$32,000 - $45,380

Expert Review:Autoblog

Expanding The Brand Beyond Trucks and SUVs

2011 GMC Acadia Denali

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

New Denali model joins lineup of big crossover SUVs.


The 2011 GMC Acadia lineup has been expanded to include a new Denali model. The Acadia Denali features a more luxurious interior and signature Denali design cues. The 2011 Acadia Denali uses the same 3.6-liter V6 as the other models and is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. 

The GMC Acadia can seat seven or eight and haul a mountain of cargo. Inside and out, the Acadia is similar in size to the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe. It's more refined, offers sharper handling, and gets better fuel mileage than a full-size SUV, however. A crossover, it's constructed more like a car than a truck, so it's lighter and has a more rigid chassis than a truck does. 

Acadia delivers what most people want from a full-size SUV. The driver sits high off the ground and has a commanding view of the road. The Acadia can carry a lot of cargo. We found it seats six adults comfortably. Rear-seat DVD entertainment is available. 

The only places where the Acadia falls short of truck-based SUVs are in heavy-duty towing or slogging through muck or over rugged terrain. Properly equipped, the GMC Acadia can tow 5,200 pounds, while a Yukon is rated to pull 7,500 pounds or more. The Yukon is based on the Sierra full-size pickup, so it can regularly handle terrain unsuitable for the Acadia. But you may not need that capability. The Acadia offers all-wheel drive for stormy or snowy weather, and it's fine for unpaved roads. That's plenty for most people. 

On the road, the Acadia handles better and is smoother than a Yukon and other truck-based SUVs. It offers excellent driving manners, whether on country roads, rough city streets or pock-marked freeways. It smoothes bumpy pavement and takes corners in a reassuring manner for a large vehicle. 

The 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is responsive and efficient and supplies good acceleration. Its 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth and efficient, further aiding fuel economy. 

Acadia comes loaded with safety equipment, including side-curtain airbags that provide head protection, side-impact airbags for torso protection and StabiliTrak electronic stability control and other active safety features that help the driver avoid accidents. 

The GMC Acadia shares platforms with the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse. It was launched as a 2007 model; the 3.6-liter V6 was revised for 2009. For 2011, the biggest change is the addition of a Denali luxury model. All 2011 Acadia models get the latest version of OnStar, and offer Bluetooth, heated cloth seats, and power lumbar adjustment. 


The 2010 GMC Acadia comes in SL, SLE, SLT, and Denali trim levels, all with the 3.6-liter V6 and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. 

Acadia SL ($31,840) and SL AWD ($33,840) come with upgraded cloth upholstery, air conditioning with rear controls, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power outside mirrors, power windows, programmable door locks with remote keyless entry, four-way manually adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, three-passenger 60/40 split second-row bench seat, three-passenger 60/40 split third-row bench seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with XM Satellite Radio, automatic headlamps, daytime running lights, rear spoiler, roof rails and P255/65R18 tires on painted aluminum wheels. 

Acadia SLE ($34,465) and SLE AWD ($36,465) add Bluetooth hands-free cellphone communications, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, remote start, eight-way power driver seat, two-way power front passenger seat, power liftgate, fog lights, rear park assist, rearview camera, body-colored side molding, second-row captain's chairs. Heated cloth seats are available. 

Acadia SLT ($38,185) and SLT AWD ($40,185) upgrade to leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear controls, heated front seats, a more sophisticated Bose stereo with rear radio controls, driver information center, outside temperature display, compass, a Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, universal garage-door opener, turn signals integrated into the outside mirrors and P265/60HR19 tires on machined alloy wheels. There's an SLT-2 level with more equipment. The SLT Preferred Package ($1,350) upgrades with eight-way power driver's and four-way power front passenger's seats, express power front windows, heated outside mirrors, trailering equipment, heavy-duty cooling, and P255/55HR20 tires on chrome-clad alloy wheels. 

Options for Acadia include a navigation system ($1,890); DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($2,305); trailering package ($525); sunroof ($1,400); second-row console ($300); leather and climate-controlled second and third rows ($650). The Technology Package ($1,000) includes head-up display, cargo-area audio system and HID projector low-beam headlamps. 

