Mountain Wheels: GMC’s Acadia Denali provides low-key gloss, substantial power
December 21, 2018
Back to the standard fare of auto reviews — though I could do another entire column on the queer spectacle of people driving in hoodies with noise-canceling headphones, or the desecration of the left lane in America — but let's save that for later.
Instead, let us spend a little time with the up-glossed version of the 2019 GMC Acadia, the one-step-down smaller brother to the full-size Yukon. Like most of the GMC lineup, the real action is in the upsell to the Denali edition, which provides extra chrome and a heavy dose of swagger — plus, in my highly optioned-out Acadia, a cool set of rubberized mats covering virtually every surface in the vehicle. Hence a third of the entire GMC lineup being sold in Denali trim.
My biggest memory of the previous model Acadia was that, unlike the slightly smaller Terrain, the Acadia was large enough that it did not actually fit anywhere when I drove it around one time in New York City.
Out here in the land of wide-open spaces, it's an appropriately scaled three-row with a demeanor that's not especially flamboyant or even sporty, despite all that massive wad of chrome on the front grille.
But I had one a few weeks ago at exactly the same time as a seemingly competitive Honda Pilot and in the intersection between those worlds, the occasionally dowdy Acadia proved its value in several key areas.
I was impressed by the 25.4 overall MPG I got during my drives, slightly exceeding the highway mileage estimates for the 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 that's offered as Acadia's standard engine, plus optional all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission. Base pricing was $47,500, mine climbed to $52,170 in this build, with the addition of adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, a surround vision system and sunroofs.
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Acadia also felt as solid as a tank, compared to the slightly light and certainly taller-positioned Pilot, with ample power and a weighty presence. If those are the attributes you seek in your SUV, and I guess you do; it's also rated to pull 4,000 pounds of trailer.
Unfortunately, lots and lots of the Acadia is also doused in the cheesiest of GM bits, which you'll find sprinkled throughout the products, with varying levels of success. Take for instance the pop-to-open, sort-of accordion-style sunroof shade for those optional dual "skyscape" sunroofs, a curiosity in a world of powered pieces.
Or the cabin itself, which is notable for its total dearth of controls — besides an electronic parking brake and a light dimmer switch, there's less buttons here than a Jitterbug flip phone.
It's also got the softest and squishiest seats I've found on a vehicle this year, more like an old-timey Buick than the hard-edged sport seats you find elsewhere, to the delight of some customers. Those two last points suggest a certain demographic to me; the abundance of very faux wood highlight trim, a leather-styled, stitched dash and the ferociously hot steering wheel and seat heaters may complement that notion.
Seating position also seems pretty low in the Acadia, with an awkwardly tall console box at your elbow, though the low seats make for easy entries and exits.
That Denali treatment means the traditional load of gleam on every metal surface, starting with that brash chrome mesh screen up front and including bright outlined 20-inch wheels, extra shiny trim on the tailgate and under the bumper.
Overall design has been a little more softly rounded in the new version of the vehicle, with a less-aggressive hood, smoothed curves and softer headlamp shapes — less of the total blunderbuss approach taken by other carmakers, though still somewhat tall and skinny looking from the rear.
The sliding second-row seating (accessed through some very wide-opening doors, which are cut to the very bottom of the chassis) is equally squishy and the cabin is also devoid of excess detail. There are still full rear cabin HVAC and seat heat controls and a dual USB outlet, but little else.
There's a small and austere third row, with a single USB outlet on the left side of the cabin to entertain your passengers. That whole third row can be virtually concealed with the addition of the Velcroed-down all-weather floor liners (a useful and well-executed, $385 factory-available option that also includes rugged front- and second-row floor mats and an integrated cargo area liner).
In the very back, you can remotely flop the third-row seats, and will find a bit of under-deck storage and an open bin for bigger items. Total storage space is 79 cubic feet if you drop the second and third rows, or a smallish 12.8 cubic feet if you have a full crew.
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