2018 GMC Acadia Denali AWD Review – Forbidden Love

Not long ago, an auto journo logged on to Twitter with a confession. Having just spent time testing a common-as-crabgrass crossover, this journo discovered, much to his horror (or at least confusion), that the experience didn’t leave him hating the world, himself, or the auto industry. It just left him rattled.

Rattled, because the crossover didn’t rub him the wrong way. There was no disappointment, rough edges, or lingering bitterness with this unnamed vehicle. It did what he wanted, drove the way he wanted, and generally made his life better. He could imagine a future with this vehicle. Like the stereotypical college freshman experiencing strange new feelings, self-doubt crept into his consciousness, challenging perceptions of his own identity.

It wasn’t dissimilar from my own experience, and I’m not talking about that unexpected come-on in the karaoke club last February. No, this very same realization washed over me behind the wheel of a popular three-row crossover — an Acadia, but not this one.

You might recall a certain Question of the Day from back in June. Yup, there was an Acadia at the center of that purposefully vague piece — an SLE-2 dealer loaner with dark cloth seats covered in white dog hair and a blacked-out grille.

As my dealer waited on parts for a particularly minor recall (the chances of me being killed in such a manner were astronomical…), I came to grips with the tranquility soaking into my body through the Acadia. Much to my surprise, it was arguably the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever driven. And, as one of the most agreeably styled midsize crossovers out there, the Acadia didn’t stir feelings of embarrassment while out and about.

Did the uplevel 3.6-liter V6 grate on my nerves? Never; it’s a smooth, powerful unit, tamed by a hardly cutting edge — but mercifully well behaved — six-speed automatic. I’m still not sure why GM’s nine-speed isn’t in this thing, but whatever. Unlike some eight-speeds out there, GM’s six-speed makes itself scarce as soon as you’re underway. There’s few things more annoying than your car’s scatterbrained tranny tugging on your pant leg, begging for attention.

If a Mustang or Miata is a mistress, this vehicle is the compassionate and understanding wife who takes you back and feeds you in your old age. How could you get angry with it? Steering and suspension feel falls on the better side of “fine.” The seats melt away fatigue. It goes like stink when you hoof it. And, it’s neither too small nor too large for most day-to-day tasks. This bowl of porridge, folks, was just right. Well, almost.

The odd-looking dash design, plucked-from-the-’90s console, and atrociously tacky wood trim (no way that’s real…) didn’t endear itself to these eyes. Still, the vehicle’s long list of attributes hustled these complaints to the back burner.

Fast-forward a month and the old Acadia disappears, replaced by the same model decked out in Denali finery. It’s the same meal served on a fancier platter. Larger 20-inch wheels, vestigial running boards, and the most chrome-filled grille in the Acadia lineup try their best to project some of that inflated sticker price to passers-by. I dug the metallic paint that subtly changed colors as clouds passed over and the sun set, and the attention to detail on the door handles and wheels didn’t go unnoticed.

Unlike my mid-range loaner, this Denali cushioned my backside with heated and cooled perforated leather, adorned with attractive contrast stitching and piping. Second-row occupants — captain’s chairs only, no bench — receive butt warmers and their own climate-control knob (it’s a dual-zone automatic setup up front, naturally). Nice chairs, and I sat in all of ’em. You’ll find a vent aimed at each seat, as you will a reading lamp. Connection points for electronics are everywhere. With enough cordage, all hands can go to the movies, boosting the odds of a drama-free trip to the lake. (A rear-seat entertainment system featuring screens built into the front headrests carries a $1,995 price tag.)

There’s also a 120-volt plug for beefier electronic devices or power tools, but you’ll have to bring your own extension cord. Up front, reaching the top of the trim ladder meant swapping my loaner’s 7-inch infotainment touchscreen for an 8-inch unit with navigation. Tunes come by way of an eight-speaker Bose system.

On the ambiance front, additional leather surfaces improve the overall look of the cabin, but fail to bring it completely upmarket. I’m told the slightly improved wood trim is real, though it looks about a millimeter thick. Gorgeous seats aside, the Acadia Denali’s $48,490 (USD) entry price, which represents a 10-grand climb from my loaner, seems slightly out of place.

Naturally, the Denali packed on safety features my SLE-2 loaner lacked. That earlier vehicle boasted only the blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist contained in the optional Driver Alert Package I; pretty basic stuff you’d find in many mid-range compact sedans. Denali brings the Driver Alert Package II on board as standard kit. With it comes forward collision alert, front and rear park assist, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and front pedestrian braking. My tester’s optional technology package added 360-degree surround view, forward emergency braking, and adaptive cruise.

Not that it mattered to this author’s lifestyle, but the Acadia’s right-sized proportions means you’ll need to move those front seats forward to gain enough room to access the third row. This isn’t a Yukon XL. Sitting in the rearmost seats, a place grown adults should never go, headroom proved surprisingly decent, but if you guessed legroom was in short supply, you’re bang on.

Regardless of trim, the Acadia offers generous cargo capacity with the third row folded. I assume most buyers keep those rear chairs flat just out of convenience. (A change of plans kiboshed my planned nap experiment, so I can’t tell you how the Acadia cargo floor handles a sleepy 6’4″ man.)

What’s nice about the Acadia, regardless of trim, is that the on-road environment is a quiet one. All too often, crossover drivers have to deal with pesky squeaks or rattles emanating from the rear of the cabin. Not so in this rig. As I said, it’s a vehicle determined not to get on your nerves. However, fans of darkened cabins and avoiding wind-ruffled hair might disagree. With the shades drawn on both sunroofs, lowering the driver- or passenger-side front window at anything approaching highway speeds leads to extreme sunshade buffeting.

With its comfortable driver’s perch, easy-going road manners (a multi-link rear suspension compliments the precise and effortless steering), generous power (310 hp, 271 lb-ft), and abundant creature comforts, it’s hard to complain about the Acadia Denali’s content. The price is another matter. It’s easy to see why buyers might opt for a mid-range model with a couple of choice option packages over the full-on glam offered by GMC’s money-making sub-brand.

a version of this review first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com

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