Acadia Denali ($43,220) features special trim, with a monochromatic exterior, unique front and rear fascias, chrome honeycomb grille, HID headlamps, and 20-inch black-and-chrome wheels. The cabin has woodgrain interior, perforated leather seats that are cooled as well as heated, premium acoustics, dual sunroof, head-up display, DVD rear entertainment system, and Bose 10-speaker sound system, among other things. 

Safety features on all Acadia models include dual frontal airbags, side-curtain airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger, OnStar, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation. Optional all-wheel drive enhances safety on slippery surfaces. 

2011 Acadia models come with OnStar 9.0, which uses a global positioning system and an extra-powerful cellular telephone to put the driver in touch with the OnStar center, which can tell where the vehicle is located and send help or provide other assistance. Should the airbags deploy, the system will automatically notify the OnStar center that an accident has occurred and where the vehicle is located so it can then send help. OnStar service is free for the first year but after that requires a subscription fee. 


The GMC Acadia shares its size and overall features with the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. Measuring 201 inches, an Acadia is a lot longer than a Ford Explorer. But it doesn't look it. 

It's a big vehicle that doesn't look bulky, and carries a kind of active grace. The rounded front end features a bright grille surrounding a prominent GMC emblem. Distinctively curved headlight clusters give the Acadia a slightly startled expression. Projector beams are standard, while high-intensity discharge headlights are optional. Small round fog lights nestle below. The front bumper is massive, but the size is lost by its black color and bright strip at the top. 

From the side, the rounded fender flares are prominent, and a horizontal character line sets out to connect them but disappears into the doors instead. Tasteful bright trim and polished aluminum roof rails add visual interest. The shape of the Acadia is aerodynamically efficient for an SUV, with a drag coefficient of 0.344. Power-adjustable outside mirrors are standard on all models. Body-color outside mirrors with integrated turn signals are standard on SLT, with a power-folding function available as an option. 

From the rear, the Acadia looks like a generic crossover SUV, accented by interesting two-tone taillight clusters and quad exhaust tips. 

The standard 18-inch wheels and tires are a good choice for the Acadia, offering the best ride quality, but it's also available with 19-inch and 20-inch wheels. The Acadia has the visual mass to support the big-diameter wheels, but the bright 20-inchers are too dazzling for our tastes. 

The Denali has its own look, much better we think, with all of the chrome trim turned to body colors. Denali comes standard with 20-inch wheels. 


Acadia has three rows of seats and can seat seven or eight, though it's squeezed past six. To get eight, GM assumes three people are sitting in the third row, but there is scant hip room or legroom. Three children is okay, but three adults won't fit. 

The Acadia SLT cabin has a handsome and upscale look, with leather upholstery standard. The designers of the Acadia stayed away from cheap-looking plastic and bargain-basement cloth. Yet they did not lose track of basic functionality. The heating and cooling controls are easy to find and use. The instruments are legible, not lost in some fussy attempt at a complex design. Big cupholders and a deep bin between the front seats are welcome, but the pockets on the inside door panels are too narrow for any meaningful storage. 

The front seats are wide and comfortable. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, making it easy for drivers tall and short to get comfortable. As with any SUV, the driver sits high, with a good view down the road. 

But visibility to the rear isn't great, requiring care when backing up. We recommend opting for ultrasonic rear park assist, which can detect objects out of the driver's line of sight. We further recommend getting the rearview camera, which projects its image on the navigation screen or the rearview mirror. The smaller image on the rearview mirror is right in your line of sight when looking at the rearview mirror to back up. However, in a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the small image on the rearview mirror hard to see. A larger image on a navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful. An effective rearview camera is a valuable piece of safety equipment because it can help the driver spot a child behind the vehicle before backing up. The rearview camera makes parallel parking easier and quicker, also. 

Eight-passenger seating comes in the base model, with a 60/40 split bench in the second row that can accommodate three people (for 2-3-3 seating). The up-level Acadia models have second-row captain's chairs, which cut passenger capacity to seven (in a 2-2-3 arrangement) but are more comfortable. Either model can be ordered with the other seating arrangement. This is an important choice that deserves careful consideration: Models with second-row captain's chairs are less functional for hauling cargo. So, as a people hauler, the seven-passenger is nicer, as a cargo hauler, the eight-passenger is much better. 

