Budget Buy $20,000: GMC Terrain vs Jeep Cherokee

In the market for a used compact SUV? We compare the GMC Terrain vs the Jeep Cherokee to help you focus on what’s best for you.

GMC Terrain vs Jeep Cherokee

media.stellantisnorthamerica.com | media.gmc.com
media.stellantisnorthamerica.com | media.gmc.com

When shopping for a used compact SUV the choices can be a little overwhelming. The market is hot, so finding a budget buy requires you to do your homework to get the most for your hard-earned money. We take a look at the 2016 GMC Terrain and the 2016 Jeep Cherokee factoring in their specs, performance, comfort, features, and more to help you make the best choice.


2016 GMC Terrain 3.6L V6 - media.gmc.com
2016 GMC Terrain 3.6L V6 - media.gmc.com

The 2016 GMC Terrain comes with two engine options: a 182-horsepower 2.4 liter four-cylinder and a more powerful 301 horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is available with both engines.  

The four-cylinder front-wheel drive engine gets an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway and the all-wheel drive gets 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway. The 3.6-liter V6 front-wheel drive models get 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway while the all-wheel drive gets 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

The 2016 Terrain can tow up to 1,500 pounds when paired with its four-cylinder engine and V6 models can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

2016 Jeep Cherokee 3.2L V6 - carsforsale.com
2016 Jeep Cherokee 3.2L V6 - carsforsale.com

The 2016 Jeep Cherokee comes with a comparable setup. Its standard engine is a 184 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and optional on all but the base Sport trim is a 271 horsepower 3.2-liter V6 engine. Both engines are paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and have the choice of either front-wheel or four-wheel drive (except for Trailhawk models which are 4WD only).

Base model 2016 Jeep Cherokees with the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive get an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Upgrading to a V6 engine will cause you to lose 1 mpg on the highway.

The Trailhawk model with the V6 engine and full-time four-wheel drive only gets an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, but that’s still ahead of the most powerful GMC Terrain. A tow package is available on all Cherokees and gives the V6 models a 4,500-pound towing capacity.

Drivetrains have you confused? Check out our in-depth comparison of four-wheel drive vs. all-wheel drive.

Driving and Performance

2016 GMC Terrain - media.gmc.com
2016 GMC Terrain - media.gmc.com

The four-cylinder engine in the 2016 GMC Terrain is fine for driving around town, but for highway driving and passing, the V6 gives the needed power although it takes a hit on the fuel economy. The suspension provides a smooth, comfortable, and quiet ride, but the Terrain falls short in handling with the body leaning in corners and feeling too top heavy. It also has an extremely wide turning radius, making parking a little more difficult than it should be for a compact SUV.

Much like the Terrain, the four-cylinder engine in the 2016 Jeep Cherokee gets the job done around town but the V6 engine is where it’s at for accelerating and cruising at highway speeds without much effect on the gas mileage. Newer Cherokees are outfitted with a more powerful base engine, but for this budget buy you’ll have to settle with less horses under the hood.

2016 Jeep Cherokee - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2016 Jeep Cherokee - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

The steering gives little feedback but is accurate, and the transmission is a little unpredictable hesitating at one point, shifting quickly at another, and then holding gears longer than needed at the next. Where the Cherokee really excels is off the pavement, especially with the Trailhawk model which gets skid plates, low-range gearing, an exclusive locking rear differential and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. That’s something you won’t find on the GMC Terrain.

Comfort and Interior

GMC has done a nice job in giving the Terrain a sophisticated and comfortable interior. The front seats are supportive with cloth upholstery as standard with the options of heated and leather seats. The rear seats are comfortable as well and can slide forward or back to optimize either legroom or cargo space.

With the rear seats folded down the Terrain maxes out at 63.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity. With the rear seats up, it offers 31.6 cubic feet of storage. This is impressive for this class with only the Mitsubishi Outlander coming out ahead. What also stands out in the Terrain is its quiet cabin, due to an acoustic windshield and an active noise-cancellation system for four-cylinder models.

Passengers will find the 2016 Jeep Cherokee to be comfortable and spacious. The materials have a high-quality look and feel, especially on the upper trim levels. The rear seat is one of the most comfortable in its class with the ability to recline and slide forward and back. The bench is also mounted high enough to support taller adults without their heads hitting the rooftop.

Unfortunately, cargo space is at a premium in the Cherokee with only 24.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 54.9 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.

Trims and Features

2016 GMC Terrain Denali - media.gmc.com
2016 GMC Terrain Denali - media.gmc.com

The 2016 GMC Terrain is available in five trims. The base SL trim includes a power height-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar, a 60/40-split folding rear seat with reclining and sliding functions, a rearview camera, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB port, OnStar (with onboard WiFi hotspot), and a six-speaker sound system.

The SLE-1 trim adds satellite radio, heated exterior mirrors, and rear carpeted floor mats. An all-wheel drive powertrain is an option at this level, as is several features packages.

The SLE-2 adds automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights, an eight-way power driver seat, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, voice command functionality, Pandora and Stitcher compatibility, and a Pioneer eight-speaker audio system. The SLT adds chrome exterior accents, 18-inch wheels, remote engine start, heated front seats, and perforated leather upholstery.

The SLE-2 and SLT also have the option of two Driver Alert package levels. The first level includes rear-cross traffic detection, blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, and an adjustable power liftgate (SLT only). The second level adds lane departure and forward collision warning systems. The range-topping Denali trim adds Denali-specific wheel and interior/exterior trim and a comfort-oriented suspension setup.

Interested in a newer GMC Terrain with even more comfort and convenience features? Check out our comprehensive review of the 2022 GMC Terrain.

2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

The 2016 Jeep Cherokee is available in four trims. The base Sport trim includes height-adjustable front seats, sliding and reclining rear seats with 60/40-split folding seatbacks, cruise control, a USB port, Bluetooth, a six-speaker audio system, and 17-inch steel wheels.

Next up, the Latitude trim adds roof rails, alloy wheels, fog lights, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, privacy-tinted glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 115-volt outlet.

The Trailhawk trim gets you all the off-road features including an advanced four-wheel drive system, wider wheels, all-terrain tires, a higher ground clearance, a locking rear differential, skid plates, and off-road suspension tuning. Cloth and leather upholstery are available on the Trailhawk as well as satellite radio.

The range-topping Limited trim takes away the Trailhawk’s off-road hardware, but adds 18-inch alloy wheels, remote ignition, leather upholstery, power driver seat and dual-zone automatic climate control. All trims have available cold weather, comfort, and convenience packages as well that will get you many of the features that come standard on the upper-level GMC Terrain trims.

See our new vs. used review of the Jeep Cherokee to see the latest standard features available.

And the Winner Is…

2016 GMC Terrain - media.gmc.com
2016 GMC Terrain - media.gmc.com

While the GMC Terrain doesn’t live up to its name in off-road capabilities, it’s spacious interior and cargo-hauling capabilities put it on the top for us. You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck with the Terrain’s plentiful lineup of standard features, so unless you’re a weekend off-roader, we’d go with the GMC.

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Ben Hill

Ben Hill grew up seeing his neighbor restore classic MG cars. Soon, Ben was building his own model cars. Then, in high school, he started restoring early model Ford Mustangs. The combination of art and science is what first drew Ben to the automotive industry. He appreciates the engineering and aesthetics of a well-designed vehicle. Ben earned writing recognition as a Kentucky Young Author of the Year. Today, he uses his bachelor of arts degree from Furman University, writing car reviews, comparisons, and about automotive financing.

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