Attitude: Some cars have it; most don't.
Take crossovers: The average pussy cat has more moxie than most of these vehicles. The very fact these vehicles are crossovers negates the bad-boy trucker intimidation associated with big rigs. Neutering them with carlike performance certainly doesn't help their case.
I understand the need for crossovers, the next generation's SUV milder, more efficient and smoother than their body-on-frame brothers. But do they have to be so boring?
And General Motors Co. has pieced together some of the best big crossovers around: The Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia seat seven or eight people comfortably, have good gas mileage and provide that much heralded carlike ride with sport utility capabilities.
These vehicles all share the same underpinnings, known as the Lambda platform, which has quietly been tearing up big crossover sales. In fact, if Lambdas were counted as a single brand, they'd be the 15th largest in the country this year outselling the likes of BMW, Chrysler and Lexus.
So with that kind of success, it's not surprising to see GM push the Lambdas a little further with the 2012 GMC Acadia Denali. Finally, a crossover that looks like it can punch someone in the mouth.
From the outside, the changes are subtle in that monochromatic sort of way.
The new lower front fascia pinches off the mouth of the intakes, and the squared-off high-intensity discharge headlamps provide a more mature, and mean, look.
The body colored side moldings do the same thing, making the crossover look bigger all around. Cram big 20-inch six-spoke chrome wheels under the squared-off fenders, and you've got a little more rippling muscle added to the Acadia Denali.
The new rear fascia completes the picture with dual chrome tailpipes sparking at the traffic you've just passed.
Power not a problem
While the Acadia Denali does not include engine enhancements or suspension changes, it really doesn't need to.
The 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 provides 288 horsepower and 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. That means there's plenty of power under the sculpted hood for a vehicle that can carry up to eight people I prefer the seven-person configuration and weighs 4,720 pounds and can tow 5,200 pounds.
An all-wheel drive model also is available, though the gas mileage is slightly worse (16 mpg city / 23 mpg highway).
More importantly, the once skittish transmission that would hunt and peck its way around the gear box seems to have found its groove and provides smooth shifts from first through sixth, even when under aggressive acceleration.
Furthermore, the ride remains extremely smooth. The nice high riding position provides that SUV feel and commanding view over traffic, but the body doesn't rock through curves or exaggerate bumps. Even the hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted, shying toward the lighter resistance.
The long wheelbase and big wheels smooth out the performance, even on Detroit's concrete highways.
The Acadia Denali also features hill-hold assist braking, which holds the brakes for 1.5 seconds after the foot is removed from the pedal if you're on an incline of more than 5 percent. This gives you time to move your foot over to the gas pedal and slowly push it down. It may not sound like a big deal, but stop on a hill while towing a trailer and you'll quickly learn how nice this feature is.
GMC added an enhanced electronic pedal override system that reduces power if both the brake and accelerator pedal are pressed. In laymen's terms, brake trumps accelerator and no one will see the Acadia Denali on the 6 o'clock news with an unintended acceleration story. Don't be surprised when both of these features start migrating into other vehicles.
Comfort behind the growl
Now it's one thing to put a special exterior package on a vehicle and then try to sell it as something bigger and more important than it really is. But the Acadia Denali follows through on the exterior promise with an improved interior too.
Many features are exclusive to the Acadia Denali, such as the head-up display and dual SkyScape sunroof system. The sunroof opens up nearly the entire roof to the sky, allowing everyone a dose of vitamin D on those long hauls.
Head-up display is a technology that seems to come and go. It's never caught on, but once you start to use it, however, it's extremely driver friendly. You don't take have to take your eyes off the road to see your speed or radio station because the information is projected onto the windshield as if it's being shown on the road.
The Acadia Denali also comes with leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood trim and perforated leather seats that are both heated and cooled. Most features in the Acadia Denali come with the regular Acadia: big comfortable seats, optional captain's chairs in the second row which are fantastic, though they limit seating to seven passengers. You can also opt for the second-row console, a nice feature.
And while the Acadia Denali looks big, it remains very easy to enter and exit, even if you're climbing into the third row; the second-row captain's chairs fold up smartly with a simple pull of a lever.
There are also those GM features, such as OnStar, which can include a smartphone app to let you operate the vehicle with your phone, while you're riding in the space shuttle.
The Denali comes with lots of cargo space, especially if you fold up the third row. And there are a host of other features, including tri-zone climate control and rear seat entertainment.
See, it's OK to look mean, as long as you're not hostile to the occupants. The Acadia Denali caters to them in nearly every way possible.
And in a parking lot full of big crossovers with ho-hum looks, the Acadia Denali arrives looking for a fight. One that it will most likely win.
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Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Excellent. Big 20-inch wheels and a custom-looking interior help the Acadia Denali stand out.
Interior: Excellent. More leather, more wood and more sun roof means better interior.
Performance: Good. Drives much smaller than it looks and transmission problems in the past seem to have been calibrated out.
Pros: Beautiful machine that stands out in the growing sea of crossovers.
Cons: Big price tag and might make your neighbors jealous.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor