• Mar 14, 2011
Expanding The Brand Beyond Trucks and SUVs

2011 GMC Acadia Denali - Click above for high-res image gallery

The Denali brand began as a luxury trim package for the 1998 GMC Yukon, whereupon it quickly became apparent that affluent buyers would pony up for big wheels and large quantities of chrome. In fact, the Denali was so successful that GM designers penned a new, bolder front end, rearranged some body panels and the more expensive Cadillac Escalade was born. Over the years, the Denali brand also migrated to the Sierra pickup, yet despite the brand's popularity, the growth inexplicably stopped there.

That's changed for 2011, as GMC has breathed new life into its Denali franchise with a high-rent Acadia. Does the long-successful brand have the staying power to move away from boxy SUVs and trucks in favor of a kinder, gentler crossover?

Continue reading Review: 2011 GMC Acadia Denali...

Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

With 68,295 U.S. sales in 2010, the Acadia was the second best-selling GMC-branded vehicle behind only the Sierra pickup. Data from AutoPacific shows that the median price for this "Professional Grade" CUV was a substantial $40,000, which suggests this family wagon is a cash cow for General Motors. There was a time when a $40,000 price tag would elicit gasps from car buyers and the media alike, but nowadays, many non-luxury crossovers can crest that mark. The Acadia Denali is obviously no different, as standard features like a head-up display, 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, moonroof and a leather steering wheel with wood accents can cost a pretty penny.

Our all-wheel-drive tester came in at $50,125 after options including touchscreen navigation ($1,890) and rear seat entertainment ($1,445) were added to the $45,220 base price. Still experiencing sticker shock? Bear in mind that a similarly equipped Acadia SLT2 with optional 20-inch wheels will set you back $2,000 more than the Denali. And you don't get the Buick Enclave-inspired sound deadening package and all that attention-seeking chrome.

2011 GMC Acadia Denali side view2011 GMC Acadia Denali front view2011 GMC Acadia Denali rear view

Many can no doubt live without the shiny stuff, but there are still many American car buyers who continue to place a premium on bling. And the Acadia Denali has plenty of it, with the lion's share affixed to the trademark honeycomb grille. The Adacia Denali actually has two portions of honeycomb, as the chrome lower fascia is separated by a front bumper that also features a strip of the shiny stuff, just like the Yukon and Sierra Denali models.

In all, GMC's design staff has done an admirable job of differentiating the front end of the Denali from the run-of-the-mill Acadia, with body-color moldings, a new hood with a convex scoop and a rounded gap above the bumper. The rest of the Acadia Denali is mostly carryover, with few changes besides the moldings and a pair of Denali badges at the base of each front door. It's certainly not a style that's for everyone, but it does clearly stand apart as the best Acadia money can buy. Check out the Autoblog Shortcut for a video illustration of what makes this Acadia Denali-worthy.

Once inside the Acadia Denali, it's obvious that loads of standard equipment is the key to differentiating this Denali from its lesser siblings. The real-wood inserts on the dash and steering wheel, along with some tasteful ambient lighting, give this big crossover a more upscale appearance, while luxury amenities like heated and cooled front seats and a standard Dual SkyScape sunroof don't have to be checked off from the list of options. GMC also opted to add the aforementioned Quiet Tuning technology borrowed from the Buick Enclave, giving the Acadia Denali a pleasantly muted cabin.

But while the standard features list is impressive, the Acadia Denali is stuck with the same hard plastics found in the base model. Also annoying is a USB port that isn't where the owner's manual says it should be. Hint: It's not in the center console. Look in the storage compartment on top of the dash above the center vents. Connecting your phone or iPod in the dash console is a bad idea on two levels. During the summer your MP3 player could well melt in the sun should you forget it up there. And if you decide to keep your MP3 player where you can easily grab it, you'll be stuck with a USB cable draped down the center of the instrument panel. Feng Shui experts will not be pleased.

