Review: the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali is an ‘old school’ GM that needs work to not feel unfinished & cheap


When I am doing my week-long evaluation of a vehicle, I try to find its soul. Some cars and trucks have something deep within that one could call “soul.” If I find that soul, it’s passes through me in the form of music.

That’s right – motorized vehicles and music go together like bananas and peanut butter.

For some odd, unattainable realm of logic – the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali channels Seasick Steve. For those of you not in the “know” about good ol’ Seasick Steve – he’s a blues man with a unique sound (he builds most of his guitars from junk) and he’s a man from another time (which is a title of one of his songs).


The 2011 GMC Acadia Denali is a GM product from another time.

Let me explain. Given the sheer mass of this vehicle and its comfortable ride, it reminds me of an old-school Buick Roadmaster Wagon or a very old, Pontiac Safari Station Wagon rather than a massive crossover SUV. It’s a behemoth of a vehicle with luxury amenities abound and it offers a cushy ride for up to seven full-sized people.

The 2011 GMC Acadia Denali puts out 288 horsepower. The 3.6-liter V6 makes 270 lbs-feet of torque. Only one transmission is available – and it’s the buttery smooth, electronically controlled, six-speed automatic transmission. Keep in mind, this is the same equipment available in the regular GMC Acadia.


When I started looking at the numbers, it surprised me how similar this vehicle is to my family’s late 70’s Pontiac Station Wagon. Overall length, wheelbase, weight and capacity are very close.

Ol’ Seasick Steve like his cars old-school; sometimes, so do I.

The 2011 GMC Acadia’s length is 200.7 inches, wheelbase is 118.9 inches and weight is 4,857 lbs. All of those measurements are very close to the size of old station wagons. There are two big differences. The GMC Acadia has a clean, fuel-efficient V6 and all-wheel-drive (AWD).

Maximum towing for the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali is 5,200 lbs when properly equipped. Given the seat-of-the-pants feel of the Acadia, I would recommend a beefier vehicle as this crossover feels sluggish when loaded. A good rule of thumb is to keep your loads 500 to 1,000 lbs under the maximum weight for vehicle wear and safety.

Driving the Acadia is a fairly effortless chore and I would liken it to piloting a minivan. That’s not a backhanded compliment, it an observation based on the artificial feel in the steering, overall rolling mass and ride height. It feels like a Honda Odyssey with slightly less pep.

It’s a bit slow with my average 0 to 60 mph times hitting nine seconds.


I was a tad disappointed at the amenities this nearly $50,000 machine offered. Okay, I admit I’m a bit of a prima-donna when it comes to things like heated steering wheels and soft-touch interior materials, but these things are offered in MUCH cheaper vehicles. Even the door pockets reminded me of the old-school GM’s mentality when it came to quality. Seriously, feel the door pockets, the dashboard and glove compartment; all of it feels unfinished and cheap.

Come on GM, I know you can do better.

I do not recommend the “Denali” version of the GMC Acadia as I have a hard time finding where the extra moo-la goes. Stick with the regular Acadia and save yourself a bundle. If General Motors wants to keep competing, they should rework their quality control and start with a new interior. From what I’ve seen at Ford and Chrysler, they understand that consumers have a tactile need to have quality at their fingertips.

Other than that, it’s a great commuting machine that feels safe and secure in just about any whether. I drove it through snow and ice covered roads with regular, all-season tires with no drama whatsoever. When I was on my own in an ice-laden parking lot (it was more like a skating rink) I tried to get the big GMC to loose traction. I only succeeded when I went WAY past the point of logic. It truly is an excellent, all season vehicle.


The final proof of the 2011 GMC Arcadia’s driving prowess is in the video below where Roman Mica and I race up one of the steepest county roads in the country, covered in ice and snow. We matched the Acadia against a proper SUV (a Toyota Sequoia) and came away impressed with the Acadia.

I like the engine, AWD, comfort and respectable economy (I averaged 18 mpg in high-altitude, mixed driving) of the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali. I dislike the steep price given the low-grade interior and lack of luxury amenities. Steering feel was a tad disappointing too.

On the whole, it’s a good vehicle that – with a few tweaks – could be a great vehicle. As it is, I think it’s more old-school General Motors than many think. That’s not a bad thing – Seasick Steve sure as hell is mighty good and he was born in 1941!

On our TFLcar recommendation scale of:

Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it or

– Forget it

I give the Acadia Denal a



Nathan Automotive media, racing, vehicle evaluation, wrecking yards, and car sales are just a part of Nathan Adlen’s vehicular past. He writes out of high octane passion! To read more reviews by Nathan Adlen or just to enjoy more of excellent writing please visit him on at his page HERE.

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