Bigger isn’t always better

The GMC Acadia has been around since 2007 and shared its Lambda platform, powertrain, and nearly everything else besides its cosmetics with the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. These three-row crossovers were the answer for folks wanting a less-expensive, slightly more efficient version of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. But the Acadia is leaving the Lambda trio for the 2017 model year with an all-new platform wrapped in a slightly smaller package. It still boasts three rows and seating for seven, but it no longer directly competes with GM’s body-on-frame SUVs in shear size.

The Acadia offers a reasonable staring price around $29,000 for the budget conscious or fleet buyer. But, of course, GMC offers its insanely popular Denali trim, pulling the Acadia from mommy-mobile to high-end luxury cruiser. Its chrome grille and 20-inch wheels wouldn’t look misplaced if valet parked up front. Obviously the price sees a considerable jump, too.

I recently spent a week behind the wheel of the Acadia Denali. My tester came loaded with AWD, GMC’s Dual Skyscape sunroof, adaptive cruise control, automatic collision preparation, and the continuously variable real-time damping suspension. Pricing broke the $50,000 ceiling, but in modern times when vehicle pricing is getting extravagant, this loaded-out tester somehow seems justifiable. Find out how below.

Continue reading for the full driven review.

  • 2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven
  • Year:
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  • Engine:
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
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  • Displacement:
    3.6 L
  • 0-60 time:
    3.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    115 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, AWD
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
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Video Review


2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Along with its new chassis, the Acadia takes a huge departure from its old corporate cousins. It’s shorter in both length and height and offers a more mature, upscale appearance. Where the previous Acadia Denali came off as gaudy and overstated, the 2017 is more traditional and reserved. That’s not to say the Denali doesn’t stand out – it still attracts plenty of attention.

An interesting observation over the week of testing: people didn’t call it by its name, but simply “Denali.” It seems GMC’s marketing department struck gold with this trim line branding.

The Acadia Denali is a handsome ‘ute with a more appeal than before.

Up front, the Acadia Denali wears the familiar chrome cheese grater grille with big, red GMC lettering plastered front and center. Chrome trim along the front bumper curls around the fog lights like a handlebar mustache, while a chrome goatee accents the lower portion of the fascia.

More chrome trim adorns the sides. Down low, the Denali name is stamped into the chrome door cladding, while the side windows, door handles, and roof rack all match. It’s the same story out back, too, with chrome connecting the taillights and running along the lower bumper. Oh, and then there’s the chrome badging. All this brightwork is accented by 20-inch wheels with machined faces and grey-painted pockets. The wheels are wrapped in street-biased, 235/55-series Michelin tires.

Utility wise, the Acadia offers some handy features. The power-operated rear tailgate has the kick-to-open function, making it super simple to gain access without emptying cluttered hands. There’s also a two-inch, Class III receiver hitch hidden behind a black plastic cover. My tester is rated to pull 4,000 pounds worth of trailer. The receiver also accepts the standard bike rack or cargo hauler accessories.

All told, the Acadia Denali is a handsome ‘ute with a more appeal than before. It should do extremely well with consumers looking for a practical vehicle with room for the family and the capability to conquer light off-roading and moderate all-weather situations.


2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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Functionality reigns supreme inside the Acadia. Its three rows of seats offer plenty of room and fold to dozens of configurations. Add to that the luxury items paired with the Denali trim, and this GMC becomes an impressive package.

Up front, the dashboard is all new and exclusive to the 2017 Acadia. It shares some slight resemblance to the Canyon pickup, but is far more refined. Opting for the Denali trim adds the analog/digital gauge cluster and eight-inch IntelliLink infotainment system with Navigation. Like other GM vehicles with the digital gauge cluster, the information layout is configurable a couple different ways, giving the driver a choice in what is shown. Steering wheel controls operate the screen in an intuitive way, making references to the operator’s manual unnecessary.

Its three rows of seats offer plenty of room and fold to dozens of configurations.

The IntelliLink infotainment system is very familiar to other GM products. That’s great though, because this software is industry leading. It operates much like Apple’s iOS software, again making that owner’s manual lonely in the glove box. It offers controls for standard stuff like radio, phone, navigation, and system settings, but also incorporates a camera button and controls for the rear HVAC system.

Pressing and holding the icons make them dance and movable, just like an iPhone’s icons. I put the camera button in the closest position to my right hand, making it easy to reach when needed. It might not operate over 10 mph or so, but hitting that camera button happened nearly every time I started to park. I got spoiled very quickly to having the 360-degree camera system so easily available.

Also easy to control is the main HVAC system. It offers dual-zone temperature settings, heated and cooled seats, and simple buttons for defrost and vent modes. Down below, a sizeable storage compartment has room for cell phones and charging cables. Two USB ports, an AUX input, and a 12-volt power outlet line the back wall. The center console is equally useful thanks to two large cup holders and a generous space under the center armrest.

2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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In back, the second row seats offer room for three, but are far more comfortable when left to two passengers. A folding center armrest offers two cup holders, accompanying more cup holders in the door panels. Rear HVAC controls are mounted on the center console. Below that is a large storage drawer that pulls out.

As expected, cargo room is generous with all the seats laid flat.

Third row accommodations aren’t third class. With the second row bench moved slightly forward, leg room isn’t bad. In fact, it’s downright comfortable, though not nearly as roomy as a Suburban or Yukon XL. Even the seatbacks recline, making longer trips more pleasant for those past their tween years.

