First Drive: 2011 GMC Acadia Denali
The Sum of Its Parts
"Denali" is actually an Athabascan (Eskimo) word for "the High One," and the original name of Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. It's also the "tallest" price point for GMC models like the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali.
Never mind that Mt. McKinley is in Alaska, and "Acadia" was the French name for what is now New England and Canada's Maritime Provinces. Denali means "trim package" now, and an expensive one at that. Such is the case of the new 2011 GMC Acadia Denali that recently rolled into Motor Trend HQ with a $50,125 price tag, a pricey sum considering the Acadia starts at $32,615, and there were still options boxes left unchecked. Sure, ours was good and optioned-up, but the base price for an Acadia Denali is still an eyebrow-raising $43,995.
While the Denali package is typically considered a luxury package, on the Acadia it works out to more of a dress-up kit than anything else. Denali models get a unique front fascia that looks like a tame aftermarket addition, and body-color cladding, fascias, fender flares, and rockers. They're simple changes, but they help make the rig look classier than the black plastic-clad regular Acadias.
In addition to the extra paint, Acadia Denalis also get chrome, and lots of it. Twenty-inch chrome wheels are standard, though there are other optional designs if you don't like the six spokes. Drilled chrome grilles are right up front per Denali rules, but that's just the beginning. There's chrome on the doors, on the window sills, on the bumpers, on the trunk, on the exhaust tips, and even the badges. Wear sunglasses.
Once you're inside, you'll notice extra accent lighting, new chrome door sills with lighted Denali logos (front doors only, rears are sans logo) and wood grain that doesn't look like wood. You'll also notice how quiet it is, thanks to laminated glass, triple door seals, and extra sound deadening, all borrowed from the Buick Enclave. Standard leather seats with heaters and coolers for the front row, a leather and wood steering wheel, double sunroof, navigation, tri-zone climate control, and a heads-up display are all present as well.
As a vehicle, the Acadia Denali is a nice piece. The sound control measures make a noticeable difference in the interior noise level, though the change has the unfortunate consequence of making it obvious that the door windows were not part of the upgrade. The ride is smooth and quite comfortable for such a large vehicle on 20-inch wheels. In fact, some editors remarked that it was actually better than a substantially more expensive Cadillac Escalade also at the office rolling on 22s. Handling, on the other hand, had us sliding out of the thinly bolstered seats, but this isn't a sports car and was never meant to be one.
GM's 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 offered up nice, smooth, linear power that had the big SUV gliding easily down the road like a V-8 of years past. Unfortunately, it also drinks gas like V-8s of years past. Despite EPA ratings of 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for our all wheel-drive tester, a mix of city and highway driving returned no better than 14 mpg after two weeks on the job. We're more inclined to pin the blame on its nearly 5000-pound curb weight than on its smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, which was always eager to get to top gear.
This is where things start to come apart. As good as the Acadia Denali is, everyone who drove it came away wondering if it was $50,000 good. Aside from the cringe-inducing fuel economy, editors were quick to point out a cabin that wasn't up to its price point. While the plastic quality isn't bad, the only soft-touch materials to be found were on the arm rests. Everything else was rock-hard plastic. Embedded in it was GM's old DVD-based navigation system, which is easily outclassed by the latest equipment on the market, including GM's own work.
Then there were the little things. How is it you can get a power-retracting sunroof shade on a $22,000 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, but not on a $50,000 GMC? Why can I get technology like blind spot warning systems on a $25,000 Ford Fusion, but not on a $50,000 GMC? Why does this "wood finish" trim on the center stack look like it came out of the $24,000 Suzuki Grand Vitara we tested two years ago? Why are the controls for the in-gauge displays on the center stack, the heads-up display controls on the dash below the instrument cluster, and the odometer reset in the cluster? Why can't we get one-touch windows all around? How is it that Ford and Dodge can both offer multiple engine options and a power-folding third-row in their less-expensive Explorer and Durango, but GMC can't? Or a steering wheel heater. Or voice-activated nav and stereo controls. Or adaptive cruise control.
This isn't to say the Acadia is a terrible car. We liked the comfy seats and the acres of personal space. We liked the sliding and folding second-row captain's chairs and the adult-friendly third row, as well as the ample cargo space. But when you can get online and spec out a 2011 Ford Explorer or 2011 Dodge Durango with more options and still not break $49,000, one has to wonder what the extra cash is buying you.
Of course, if you've ever priced an Acadia, this may not be news to you. Turns out you can spec an Acadia SLT2 just over the Denali's price, but you won't get the chrome and such. So, if you were planning on picking up a loaded Acadia to begin with, or had plans to outfit your Acadia with all manner of aftermarket chrome bits anyway, it's really not a bad deal. This challenges the value of the "Denali" package as a luxury trim, if all you're getting are dress-up parts and thicker windows. If it's no more expensive than any other loaded Acadia, what does Denali even mean? It means people who were going to buy a mid-range Acadia might be willing to pay more for a body kit, some chrome, and a badge, apparently.
The bottom line is this: If you like the looks of the Denali and want a quieter cabin, go for it. It won't cost you any more than a loaded Acadia. But if you're looking for the best value in the segment, you may want to keep looking.
|2011 GMC Acadia Denali AWD|
|Price as Tested||$50,125|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD, 7- or 8-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||3.6L/288-hp/270-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)||4950 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||200.7 x 78.2 x 69.9 in|
|0-60 mph||8.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||16/23 mpg|
|MT observed fuel econ||14.0 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.05 lb/mile|
|On sale in the U.S.||Currently|