2011 GMC Acadia Denali interior2011 GMC Acadia Denali front seats2011 GMC Acadia Denali gauges2011 GMC Acadia Denali dash vents

Material quality may not be an Acadia strong suit, but spaciousness is. This Denali boasts a class-leading 24.1 cubic feet of storage with all three rows in use, and 116.9 cubes with the second and third rows stowed. That's a lot of room to haul your stuff, but what if towing is in order? The 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 affords you the ability to tow an impressive 5,200 pounds when equipped with the towing package. That's more than enough grunt to pull jet skis, snowmobiles or many reasonably sized campers.

All that towing and hauling capability falls under the category of "nice to have" for many drivers, and we're more concerned with how the Acadia Denali handles itself the rest of the time. The 3.6-liter V6 engine handles itself well on the open road, with ample acceleration around town and acceptable pull when passing on the interstate. But with a 4,857-pound curb weight, we expected the Acadia Denali to handle a lot like the large, front-wheel-drive GM crossovers we've sampled in the past. Not so with the Denali's all-wheel-drive system, which engages the rear wheels whenever the need arises. AWD mitigates some body roll while also keeping this 200-inch-long crossover perfectly flat under hard acceleration. Steering is also linear with a bit of weight added, though road feel is predictably absent. Like most other crossovers on the market, the Acadia Denali behaves best when going straight, with a forgiving independent suspension setup that soaks up road imperfections to deliver a smooth ride.

2011 GMC Acadia Denali engine

Research says that many Acadia owners previously owned an SUV, with the GMC Envoy and Chevy Trailblazer leading the pack. That tells us a significant portion of those owners were likely looking for improved fuel economy. In most cases, those buyers got what they wanted, though the EPA's 16 mile per gallon city and 23 mpg highway ratings were out of reach for us. We managed an average of only 17.8 mpg, which isn't great, but still better than we'd net with most larger SUVs.

After a week with the Acadia Denali, we came away impressed with its vast array of standard equipment, but a bit disappointed by hard-touch plastics that just don't belong in a $50,000 crossover. Where we feel this premium Acadia succeeds is with distinctive, over-the-top styling that differentiates the Denali model from its lesser siblings. Combine those attributes with the Acadia's enormous interior and competent powertrain, and the result is a solid combination of style and comfort.

2011 GMC Acadia Denali rear 3/4 view

There will always be car buyers who insist on paying extra for the top-of-the-line model. With the Denali, a select few Acadia buyers will receive just that, the best Acadia that money can buy. And it only helps that the Denali actually costs a bit less than a comparably optioned Acadia SLT2, adding a bit of value to an already well-regarded Denali brand.

Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Car used for the pictures should have been black.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Cheesy body kit and chrome + $50k=crack pipe.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Local dealer has one of these on the lot for $43k after rebate with navigation. It's fun to throw the $50k number around for a loaded SLT2 (or any Acadia), but the price people actually pay is far less than that. With that in mind, I think low to mid-40's for a very well equipped CUV is not bad. We've had our 2007 Acadia since it was new and like it very much. And, yes, we do use all three rows every now and then. Gas mileage is a bit disappointing at 17.5 combined, but it's still better than my basic 4-door sedan.
        • 3 Years Ago
        E55 AMG.

        Just a basic 4-door sedan.
        • 3 Years Ago
        "Gas mileage is a bit disappointing at 17.5 combined, but it's still better than my basic 4-door sedan."


        What basic 4-door sedan are you driving that gets less than 17.5 mpg combined? Something from the 1970s?

        • 3 Years Ago
        Haha, funny.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The body colored bottom trim is much better looking than the grey plastic in my opinion. Although I'm not sure if I like the overall body style/shape more than a properly executed van, since to me it lost the truck-like styling for the most part.
      • 3 Years Ago
      'AWD mitigates some body roll'?????

      What other miracles can you attribute to AWD? Does it make the sky view through the sunroof bluer?