Second-row legroom is 36.9 inches, with the sliding seat in the middle of its four-inch range. With the seat all the way back, giving nearly 39 inches of legroom, a six-foot-tall person can be comfortable in the driver's seat while another six-footer can be seated directly behind without being cramped. 

Getting to the third row involves using what GM calls its Smart Slide feature. A handle moves the second row up and out of the way. As in most vehicles, the Acadia's third row is best suited for small children. When GMC says the Acadia is a seven- or eight-passenger vehicle: GM assumes three people are sitting in the third row, which has about nine inches less hip room than the second row. Putting three children back there will be possible, but three adults won't fit. Two adults will fit, though, with good head room and adequate leg room. Just don't plan to keep them back there on long trips because the low seat bottoms lack thigh support. 

Cargo capacity is generous, with 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That's more than the trunk space of a mid-size sedan and measurably more than what's offered by the Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer. A small plastic-lined bin below the floor of the Acadia's cargo compartment is perfect for carrying messy stuff. 

For more cargo space, nearly 69 cubic feet, the third row folds down easily, and a strap is used to pull it back up, requiring some effort. It's nice that lowering the second or third rows does not require removing the head restraints. When both the second and third rows are folded, the cargo area is almost flat, and there is a cavernous 115.9 cubic feet of cargo volume. In all cargo dimensions, the Acadia exceeds many competitors, including the Pilot and the Explorer. 

Driving Impression

The GMC Acadia is big and heavy, but it feels smaller on the road. The steering doesn't require much effort, not even in a parking lot, but it still offers good feel, giving the driver a feeling of confidence about where the vehicle is heading and how it will respond. The Acadia turns into corners responsively and feels stable on the freeway. 

It only feels its weight when it's driven hard. It's nearly 5000 pounds with all-wheel drive, about 750 pounds lighter than a Yukon or Tahoe, but 500 pounds heavier than a Honda Pilot. 

The Acadia uses independent suspension in the front and rear, like most modern cars, and this provides a well-rounded blend of ride and handling. Bumps, tar strips and potholes are felt but only distantly, without the jarring that is part of life in a truck-based SUV. If you're used to driving a traditional SUV, the Acadia will be much more smooth and refined. The Acadia feels strong and rigid and it doesn't quiver on bumps. Unwanted body motions are nicely controlled, so there isn't a sloppy feeling. The brake feel is firm, and that makes it easy to modulate the brakes in heavy traffic, shaving off a lot of speed or just a little bit. 

StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability control system, comes standard and can help the driver maintain control on slippery surfaces. The system uses sensors to tell if the front or rear of the vehicle is sliding and corrects for the skid. If the system detects a possible rollover, it reacts to help prevent that as well. 

The all-wheel drive system is permanently engaged and does not require the driver to do anything but drive. A computer sends the power to where it can do the most good. GM calls it Intelligent AWD, which essentially means that it manages front-to-rear torque distribution to enhance stability and control. 

The GM 3.6-liter V6 has proven itself to be powerful, efficient and flexible, and it's enough engine in the Acadia. Acceleration is more than adequate, with help from a 6-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and responds quickly. With variable valve timing, the V6 makes 288 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. That's considerably more than most other V6 engines and comparable to some V8s. 

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive, 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive. 

Towing capacity is 5,200 pounds. 


The GMC Acadia offers the people and cargo hauling capability of a full-size SUV with more comfort and better fuel mileage. It can squeeze in eight people, or carry six in comfort. The ride is smooth and it handles well. With its pleasant manners, considerable space and good fuel economy, the Acadia is a good crossover choice: better than a truck-based SUV for anyone who doesn't need to tow a heavy trailer. 

Model Lineup

GMC Acadia SL ($31,840); SL AWD ($33,840); SLE ($34,465); SLE AWD ($36,465); SLT ($38,185); SLT AWD ($40,185). 

Assembled In

Lansing, Michigan. 

Options As Tested

Preferred Equipment Package ($1,350), eight-way power driver's seat, four-way power passenger's seat, auto-dimming rearview and driver's side mirrors, heated power-folding exterior mirrors, automatic up/down driver's power window, trailering equipment and P255/55HR20 tires on chrome-clad alloy wheels. 

Model Tested

GMC Acadia SLT AWD ($40,185). 

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