

At 181.1-inches long, it’s just 1.2-inches shorter than the Terrain. On a 109.4-inch wheelbase, that’s 2.1-inches longer than the Terrain. It’s more than four-inches wider as well. What makes the difference to your eye? It’s probably GMC’s efforts to make their vehicle look more rugged, as opposed to Cadillac’s sleek and stylish effort. GMC’s C-shape headlights pushed out to the corners, and the sharp shoulder crease help make this little truck look big. Maybe when there’s a predator around, it has to puff up to intimidate it?

Most interior dimensions put the Terrain and the XT4 on par for driver and passenger space. Though the spec-sheet says they’re the same, the Terrain feels a touch wider inside. For tall rear passengers, it also offers more usable headroom and what feels like significantly more knee room. The XT4 puts the rear passenger’s head and the rear of the panoramic roof opening in the same spot. The Terrain lets that noggin fit into the cutout. The Terrain also allows the rear seat to recline slightly, again giving it the edge.

When it comes to cargo space, the XT4’s more stylish roofline shows where compromises are made. Behind the rear seats of the Cadillac are just 22.3 cubic feet of space. That’s 7.3 cubes less than the Terrain. Fold the seats flat and the already small for the class Terrain’s 63.3 cubic feet is 14.4 more than the XT4’s.

It should also be mentioned that despite the similar footprint, these vehicles are not based on the same platform underneath. If you had any doubts about that, just pull up to the gas pumps. The Terrain rides on architecture shared with the Cruze. Its filler is on the driver’s side. The XT4 rides on the bones of the Buick Regal/Opel Insignia. The filler is on the right. It’s a more expensive platform for a vehicle that’s pitched at being more premium.

Style is subjective, but while the Denali’s chiseled lines are nice to look at, it’s the XT4 that made us turn around and stare in the parking lot. Cadillac’s current styling language, with the large mesh grille and boomerang headlights, turns heads.

Under the Hood

Under the hood, both of these use 2.0L turbo-fours that ask for premium fuel and use nine-speed automatics with available all-wheel drive, but they aren’t the same powertrain. GMC’s is the engine shared with the Equinox. It makes 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The XT4’s engine offers just 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but it also adds active fuel management. On the road, both feel equally powerful. Both are quiet, but the edge in silence goes to the XT4. In both vehicles, the nine-speed automatic shifts quickly and smoothly enough to be nearly unnoticeable. By the standard set by most eight and up-speed automatics, this box is invisible. But if you’re planning on using the XT4’s paddles, you’re probably wasting your time. They’re slow to act and if you grab the next gear before 4,000 rpm then it might shift before you hit the rev limiter.

ALSO SEE: 7 Differences Between the 2019 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado

Despite weighing in at around 300 lbs more than the Terrain, the XT4 offers slightly better fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 29 highway vs 21/26. That’s for all-wheel-drive models. Not a huge difference, but one you’ll likely notice on the monthly gas bill.

Both make all-wheel drive available as an option since drivers in much of the U.S. don’t need or want the extra grip that comes with turning the rear wheels. They offer two different systems, though. Cadillac’s twin-clutch system can send up to 100 percent of power sent front or rear, and split it between the rear wheels. If you’re barreling the XT4 into corners and going full-throttle on the exit, then you’ll probably appreciate that feature. You’re probably also more likely to pick the XT4’s Sport trim. It comes with an optional continuous damping control active suspension. Something not available on the Terrain Denali. Canadian buyers can get a base XT4 with front-drive, but the Denali is AWD only.

Driving Dynamics

We weren’t able to test that Sport suspension, but the even the standard model attempts to be more sporting than the Terrain. It’s certainly stiffer than the Terrain, a situation not helped by the XT4’s available 20-inch wheels. The short sidewalls sent bumps directly into the cabin. On pavement impacts, the XT4 sent more of a crash and bang into the cabin than the Terrain. Both offer similarly numb steering and don’t encourage being thrown into curves. The XT4’s all-wheel-drive system does improve dynamics in the corners, and the stiffer suspension does make it a less reluctant companion in the twisties than the Terrain. So if your roads are rough, the Terrain might better conquer your terrain. Or stick with Cadillac’s smaller standard wheels.

