Crossovers have slowly become one of the biggest selling segments in the US and because of this, they now come in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and prices. One of the bigger, pricier entries into this group is the GMC Acadia Denali. GM has designed the Acadia Denali to be all things to all people, but how does it fare against some of its many rivals? We spent a week with this beast to find out.
The first thing you will notice about the Acadia is its size. While not the largest vehicle on the road, it is anything but petite. GM’s Lambda based crossovers carry significant size and significant heft. With a curb weight of 4,600 lbs the Acadia is heftier than both the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Explorer. Moving all this heft down the road is a 3.6-liter V6 engine that pumps out 288 horsepower, and it is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Once you get over the size of the thing, you can start to appreciate the design details. The Acadia features a smooth formed front grille with restrained details and good proportions. This generally handsome design continues across the rest of the exterior, finishing at the rear with an upright tail and rounded edges that mirror the design of the front. To add a bit of extra flash, the Denali edition adds miles of chrome to the otherwise clean and handsome exterior.
The V6 in the Acadia is a strong engine, but when tasked with pulling such a machine it can feel taxed, especially when you have all seven seats filled. While a V8 would hurt fuel economy too much, we would like to see the possibility of a turbocharged engine in the near future, much like Ford has done with the EcoBoost Explorer. On the note of fuel economy, the estimated mileage of our tester come in at 17 city and 24 hwy, but during our time with it we only averaged 19.2 mpg during mixed (albeit mostly hwy) driving. While not embarrassing, we would call the fuel economy no more than mediocre for a vehicle of this size.
Driving the Acadia is par for the crossover market, it exhibits a comfortable and stable ride across long highway stretches, but suffers from body roll during hard cornering thanks to a softly sprung suspension. The steering serves no real feedback, but it is easy to modulate and is fairly direct. Thanks to electric assistance, the quick and easy steering help the Acadia drive much smaller than it is, a welcome touch.
The interior of the vehicle is much of what one would expect from a GM luxury vehicle. It is swathed in many nice looking materials, but most of it is of a “look, do not touch” nature. The wood on the dash is fake and is flimsy to the touch, but the burled texture is spot on for real wood, and the dark gray stain does look amazing. As long as you don’t spend all day prodding the dash, you will be more than content with the look of it. While the dash is only so-so, the seats are actually a treat. Our tester came covered in black leather with red contrast stitching, and the power seats were both heated and cooled. While not overly bolstered for lateral support (for obvious reasons), they were comfortable and coddling during long drives.
Rear passengers were also treated well during our time with the Acadia. The second row consisted of two easily foldable captains chairs that could adjust fore and aft as well as recline. The third row is a traditional thinner bench seat that is suitable for kids only. Any adult would not want to spend more than an hour back there. Our tester came equipped with a three zone climate control, so back passengers had some say in how they felt as far as temperature was concerned. Back seat riders also were treated to power over their entertainment. The optional DVD system on our tester provides a screen in the back for kids to be entertained, and a pair of wireless headphones, so their entertainment won’t make the driver go crazy. There are also rear passenger audio controls for those who don’t want to watch a movie, but also don’t want to hear what the driver and front passenger are listening to. It’s all about compromise.
That is our overall impression of the Acadia Denali, compromise. It is not as nice to drive as the Mazda CX-9, but it has more interior space; it is not as luxurious as the Audi Q7, but with a tested price of just over $50k, it is much cheaper. When compared to its rivals, it always falls short in some major aspect, but it manages to compensate elsewhere. It truly is a jack-of-all trades, master of none scenario. This is not only the biggest weakness of the Acadia, but also its biggest strength. Most families don’t need a sportscar-performance SUV, just as they don’t need a royal palace for a trip to grandma’s house. They need a vehicle with decent levels of interior space, better than average fuel economy, some extra comfort features to make the trip go smoother and a price tag that is easy to swallow. On this front the Acadia Denali wins out over its many competitors. It is far from the best, but when you need a do-all, be-all crossover, it is hard to fault.