Adding glitzy Denali details to the already fabulous 2011 GMC Acadia seems like a perfect marriage. And it was, with the exception of a few minor dislikes for this three-row crossover.
With a bold yet beautiful body, the Acadia Denali is certainly attractive. It has a signature honeycomb Denali grille, oversized alloy wheels and plenty of chrome to set it apart from the standard Acadia.
The Denali's V-6 engine offers speedy acceleration. The brakes are plenty powerful, which took the intimidation out of driving this larger crossover; the suspension is comfy without being too soft. During a family outing to the circus, we all noticed a significant amount of road noise in the cabin, especially on the highway. For a luxury vehicle, I expected more refinement here.
While I enjoyed the extra touches the Acadia Denali delivered, I kept asking myself if these touches justified the significant price difference between this loaded $49,525 beauty with all-wheel drive and the base Acadia SL model with front-wheel drive that starts at $32,000.
The Acadia Denali can be compared to your favorite pair of jeans. It looks great, flatters your features and is durable enough to stand up to the day-to-day rigors of real life.
Fog lights and dual exhaust pipes add style to punctuate both the front and rear. They also help diminish the mommy-mobile flag flying from the antenna. A true jack-of-all-trades, the Acadia Denali comes with optional all-wheel drive and an available tow hitch, helping to increase the Acadia's masculine appeal while adding even more functionality.
Size was a slight issue with Acadia Denali because I'm short — so are my kids — so climbing in and out took some effort. The doors were cumbersome and heavy, which made them difficult for my 5-year-old to operate. To be fair, the size of the doors can also be a bonus since the second-row doors are wider than average, which creates more space to manipulate those bulky child-safety seats and unruly toddlers. However, the combination of the sizable step-in height and heavy doors could make this crossover difficult to get in and out for older folks.
With such heavy doors, I was happy that the Denali had a power liftgate. I wasn't thrilled with the cargo space, however. With the third row up, I found myself wanting more cargo area. I could get my groceries loaded two-bags deep, but most grocery trips require more cargo room than the Denali offered. Yes, the third row can be folded flat, but if your kids regularly use it, you'll need to move any third-row car seats and kid debris before each shopping trip. Yuk! My solution was to drop only one of the third-row seats, which gave me more room, but did not disrupt the car seat I had back there.
The Acadia Denali has a 288-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine that uses regular gas. The all-wheel-drive Acadia gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway. Choosing a front-wheel-drive version improves gas mileage to 17/24 mpg. I averaged just over 16 mpg during my weeklong test drive, which included mostly city driving. GMC needs to put some effort into making this crossover more fuel efficient.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
While the Acadia Denali's upgraded exterior is apparent, the interior falls a little flat. It looks good, but it's not an up-to-date look. The instrument cluster was blah-looking and seemed outdated in today's world of LCD screens.
My family of four was right at home inside the seven-seater and not just because it came equipped with the optional rear entertainment system (though this is the only feature my kids will remember). In the front row, the leather seats are firm and highly adjustable with lumbar support for both driver and passenger.
The center stack is easy to navigate and doesn't overwhelm with too many buttons and controls. This made operating the radio, DVD player and air-conditioning system easy and confusion-free. Even though the instrument cluster seemed outdated, I was happy to see the head-up display project my speed onto the windshield and my line of vision; this kept me from taking my eyes off the road for speedometer checks.
For the most part, visibility was great from the driver's seat, and the optional backup camera made it even easier to safely navigate busy parking lots. I was not so fond of the second-row DVD screen, which popped down from the ceiling and seriously obstructed my view. While this inconvenience is hard to avoid with entertainment systems in general, there are automakers that have successfully engineered solutions.
I jumped for joy when I first saw the captain's chairs in the second row. In addition to providing easy access to the third row, these chairs also create an invisible barrier between my kids, making it harder for them to annoy/hit/smack/poke and/or spit on each other. A second-row bench is available. Second-row cupholders were located in the doors, which can be hard to reach for younger kids.
The third-row bench seats three and is split 60/40. Legroom is more restricted than in the second row, but the second-row occupants can slide their seats forward to share the wealth. The cupholders also are easier to reach.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2011 GMC Acadia, including the Denali trim, has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Acadia received the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It also has a standard electronic stability system.
The Acadia Denali also has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, anti-roll control, traction control and six airbags, including curtain airbags for all three rows. Its optional safety features include all-wheel drive and rear parking sensors with a backup camera.
OnStar communication service is also standard in the Acadia Denali.
The Acadia Denali has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the second-row captain's chairs. They were easy to locate and just as easy to use since they stick out of the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. I only wish there had been another set in the third row.
Even though the second row's seat cushions seemed short, a bulky rear-facing infant-safety seat and a convertible car seat fit easily. For added convenience, the captain's chairs slide forward and back, so you can pull those babies closer to you or push the seats back to make room for longer legs.
Get more safety information on the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali here.