Accessing the third row is easily done by folding the outboard, second-row chairs forward. These seats lean forward for an unobstructed path. Of course, if seating seven isn’t a priority, GMC also offers second row captain’s chairs with a pathway between them for third row access.

As expected, cargo room is generous with all the seats laid flat. Don’t expect to haul luggage behind an occupied third row, however. Space is limited to an evening’s worth of groceries. There is a convenient storage compartment under the load floor for items like hitches or tow straps.


2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Drivetrain
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Behind that chrome grille is GM’s familiar 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. While the basic engine carries over, GMC tweaked the all-aluminum mill to make 310 horsepower. That’s up from 288 horsepower in the previous generation. That, combined with a weight reduction of nearly 700 pounds, makes the Acadia a better performer. It also helps fuel economy, too. My tester, equipped with the AWD system, is EPA-rated at 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined.

Behind that chrome grille is GM’s familiar 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission.

Speaking of the AWD system, a rotary knob behind the gearshifter allows the driver to choose between FWD and AWD, almost like a traditional 4WD system. This transfer case, however, allows the switch at any speed and can be left in AWD mode indefinitely. GMC does recommend using FWD mode for saving fuel during normal driving conditions. That same knob offers positions for sport mode, all-weather mode, and tow/haul mode.

For those not wanting the Denali trim, Acadia does offers less expensive options, which also includes a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Rated at 194 horsepower, it’s definitely the less exciting of the two engine choices. It does offer better fuel economy, with the EPA rating it at 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Performance wise, the 3.6-liter pulls the GMC to 60 mph in around seven seconds.

Driving Impressions

2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Interior
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Behind the wheel, the Acadia proves it can do luxury without driving like a boat. In fact, its smaller footprint makes the 2017 Acadia feel more nimble than the outgoing Lambda-chassis model. Its electronic-assisted steering feels well sorted and precise. It does a great job of isolating the wheel from road imperfections – something not so great in sports cars, but commendable in a luxury-minded crossover. Throttle and brake inputs are super smooth, making even a novice driver seem like professional chauffeur.

Optional on the Denali trim with AWD is GMC’s Continuously Variable Real Time Damping suspension system. It reads the road every two milliseconds and adjusts damping for a smooth ride. Body roll is also kept to a minimum despite the Acadia’s tall height.

The 3.6-liter V-6 might have 310 horsepower, but only feels adequate. Compared to the Yukon Denali with its 6.2-liter Corvette engine, the Acadia Denali feels somewhat underpowered. Perhaps that’s the jaded journalist coming out in me. Most folks will find the V-6 plenty powerful for daily driving. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and generally keeps the V-6 humming at lower a rpm for fuel economy.

Outward visibility is good thanks to tall side windows and large side mirrors. Blind spot monitoring is present as a safety net. Subjectively, the Acadia’s new size feels just about right. Its interior volume isn’t sacrificed, but its drivability is significantly improved.


2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2017 Acadia is offered in six trim levels. The base SL trim starts at just $29,995. SLE and SLT trims range between $35,375 and $42,675. And then there’s the Denali. It starts at $45,845 in FWD form and $47,848 with AWD.

My tester came loaded with $4,340 worth of options. These include the Dual Skyscape sunroof ($1,400), the Technology Package ($1,345), the Continuously Variable Real Time Damping ($1,340), and the extra cost paint option of Iridium Metallic ($395). Add to that a $925 delivery fee, and the grand total comes to $52,185.


Ford Explorer

2016 Ford Explorer High Resolution Exterior
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Check out the rged new look of the 2016 Explorer, and don’t forget about the new Platinum trim level.

The Ford Explorer is partly responsible for launching the SUV craze in the U.S. Sure there were other SUVs that pre-date the 1991 Explorer, but its combination of affordable price, economical engines, and tough design resulted in an instant hit for the Blue Oval. That continues today with the Explorer’s popularity excelling.

The modern take on this classic SUV is far more refined. The 2016 model features a rounded body, FWD or AWD drivetrain setup, and available four- and six-cylinder turbocharged engines.

The Explorer’s range-topping Platinum trim best competes with the Denali, offering a leather-lined interior with a modern infotainment system and optional dual-panel moonroof. Pricing starts around $31,000 for the base model, while the Platinum starts at $53,235 before options.

Read more about the Ford Explorer here.

Dodge Durango

2014 Dodge Durango High Resolution Exterior
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Like the Explorer, the Durango has morphed into a softer, more refined version of its former self. The 2016 Durango’s Citadel model is the highest trim level and offers leather seats, all the right interior options like Dodge’s 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system, a partly digital gauge cluster, and seating for six or seven, depending on seat configuration.

The standard engine is FCA’s venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that sends power to the rear wheels. Opt for AWD, and the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 becomes an option. Pricing is rather competitive, with a comparatively equipped Citadel model costing around $46,000.

Find out more about the Dodge Durango here.


2017 GMC Acadia Denali – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2017 GMC Acadia Denali is a slick crossover with loads of functionality wrapped in an attractive an luxurious package. Its peppy V-6 won’t win any drag races, but its smooth power delivery and decent fuel economy will win your heart. The comfortable interior coddles passengers with ease or allows adjustments to haul a massive amount of cargo.

Journalists love to dog crossovers nearly as much as minivans, but I find it impossible to not love the shear user-friendliness combined with the high-riding suspension and capable powertrain. For those needing something bigger than a sedan, but not as large as a Yukon, the new right-sized Acadia offers a fantastic take on the middle ground.

  • Leave it
    • V-6 feels only adequate
    • Decreased towing versus last year
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