2018 GMC Acadia Denali Test Drive Review: The New Family Truckster

Test Drive

Clark Griswold and crew would gladly take this luxury crossover to Walley World.

It’s hard not to like the GMC Acadia Denali even though it’s not a real SUV. Crossovers are just fine for the majority of American buyers. Often times they don’t know the difference between the two. But it’s large crossovers, such as the Acadia Denali, that are diluting minivan and sedan sales. Fortunately, the new 2018 GMC Acadia Denali offers nearly everything minivan buyers want along with attractive SUV-like styling.

When GMC handed me the keys to a nearly full-loaded, Black Cherry Metallic 2018 Acadia Denali for a week, I couldn’t have been more pleased. Tasked with hauling family and suitcases around Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the surrounding Boston area for several days while attending a cousin’s wedding, I actually required the crossover’s services. I was the unpaid chauffer. Free food took the place of tips. Truth be told, my original expectations weren’t very high for the six-passenger Acadia Denali. You see, I’m an SUV guy and crossovers are supposed to be my enemy. Minivans pose no threat. Stations wagons are nearly dead.

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But the 2018 GMC Acadia Denali is a real threat to those vehicles because it offers the most useful traits of all three body styles: lots of space, AWD, luxury, and stylish looks. The GMC Acadia first hit the market back in 2007 serving as the brand’s first-ever front-wheel drive vehicle. Sharing a platform with the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and now deceased Saturn Outlook, the first Acadia received solid reviews overall but much more was needed to differentiate it from its GM counterparts. Blame badge engineering. Enter stage two. New for 2017, the second-gen Acadia is actually smaller than its predecessor by 7.2 inches in length. It’s even been reclassified as a mid-size crossover.

That also means it’s smaller than the new Traverse, but larger than GMC’s other crossover, the Terrain. Under the Acadia’s hood is GM’s familiar 3.6-liter V6 with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. It’s a solid engine, but lacks character here. It’s quiet. It’s smooth. It does the job. I enjoyed this widely used GM engine far more when I experienced it in the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 last winter (more power would’ve been nice there as well). Acceleration, according to GMC, is a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds, which felt about right. The Acadia ain’t no hot rod and nor should it be. The standard engine is a 193 hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder that, although I can’t speak for it, doesn’t sound like it’d be at home in a vehicle that weighs over 4,000 pounds.

The Acadia Denali (Denali is the premium luxury trim available on all GMC vehicles) thankfully comes only with the V6. The sole transmission for either engine is a six-speed automatic, though in the era of 10-speeds I’m surprised GM didn’t opt for a couple more gears. If you’re looking for an exciting time behind the wheel then think again. The Acadia Denali’s electrically assisted rack-and-pinion system doesn’t feel like you’re steering a tank, but it’s communicative just enough to keep you awake. An exciting driving experience it is not, which I suspect is very much on purpose. Both front- and all-wheel drive are offered, and my Acadia Denali was an AWD version riding on a set of shiny 20-inch wheels.

The EPA claims a rating of 17/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined. My mixed driving time returned 21 mpg. A drive-mode selector allows for front-wheel drive by disconnecting the rear axle when all-wheel traction isn’t required, thus saving fuel. Other drive modes include Sport, Off Road and, Trailer/Tow. The exterior design can be summed up as handsome with a touch of bling. It’s not groundbreaking but nor was that the intention. The styling will offend no one and I happen to like the chrome trim throughout. Some may think the chrome-tastic grille is a bit much. I couldn’t help but notice from the side view that the Acadia Denali looks like a late model inflated station wagon with some SUV-like angles here and there.

The interior is equally handsome with real wood and chrome trim. I had no problem getting comfortable and finding the ideal position with excellent visibility in the eight-way power driver’s seat. The 8.0-inch touch screen located at the top of the dashboard is easy to use and figure out. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are there, as is a 4G LTE WiFi hot spot. I counted a total of five USB ports to charge our precious smartphones. There’s also a 12-volt socket and a 120-volt outlet. Unlike many 90s era GM vehicles, the leather upholstery was supple and didn’t smell like glue. I only briefly sat in the second row but found the two captain’s chairs lacking the same level of comfort and support the front seats provide.

Non-Denali trims can be had with a second row three-passenger bench for a total of up to seven occupants. As for the third row? It’s good to know it’s there just in case, but I suspect most owners will keep it folded flat a majority of the time as I did. This allows for 42 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row. With the third row up, it reduces to 13 cubic feet. Fold down both second and third rows and you’re up to a claimed 79 cubic feet. The optional $1,400 dual sunroof really brightened up the interior and, along with the $395 Black Cherry Metallic exterior paint, were my tester’s only added extras.

The grand total came to $49,790 in change, which is right in line with competitors like the Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas. If you want a three-row SUV, however, look no further than the Dodge Durango. The 2018 GMC Acadia Denali does everything it was intended to do very well, though it’s not a segment leader. It lacks an edge many of its competitors offer in varying degrees. Perhaps one reason why is because it’s the most un-SUV like vehicle GMC has ever built. Assuming crossover popularity remains and increases, GMC needs to find that edge.

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