2011 GMC Acadia Denali AWD
– Huge cabin space
– Decent handling
– Very comfortable ride
– Average fuel economy
– No low-range gearing
– Some hard cabin plastics
The GMC Acadia became a hint at the future of 4x4s when it first debuted in 2007. Formerly a brand that only sold body-on-frame trucks and SUVs, the Acadia was GMC’s first crossover, in anticipation that the Yukon was going to die eventually in the face of environmental pressure. But while the Yukon has survived thus far, the Acadia also lives on alongside to appease those who want a comfortably-outfitted people-carrier and nothing else. For 2011, the Acadia finally receives the upscale “Denali” trim that has been available on other GMC models for more than a decade.
The extra-long Acadia always looked dull to begin with, but the Denali is dressed up nicely enough to make it appear suitably premium. The external mods include a chrome grille, different wheels and nicer bumpers, as much as we can figure out.
The Acadia is sort of a stretched midsizer, and so it is expectedly spacious. Legroom in the second row is limo-like, while still leaving just enough space in the third row for adults. Our vehicle was the 7-seater version instead of the 8-seater, so it was set up with two chairs in the middle row instead of a bench, while three can fit in the last row at a pinch. And yet, there’s still enough cargo room for groceries, configurable to make room for a bed if needed. And of course, there is no shortage of cup-holders and cubbies.
The cabin panels are all hard plastics, with leather patches and faux wood on the doors to remind you of the Denali’s premium aspirations. The barely-bolstered front seats are power-adjustable and upholstered in leather, offering sofa-like comfort. And there’s Cadillac levels of chrome trim all over the interior.
The feature set is good, with the usual power accessories, a good-enough CD/MP3 stereo with USB port, touchscreen navigation, basic keyless entry with remote start, rear camera, two moonroofs, good tri-zone auto a/c with rear controls, rear overhead DVD screen, power tailgate, multiple airbags and HID headlights, among other items.
The engine remains the standard 3.6-litre V6 that made its way under the Acadia’s bonnet back in 2009, making 288 hp at 6300 rpm and 366 Nm at 3400 rpm. The 6-speed automatic is smooth, with a manual tiptronic feature using buttons on the shift-knob itself, although we didn’t bother using that. We managed a 0-100 kph time of 8.8 seconds, expected for a 2078-kilo vehicle during our May testing. Its 16.0 litres/100 km of as-tested fuel consumption is merely average for its class nowadays. Interestingly, these figures are nearly identical to the front-wheel-drive Chevy Traverse we tested two years ago, although this Acadia is the all-wheel-drive version.
The handling is very good for a vehicle of this size, with less-than-expected body-roll and no floatiness over bumps. Indeed, its suspension seems set up to give a car-like feel, even more so than the Honda Pilot or even the new Ford Explorer. It can be thrown around corners, within reasonable limits of course, and can be manoeuvred rather easily with its soft lifeless steering and decent ABS-assisted disc brakes, provided there is enough room.
Parking the Acadia can be a hassle in tight parking lots at shopping malls, obviously due to its limousine length, but the rear camera, sensors and tight turning circle help a lot, so we were not completely helpless. The Acadia is best left to cruising highways on cross-country trips, with its excellent suppression of wind and road noises, as well as a comfortable suspension that does not wallow on large potholes, while still retaining its stable handling character. Of course, it’s a bad idea to wear out those grippy tyres too quickly, because those wide 255/55 rubbers riding on your 20-inch rims can be quite expensive to replace.
As for offroading, there is none to be done. The all-wheel-drive is fine on gravel tracks, but low ground clearance and a lack of low-range gearing makes sure you treat the Acadia like a minivan rather than a jeep.
Simply repeating the conclusion we had for the Chevy Traverse, the GMC Acadia is a practical replacement for the traditional minivan or large SUV, if all you are looking for is a people-mover. It is a bonus that it comes with a good engine and a solid suspension tune. While we will never approve of crossovers that look like SUVs but can’t go off-road, the Acadia should be uplifting in a niche that traditionally suffers from low self-esteem.
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