Road Test: 2011 GMC Acadia Denali “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”


Edit : GM decided to keep the Acadia and render our graveyard gallery useless. So ignore the narrative of this car being cancelled.

General Motors has been criticized at many points in its history for trying to sustain too many brands and using slight differentiation in the exterior and interior to try to pass a similar car off as an entirely different model in another brand’s portfolio. As the boys at GM have axed several brands and tried to break away from the corporate thinking that has gotten them into trouble in the past, the LAMBDA platform that underpins this GMC Acadia Denali may be one of the last remaining traces of the old platform sharing ideals from the 80’s and 90’s. Recent news from the General Motors camp has the Acadia slated to die an honorable death after 2012 as the company realizes the lack of a need for a vehicle identical to the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. We borrowed the new Denali version of the Acadia to see if this is a mournful goodbye or an execution of the last of the bad blood that remains in the GM gene pool.


The GMC Acadia was launched with the near identical Saturn Outlook back in 2006 and was given positive reviews for its somewhat fuel efficient 3.6l V6 producing 288hp and giving around 24MPG highway. The Outlook was supposed to be the model geared towards price conscious buyers and the GMC Acadia tended to be optioned and priced higher for the buyers that wanted a slightly more luxurious vehicle. This plan worked somewhat well for GM until the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse were released years later and offered the consumer a wider range of options. GM has relied on consumer ignorance for years to sell vehicles like these which differ slightly in exterior fascias, and interior/exterior badging. The sad thing is that I have spoken to many people in the market that have no idea the 4 SUVs are even related. Some have even told me they would never purchase a Saturn Outlook yet would be shopping for a Enclave. This is remarkable when the vehicles share more than 80% of the same materials. So to try and differentiate the Acadia, GM has decided to give it the Denali treatment for 2011. The Denali trim line has graced several different models since introduced in 1998 including the Envoy, Sierra, and the most well known Yukon Denali. It represents the top of the line for the company and is seen as a status symbol for many. At it’s peak when I went to high school in 2000… any rich kid with a Denali truck was among the elite group in town.

This Acadia Denali differs from its normal counterpart by adding a different front end treatment including chrome grill inserts. Larger 20″ wheels in a chrome and gunmetal finish give the Acadia it’s unique stance. The interior features Denali logos and door sills, faux wood trim, Navigation, and a DVD Rear Entertainment system. The more I drove the vehicle, the more I grew to love its styling. It has just the right amount of “bling” without being ostentatious. The White Diamond Tricoat paint looked fantastic in most lighting and gave the car some extra elegance that you expect from a Denali model. Inside the car the interior offered leather similar to that you would find on a SLT model Acadia. The dark wood trim of the interior looked good against the light cashmere leather and made the cabin seem warm and comfortable. The Navigation system was easy enough to control but the interface looked ancient when compared to other systems coming from the competition. The middle captains chairs were comfortable and allowed great viewing of the DVD screen, the rear seats lacked enough leg room for anyone over 5’5″ but could accommodate adults if necessary. The width of the vehicle itself helps to offer fantastic shoulder room and helps to make the interior seem more open.The Acadia was also equipped with a panoramic sunroof that gave even a better sense of openness to the inside of the cabin. Overall feel of materials was acceptable at best and the leather in many of the Acadias and Enclaves has been known to wear out faster than the competition. GM has gone a long way to improve the styling of the interior, but is still a few years behind on the quality of plastics and soft touch materials inside.

On the road, the Acadia feels rather bloated with a fair bit of weight and a smaller V6 engine. The GMC can move around town well enough and can get up to speed on the freeway in an adequate amount of time. Only issues with the engine came when going up a grade in which a lower gear was required and therefore the gas mileage suffered greatly. Through a mountain pass, the 24mpg highway rating turned into more like 17mpg when trying to push the Acadia and six passengers along the road. The steering is light and the car feels rather stable in corners without a huge amount of body roll. The lack of body roll is due to an extremely wide track that the Acadia sits on. The Acadia front track width is 67 inches, only 2 inches shorter than the monstrous Hummer H2. Most drivers will take some adjustment to get used to parking in at the mall. Despite all of that size, the rear cargo area with the third row up is basically pointless and will fit about two suitcases or one stroller. Any long family trips will need to make use of the roof rack or leave two kids behind to fold down the rear seats.

In my opinion, the Acadia has always been one of the best looking of the GM crossovers and has sold enough to be successful in the market. I respect General Motor’s decision to stop production and feel like it’s a great step forward that shows they are moving away from the type of thinking they had in the past. If this was the 80’s I feel the company would have made slight changes to keep it around for years to come and maybe even make a Cadillac version just to make sure they were able to fill every niche within the crossover market. Overall, The GMC Acadia Denali is a good choice for those with a large family that want the space for kids and also want to avoid the gas sucking Escalade or Yukon. The sticker price of $54,000 makes the Denali a tougher pill to swallow when considering what that kind of money can get you in terms of interior quality and comfort from other models. The exit of the Acadia is bittersweet, but the Enclave and Traverse offer what consumers are looking for in a crossover and should be more than adequate to keep up with demand once the Acadia bids us farewell.

Photos by Jim Donnelly

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