2011 GMC Acadia Denali is a Brilliant Package

GMC Acadia Denali TFL 1 
My family has collectively owned over a hundred General Motors products over the past five-decades. Most of these GM cars were Cadillacs (Casa De Cadillac on Ventura Blvd. loves us). Despite our family’s taste for American luxury, I preferred German and Japanese build quality.  I can still hear myself kvetching every time I drove a Cadillac as I never liked the quality, power or performance – especially in the 80’s and 90’s.

I mean, if GM can’t make a good Caddi’ – and that’s their best car brand – why bother with the rest of their fleets?

There was an almost arrogant presumption that Americans would buy what was dictated to them. They didn’t. Fortunately, things have changed. Corporate types at GM realized that they MUST build better cars and trucks (going bankrupt can be humbling). 

Take this 2011 GMC Acadia Denali for an example of newer GM thinking.

This crossover has a brilliant 288 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that produces 270 lbs-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. Why is it “brilliant?” Despite the lack of high horsepower figures and weighing up to 5,000 lbs – with driver – the Acadia has good thrust and gets up to 24 mpg on the highway. I suspect the high-tech six-speed automatic transmission has something to do with those figures.

The 0 to 60 mph time of 8.5 seconds is right in line with other assertions as I tested the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali at high altitude. According to General Motors, the maximum towing capacity is 5,200 lbs – when properly equipped. I would recommend less as the V6 works hard enough moving the GMC’s big tuchas around when fully loaded.

Around town, the Acadia drives like its GM brethren (like the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and the discontinued Saturn Outlook), which is to say it’s a supremely comfortable ride. If you fully load the GMC Acadia with people, the ride remains smooth, but acceleration suffers. The wheelbase is long at 118.9-inchs and requires a slightly reworked thought process on cornering. Remember to add an additional few feet of forward movement before turning the wheel and you’ll clear every curb.

The loading height is a little lower than the rest of the class and is noticeably lower than a proper SUV. My enormous Auntie Gladys can enter unassisted – it usually takes patience and some hernia-inducing assistance to get her into a Nissan Armada. She liked the climate system too, which was good enough to keep her warm on one of the coldest days of the year.  

GMC Acadia Denali TFL 2 

The interior is the real story.

My main complaint about the GMC Acadia is the same complaint I have about its competitors like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer – outward vision is not very good. This makes vehicles like this a challenge to park. I kvetch, I know – but I’m kind of tall and a lot of people who drive crossovers who are short will have the same gripe.

I usually bitch-n-moan about the use of fake chrome inside, but it works on the air vents. There is one other thing, something that reminds me of the old GM… cheap feeling parts. If you test this vehicle, reach down into either front-door’s pocket. You will feel unrefined, unfinished, jagged plastic. This is an issue with me and it’s the first thing my bubbie would complain about if she felt it. Hell, if Chrysler Group LLC can address this issue on all of their models, surely General Motors can too.

The rest of the interior is pretty good and I like the seating position. Front seats are good on any model. I recommend the second row captain chairs unless you MUST have seating for eight. With the seven seat option, it’s a breeze for kids to scamper into the third row without folding or sliding the second row.  

If you opt for the regular, still not-too-shabby GMC Acadia, base prices start at about 32-grand. In terms of power, ride and regular amenities, I would recommend specking out a regular model over the Denali version.

The 2011 GMC starts at $43,220 for the front wheel drive model and $45,220 for the all wheel drive variant. If you rock the check-marks and select every option, you can hit about $53,000 before taxes.

What do you get for that many pesos? What makes it so much more expensive than the regular GMC Acadia? In a word – “Bling.” Yes, there are higher quality gizmos, doodads and whiz-bangs throughout the Acadia Denali along with nifty interior upgrades – but it still feels like an Acadia.

I mean, who’s going to point at you as you pull up and exclaim, “OH! Here comes so-and-so in their GMC Acadia DENALI!”? People, the term “Denali” is somewhat Alaskan in origin! That’s supposed to indicate luxury? I guess Sara and Todd would appreciate it – but not many folks in the lower 48.  

Look, it’s a good vehicle that provides a very comfortable ride – in any guise. It certainly has improved my perception of General Motors’ abilities. You could do a lot worse, that’s for sure. GM now offers an excellent five-year/100,000-mile Powertrain Warranty and three-year/36,000-mile Bumper-to-Bumper warranty.

GMC Acadia Denali TFL 3 

As I’ve said, not too shabby.

Want to save some additional wampum? There are a ton of Saturn Outlooks that are out there on the used and CPO (certified, pre-owned) market. They have similar packaging and features while costing a lot less. Also, Outlooks can be serviced at General Motor savvy garages. 

Here’s a video where we race a 2011 GMC Arcadia Denali against a Toyota Sequoia!


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