      As to the vehicle itself, it's okay, except for the steering wheel it's good. But I just don't know if GM really needs two vehicles as alike as the Enclave and this.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yes, at the very top, the Denali is similar to the Buick, but they're still clearly different wagons. The Enclave and Acadia are targeted very differently, just like GMC & Buick are. GMC is more worklike, whereas Buick has better NVH characteristics. For 1st gen Lambdas, the two are about as different as they can be.

        As GM moves to Lambda II, with SWB & LWB chassis, I'd expect to see the differences widen with the Enclave using a LWB chassis and eAssist standard for best-in-class mileage, versus Acadia being a SWB chassis with trans & subframe reinforcement for a higher tow capability. And, of course, the Buick will be "the pretty one".
        • 3 Years Ago
        hmm sorry but i find the enclave and the acadia two completely different vehicles style-wise.

        one looks like a crossover and the other looks like a truck (even tho they are both crossovers).

      • 3 Years Ago
      Size of the sunroof is excellent. Two tone wheels are attractive. Seats (front or rear) aren't consistent with "Denali" perceived level of design/luxury. Arm rests look like they're out of the Savana Van utility +cloth level.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Oh god, look at all that tacky chrome.

      This would be the official vehicle of the Jersey Shore crowd if Cadillac didn't exist.


      (its a shame, because I think the regular Acadia/Traverse/Enclave look so good)
        • 3 Years Ago
        they missed turning this into a Dubai special just by a smidge...

        I prefer the normal front fascia to this chromed out, and even then I think I'd take the AWD Explorer Limited before this one

        the lambada's are due for a make over soon, so I'd wait if you're a GM fan and get the new one instead

      • 3 Years Ago
      I like the regular Acadia, but this one looks wrong.

      For $50,000 plus, I would be taking a hard look at an entry level Porsche Cayenne. Am I wrong in thinking this way?

      Please respond.
        • 3 Years Ago
        No, you are not. The Cheyenne has some performance, and in my opinion, better styling. Of course, if I am going to spend 50k on a car, it would not be a CUV. It would be something I find desirable, like a sports car, not a family hauler.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm struck by several things....

      First, this product is DOA - the nameplate is being discontinued. Why have a one/two year version of a dead model?

      Second, how is this PROFESSIONAL GRADE? This is a Cadillac, not a GMC - and there is the problem. Government Motors has no brand clarity. PROFESSIONAL GRADE now means nothing - before it seemed to be a metrosexual toughness (try to figure that out) - but now, you have a complete wuss model that is tarted up like a lipstick lesbian. The only thing professional about this model is the help you should seek from buying it.

      I don't get the product - the interior from these pictures looks very Dollar Store - if that is real wood (it better be at $50k!) then it is the cheapest looking wood available. I'd venture to say it is like the Buick Enclave that is filled with enough fake wood to embarrass a mobile home owner. This whole product just is worthless - it looks like it is trying to be a full-sized SUV when it isn't. Given the choice between this oddly proportioned mess and a real GMC Whatever it is called SUV, I'd rather have the SUV. At least it isn't pretending to be something it isn't. Oh, wait, it is still a Chevrolet pretending to be something different. My bad!
        • 3 Years Ago
        The Acadia 3-row CUV easily outsells the Yukon 3-row SUV, with the Terrain splitting the difference:

        In 2010, GMC sold:
        68.3k Acadia
        60.5k Terrain
        52.6k Yukon

        In other words, GMC's CUVs outsell their SUV counterparts 2.5:1.
        • 3 Years Ago
        "At least it isn't pretending to be something it isn't. Oh, wait, it is still a Chevrolet pretending to be something different. My bad!"

        The GMC Acadia came out two years before the Chevy Traverse.
        We get that you're anti-GM, but if you're gonna bash something, please be accurate about it.
      • 3 Years Ago
      GM has done a good job in giving the Lambda platform CUV's distinct looks and feel.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is still bigger than a X5 isn't it? Haha...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wildly overpriced plastic under-performing lummox.
    • Load More Comments