2011 GMC Acadia Denali: Introduction
There is a time when every auto enthusiast makes a sacrifice for his or her family. Somewhere around the first or second child, a sporty, fun, or tough vehicle gets traded in for something more pedestrian. Love for a child is absolute, but that does not mean the longing for a unique vehicle dies off. The little kid from the Toyota Highlander commercials may be a brat, but he does have a point: people want their family haulers to look cool.
GMC started going after these status seeking parents this year by allowing its suburban shuttle, the Acadia, to join the upscale Denali family. This takes the GMC's largest crossover vehicle and sends it out for a minor makeover. The Denali treatment is like taking this vehicle to the gym and a tailor, making this Acadia look beefier and more fashionable. The cost of this upgrade came to an as tested price of $47,525 (base $43,220).
No matter the appearance, the most off roading the Acadia Denali is likely to do is park on the soccer field. So to put it through more practical tests, we stuck to long trips over paved roads in our Acadia Denali tester to find out how much family hauling this could do.
2011 GMC Acadia Denali: Exterior
In a similar way professional football players wear custom tailored suits, the lines do good job of hiding the Acadia's size. This vehicle's length and width is within a couple inches of its bigger brother Yukon. But unlike the truck-based SUV, the Acadia crossover takes advantage of a few more rounded corners (and lower ride height) to help hide its full size.
The carbon black on out tester is the new must have exterior paint color. It started in the high-end sports imports like Aston Martin and BMW, and now it has made its way as an option on the luxury GMC. The finish looks like a heavy lacquered black in indirect light. Once sunlight hits the paint, the black fades slightly and is replaced by a deep metallic element that gives it a dark sparkle like a shadowy figure with a lit cigarette. Not bad for only adding $195 to the Acadia Denali's price.
The greatest visual clues that someone paid the extra cash to go from a standard Acadia to a Denali version are probably the chrome honeycomb grille, sports body kit, and two-tone 20-inch chrome wheels. That may not justify the $11,200 premium over the standard Acadia, but there are also more features packed inside this Denali.
2011 GMC Acadia Denali: Interior
The Acadia (and close cousins Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave) replaced the minivan in GM's lineup. This is especially clear with one look at the interior. Everything is minivan sized. The overstuffed seats of a SUV are replaced with the efficient designs found in a minivan. GMC offers seating for eight or seven with two rows of captain's chairs (the latter is standard on the Denali version.) The space inside is decent for all three rows, and there still is plenty of room behind the third row to store a few suitcases.
Anyone who has not sat in a GM interior in the last few years will be impressed by the progress made in initial quality. That does not mean there are not a few concerns. For example, there are a few times a day when the glare from the faux titanium trim on the dash will likely require the driver to wear sunglasses.
2011 GMC Acadia: Creature Comforts
Part of the extra luxury that comes with the Denali is a standard tri-zone climate control that allows for separate settings for the driver, passenger, and rear. It seems like a novel idea, especially considering most owners grew up with the thought of separate climate control meant rolling down the back window of the station wagon.
Our tester had an optional touch screen satellite navigation system that included traffic updates. The $1,890 package is not the most accurate system around, and it is good to note that skipping the factory sat nav will not delete the extremely useful the backup camera.
The heads-up display is possibly the greatest feature on this vehicle. It can be programmed to project on the windshield the current speed as well as other bits of useful info, including the current radio station. This helps cut down on the unnecessary distractions away from the wheel, which is especially useful in a vehicle that is likely to carry around kids. This is optional on the standard Acadia but standard on the Denali.
2011 GMC Acadia Denali: Driving Impression
There is one engine for the entire Acadia line. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine makes 288 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. That is slightly better than the Ford Explorer's 3.5-liter engine that produces 283 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. Just like the new Explorer, the Acadia line is available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive models. Our tester was front-wheel drive, which may make it a little awkward for towing a boat (it has a 5,200 lbs capacity), but it saves 205 lbs over the all-wheel drive.
The V-6 provides enough power for the Acadia Denali. Those who have come from a V-8 SUV may find this a little slower than usual, but the Acadia never comes close to running out of breath. It is good to remember that this is a family hauler, not a drag racer. Where the former SUV owner will be really impressed with this crossover/minivan is driving it in urban areas where this GMC feels as nimble as its little brother the Terrain.
2-11 GMC Acadia: Fuel Economy
The Acadia does well in its class for fuel economy with an EPA listed 17/24 mpg city/highway. As mentioned earlier we took the Acadia Denali on a few road trips to test what it does in the real world. In mixed use driving we came back with results that ranged from 18 to 21 mpg, which is in line with its EPA combined rating of 19 mpg. What was surprising is what happened over the long haul.
We had a journey mapped out for a highway trip that would consume nearly an entire tank's worth of fuel. The trip's start point is at a fuel stop beside the interstate and ends at gas station 233 miles away directly off the interstate. The beginning and ending points are at relatively the same elevation, the land is mostly flat in between, there were no passengers, and the outside temperature stayed between 77 and 81 degrees at all times. The first run was made with the climate control set to 72 degrees. The return run had the climate control set to 77 degrees with seat cooler fixed on its highest setting. During both runs the Acadia Denali achieved above average highway mileage at about 26 mpg (25.9 mpg going, 26.2 mpg returning).
2011 GMC Acadia Denali: The Family Factor
GMC lists the Acadia and the upscale Acadia Denali with available seating for up to eight adults. Realistically no more than six or seven adults will ever be comfortable in this crossover, but the full capacity does not go unnoticed by families.
During one of the stops on the test drives, two generations of a family became very interested in our Acadia Denali. There was a man with a growing family, and his mother who was very much into being the "cool" grandmother.
They both became fixed on the Acadia Denali. The son knew there would likely be a second child on the way soon. His mother was realizing that between her son and daughter, she will very soon need a vehicle that can carry four little grandchildren, at least three of which would require car seats. They were both already knew that the Acadia line would be able to accommodate their needs, but this Denali seemed to hold particular interest.
They both would not like to give the image of being "minivan people", and in their eyes, the carbon black with chrome wheels GMC seemed to be the exact opposite of that image. The son still has diapers, college and a bass boat to pay for, so he will likely save about $10k and start with a standard Acadia. But his mother does not have those bills anymore and is torn between the worlds of a good grandmother and a cool car. She will likely end up in the Denali.
2011 GMC Acadia Denali: Summary
There is an expanding class of crossovers on the market that can seat seven comfortably and get 24+ mpg on the highway. Standing toe-to-toe with Acadia are the Ford Explorer, the Toyota Highlander, and the other relatives from the GM lineup. On the premium side, the Audi Q7 almost begins in Denali territory and gets 25 mpg with a diesel. So with this much close competition, it is hard to declare Acadia Denali (or any other) as the overall winner for the consumer. What we can easily say is that the Acadia Denali belongs on the shopping list.
The GMC Acadia covers the functional bases well. It has decent room for family and friends, and the fuel economy is near the top of the class. The added flair of the Denali treatment turns this into a minivan in wolf's clothing. It may able to fool passers by that this is a rough and tumble SUV, but those who drive one know the truth.