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2011 GMC Acadia Denali

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating


2011 GMC Acadia Denali

2011 GMC Acadia Denali

Photo © Aaron Gold

The Bottom Line

GMC introduced the Acadia crossover utility vehicle in 2007, but 2011 is the first year it's received the top-of-the-line Denali treatment. Monochromatic body trim, a chrome honeycomb grille, and big 20" two-tone chrome wheels set the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali apart from lesser Acadias on the outside; inside, the Denali gets nicer trim and nearly every creature comfort offered by GM. The price for all this goodness? Better take a seat: $43,995 for front-wheel drive and $45,995 for all-wheel drive 2011 GMC Acadia.

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  • Big-SUV space in an easy-to-drive, easy-to-park package
  • Flexible interior
  • Vigorous acceleration


  • Lousy fuel economy
  • High price
  • Lacks high-tech features
  • Just doesn't feel like a proper luxury SUV


  • Base prices from $43,995 to $45,995
  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6
  • Horsepower: 288 @ 6,800 RPM
  • Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3400 RPM
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic with front- or all-wheel-drive
  • Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (FWD), 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway (AWD)
  • Wheelbase: 118.9" Vehicle length: 201.1" Width: 78.9" Height: 72.8"
  • Curb weight: 4,729 - 4,925
  • Cargo: Behind 1st row: 115.9 cubic feet; Behind 2nd row: 68.7 cubic feet; Behind 3rd row: 24.1 cubic feet
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain

Guide Review - 2011 GMC Acadia Denali

I've always been a fan of General Motors' Lambda-platform crossovers, which include the GMC Acadia as well as the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse. Thanks to their unit-body construction, the Lambdas provide almost as much usable interior space as a full-size body-on-frame SUV like the GMC Yukon, packaged in a smaller vehicle that's much easier to drive and park. The roomy second row has a flat floor, although the seats lack thigh support for taller passengers. The third row is fine for kids and tolerable for adults -- provided the second-row occupants are willing to slide their seats forward and give up a bit of legroom, that is. With all seats in place, the Denali stows 24.1 cubic feet of luggage. Folding the third-row seat opens that up to 68.7 cubes, and dropping the second row maxes out cargo space at 115.9. But what I like best is how easy it is to reconfigure. Everything that can be done with the second and third row seats -- folding them down, putting them back up, and sliding the 2nd row forward for 3rd row access -- can be done with one hand.

Although its unit-body construction is supposed to save weight, the Acadia still weighs in at a hefty 2 1/2 tons. The Acadia's ride is big-car smooth, and while it leans quite a bit in the curves, it actually grips the pavement pretty well -- good behavior if you have to swerve to avoid a crash. I expected the Acadia's mass to overwhelm it's modestly-sized 3.6 liter 288 hp engine, but acceleration was actually quite vigorous, although my fuel economy was pretty crummy -- despite promising EPA estimates of 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway for my all-wheel drive tester, I averaged a measly 16 mpg, even though I did most of my driving on the highway.

Much as I like the Lambdas, the Acadia Denali hasn't won me over. I'm a function-over-form kind of guy, so the monochromatic body kit didn't do much for me, although I did like the drilled-chrome grille, which gives the Acadia a custom look. And I certainly appreciated all the Denali's creature comforts, which include a wood-and-leather interior, heated and cooled front seats, three-zone climate control, dual-pane sunroof, upgraded stereo, and even a nifty head-up display that projects the vehicle's speed and directions (from either OnStar or the optional navigation system) right in the windshield. My test vehicle's options list included fancy "white diamond" paint ($795), a rear-seat DVD player ($1,445), and a touch-screen navigation system ($1,890). I didn't care much for the nav system; despite including XM NavTraffic, it never seemed to account for traffic jams in its routing or arrival time estimations, and the constant chirping noise as it read and re-read the map DVD was annoying. All of the extras brought the price up to $50,125, which is luxury-SUV territory, but the Acadia just doesn't feel plush enough to justify that kind of price. Plus it lacks high-tech gadgets like adaptive cruise control, headlights that steer with the wheels, or rain-sensing wipers -- all features I expect to see on a proper luxury SUV.

If I were shopping for a big crossover, my first choice would be the Chevrolet Traverse, which offers many of the same features as the Acadia for a lot less money. The Honda Pilot offers as much usable interior space and is even more car-like to drive, though its interior is more austere than the Acadia's. If you can make do with less space, the Acura MDX is a proper luxury SUV brimming with high-tech features. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Ford Flex -- though it's not as big as the Acadia, it offers plenty of room for six people and it's a lot of fun to drive with the optional EcoBoost engine. I'd even consider a lower-spec Acadia -- but the Denali wouldn't make my short list. -- Aaron Gold

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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