2017 GMC Acadia Denali
– Tighter size and look
– Seating space and features
– Ride and handling
– Economy-biased gearbox tune
– Needs light foot to aid economy
– Limited off-road ability
The GMC Acadia was the SUVs-and-trucks-only brand’s first foray into crossover territory back in 2007. The model has been fairly successful, yet General Motors only kept the model going since then with only facelifts and upgrades rather than a full redesign. That long-pending redesign is now here, but the new Acadia is a completely different vehicle than the one it is replacing.
The new Acadia is a smaller, lighter vehicle with a shorter wheelbase, making it much better proportioned than the minivan-like old one. It’s a handsome vehicle, looking far better in the Denali trim with the chrome grille, 20-inch wheels, rectangular exhaust tips and body-coloured plastic trim.
Aside from a good amount of soft-touch padding on upper door surfaces, the Acadia Denali also features a stitched-leatherette dash, leather upholstery on the seats and armrests, and what are apparently real wood and aluminium trim panels. Lower panels are hard plastic. The overall design is a bit truckish rather than luxurious, inspired by GMC’s pickup range, but it’s packed with practicality and tech.
It is low enough to step in comfortably without side-steps. Cabin space is great, even in the third row with sliding second-row seats moved forward to fit average-sized adults. Access to the third row is a bit tight, but manageable for limber folks. The Denali comes with moderately-bolstered front seats and second-row captain’s chairs rather than the more-practical bench found in regular Acadias. The boot space is negligible with the third row in use (with half of it taken up by an oversized emergency kit), but huge with it folded flat into the floor. There are also storage compartments under the boot floor, while storage cubbies, pockets and cup-holders are generously spread about.
The features list is extensive, with power-adjustable heated-and-ventilated front seats, second-row heated seats, dual sunroofs, roof rails, good tri-zone climate control with rear a/c vents and controls, a good stereo with a reasonably responsive 8-inch capacitive touchscreen, navigation, 5 USB ports, 120-volt power outlet, full-colour LCD between the gauges, smart keyless entry and starter button, remote start, HID headlights, fog lights and more. Everything works well, although be aware that stereo control buttons are behind the steering wheel, which you should get used to quickly if you’ve owned any Chrysler products over the past decade.
Safety features include front/rear parking sensors with a surround-camera system, forward pedestrian/collision detection system with automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. Many of these systems alert you with either visual warnings or making the driver’s seat vibrate, the latter making you wonder if your phone is on silent. When you turn off the car, there is even a warning reminding you to take any sleeping babies from the back seat!
The Acadia is powered by a 3.6-litre direct-injection V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic, making 310 hp at 6600 rpm and 366 Nm of torque at 5000 rpm. Interestingly, the Denali can be driven in front-wheel-drive mode, in which case the 0-100 kph time is 7.9 seconds with a lot of wheelspin. Switching the drive mode to all-wheel-drive and sport, we got a drama-free 0-100 kph time of 7.6 seconds.
The smooth gearbox has economy-biased programming in regular driving, which can be a bit annoying if you need instant power, and the buttons on top of the shifter-knob have to be used to drop down the gears. Or you can keep driving in ‘sport’ mode all the time to hold lower gears, although that’s not advisable as our fuel consumption was already high at 17 litres/100 km. The V6 engine also has cylinder deactivation to save fuel if you take it easy on the throttle.
Speaking of sportiness, the Acadia Denali handles pretty well, with limited body roll, and understeer creeping in only on sharp turns at daft speeds. The steering is decently weighted, but it’s a bit vague and offers minimal feedback. The ABS-assisted disc brakes are pretty decent with good pedal feel.
Aside from handling, the Acadia Denali’s other strength is a smooth ride, albeit very mildly floaty. The 235/55 tyres aren’t low-profile enough to ruin the ride. The smoothness is also no doubt due to the continuously-variable suspension which is apparently “performance-tuned” as well, which would explain the good handling. On the highway, the Acadia is quiet with a muted engine note, but road noise becomes noticeable above 100 kph.
The drive-mode selection dial aft of the shifter offers 2WD, AWD, Off-Road, Snow, Sport and Trailer-Tow modes. However, we didn’t take it offroad due to its low frontal ground clearance and lack of low-range gearing. However, given the instant responses of the all-wheel-drive system, it can surely manage flat sand areas as well as gravel trails just fine.
Except for losing some cargo space, the GMC Acadia is all the better for shrinking in size, but it competes in a tightly-contested segment. The Denali stretches the budget into entry-level premium territory where entries range from the Ford Explorer Sport to the Infiniti QX60, not to mention several full-size SUVs, even from GMC’s own stable. As such, the market for the Denali is limited as most people in our region shop by size rather than features. While we haven’t driven the regular Acadia with the non-fancy suspension and the second-row bench seat, the basic bones are the same while starting at a 35% lower price, and those are the versions that should be of interest to most buyers.
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