Interior Amenities

Inside, both are available with perforated leather seating. Though if you’re a stickler for price, the base XT4 is available with cloth. Denali offers black and grey interior options, but the XT4 adds what it calls Sedona. A gorgeous palette of peanut-butter-colored seats accompanied by jet black and calico wood trim.

More than just the color palette, though, the XT4 offers more soft-touch materials in the places where you’ll feel them. And the places you probably won’t. The ventilation controls might not be as easy to use with heavy gloves on as the Terrain’s, but they look substantially more premium. As does the mounting of the 8.0-inch touchscreen. Though both use the same software interface that supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and has a 4G LTE Hotspot.

The two take a very different approach to the center console. Cadillac uses a stubby shifter that sits just ahead of a rotary controller for the audio system. Likely taking some of the feedback directed toward the brand’s CUE system, the rotary controller, volume knob, and small array of buttons let you operate much of the system from there. GMC’s audio controls are big buttons in a more conventional location. The Terrain also drops the gear shift entirely. Using push/pull buttons below the radio to pick gears. It frees up loads of center console space, allowing for side-by-side instead of front to rear cupholders, as well as helping the interior feel more spacious. Pick the Caddy for looks, the GMC for function, but it’s tight. Both also offer wireless phone charging, and here Cadillac’s solution is much better. An adjustable slot in the center console that can be moved to fit nearly any device. GMC’s is a hole in the console that will swallow a small phone and have trouble with today’s laptop-sized smartphones.

The Cadillac’s front seats don’t just look nicer, they’re more comfortable. The bottom cushion feels longer, while the Terrain’s may seem short for taller drivers. Though if you’re short in the thigh, the opposite may apply. Both are available heated and ventilated, but Cadillac offers adjustable bolsters and a massage function. The Terrain Denali also has some hard plastic bits in places where you’ll run into them frequently. Like the lower dash, and around the HVAC and audio controls.

ALSO SEE: Ford Edge vs Explorer: Which SUV is Right for You?

Tech Talk

When it comes to gadgets, GM has clearly made the XT4 the big boss. Both get a hands-free tailgate, but only the Cadillac’s projects a badge logo on the pavement to show you where to put your foot. Terrain Denali adds surround vision to the options list for 2019, with a system that lets you pick from several different (and very useful) front and rear views, but Cadillac offers the same thing. That goes for the adaptive cruise and front pedestrian braking added to GMC’s options list. Both can even be optioned to park themselves. Though both make most of their active safety features like adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking, surround view cameras, and collision warnings part of expensive option packages.

Only Cadillac gets active noise cancellation on the options list, which uses the audio system to cancel out road noise. It also gets GM’s rear-view mirror camera and display. Giving you a better view out the back, especially in low-light conditions. And, of course, that available adaptive suspension. The XT4 offers a cabin air ionizer to help you breathe more freely inside, and it has a power-adjustable steering wheel option that the Denali does not have.

READ MORE: 2019 Cadillac XT4 Review

When it comes to price, the XT4 actually starts lower than the Terrain Denali. The standard cloth seats mean that it starts from $34,795. A front-drive Denali starts from $37,800. Start ticking option boxes, though, and the Cadillac’s price starts to rise a touch more rapidly. An XT4 Premium Luxury, which adds leather seating, front and rear parking assist, and blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts and the AWD XT4 is now $41,795. An AWD Denali is $39,500. Finally, load up the Denali with all of its available options for $41,440. Tick all the boxes on the XT4 and it hits $52,865. In Canada, the Denali is AWD-only, starting from $42,200.

The Verdict: Cadillac XT4 vs GMC Terrain Denali

If size matters, then the Terrain Denali will give you more of it. More power, too, though it’s not a substantial difference. If you want a vehicle that will make you turn back around every time you walk away from it, then you’re going to want the XT4. Likewise, if you’re going to want all of GM’s latest tech, then the XT4 will give you what you crave. The real surprise here is that GM has managed to make two very similar vehicles, aimed at a very similar target, genuinely stand apart in the market. If you’re interested in one, you probably aren’t even considering the other.

Evan Williams
Evan Williams

Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.

More by Evan Williams

Join the conversation