When the GMC Acadia debuted as a full-size, three-row crossover, it aggressively invaded the territory of the GMC Yukon. Although the Yukon’s full-frame platform is stouter and therefore capable of heavier towing and hauling—whereas the unibody Acadia is comparatively light and more fuel efficient—two three-row trucks sharing a showroom are bound to share customer interest.
So it’s only natural, then, that the Acadia would poach the Denali tag from the Yukon catalog as well. According to GMC, nearly half of all Yukon sales are loaded-to-the-brim Denalis, which makes a Denali version of the Acadia full-size crossover a “logical extension.” (Guess when you’re being run by the government you try to avoid the term “no brainer.”) Like the Yukon Denali, the Acadia Denali will be showroom shorthand for “I’ll take one with everything, please,” or maybe “Give me the one the most like an Escalade.”
The 2011 Acadia has one of the most attractive exteriors in its class paired with a very nicely dressed, albeit conservative, interior. On the outside, the Acadia is perhaps the best-looking of the GM large crossovers, including the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. The more chiseled look overall--along with the prominent wheel wells--includes plenty of cues that give nod to GMC's trucks, while the slightly chunkier sheetmetal fits its role of a casual blazer--dressy, but ready to get things done. Inside, the look is simple but also very nicely trimmed--a lower, more rounded take on the upright instrument panels in GMC trucks. The dark trims and satin-metallic finishes lend a nice touch, though up close the hard plastics are a but surprising in a vehicle of this price class.
The Acadia has a single powertrain, a 288-horsepower, direct-injection V-6, and standard six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is strong enough, but the transmission sometimes hunts around for the right gear, especially at suburban speeds, with some powertrain hesitation in the process. The GMC Acadia's optional AWD system (which can transmit as much as 65 percent of engine power to the rear wheels as necessary) is plenty for snow days, or muddy back roads on the way to the cabin, but it won't be suitable for full-on off-road adventuring. Trucklike towing capacity is there, though: up to 4,500 pounds, when properly equipped. Handling is surprisingly good for such a heavy vehicle; the Acadia has a four-wheel independent suspension and nice hydraulic-assist steering that is quite confidence-inspiring and agile overall.
But while the standard features list is impressive, the Acadia Denali is stuck with the same hard plastics found in the base model. Also annoying is a USB port that isn't where the owner's manual says it should be. Hint: It's not in the center console. Look in the storage compartment on top of the dash above the center vents. Connecting your phone or iPod in the dash console is a bad idea on two levels. During the summer your MP3 player could well melt in the sun should you forget it up there. And if you decide to keep your MP3 player where you can easily grab it, you'll be stuck with a USB cable draped down the center of the instrument panel. Feng Shui experts will not be pleased.
Material quality may not be an Acadia strong suit, but spaciousness is. This Denali boasts a class-leading 24.1 cubic feet of storage with all three rows in use, and 116.9 cubes with the second and third rows stowed. That's a lot of room to haul your stuff, but what if towing is in order? The 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 affords you the ability to tow an impressive 5,200 pounds when equipped with the towing package. That's more than enough grunt to pull jet skis, snowmobiles or many reasonably sized campers.
With 68,295 U.S. sales in 2010, the Acadia was the second best-selling GMC-branded vehicle behind only the Sierra pickup. Data from AutoPacific shows that the median price for this "Professional Grade" CUV was a substantial $40,000, which suggests this family wagon is a cash cow for General Motors. There was a time when a $40,000 price tag would elicit gasps from car buyers and the media alike, but nowadays, many non-luxury crossovers can crest that mark.