The GMC Acadia, already a great crossover utility vehicle, gets even better with the choice of the top-of-the-line Denali model, a version that comes with just about everything General Motors could think of to dress it up.
Introduced just last year, the Acadia Denali returns for 2012 with starting prices of $43,880 (plus $810 freight) for the front-wheel drive model and $45,880 for the all-wheel-drive edition.
This is the first Denali designation for a crossover model in the GMC lineup. The Denali option brings such extras as a special chrome honeycomb grille and single-color exterior; 20-inch, two-tone, chrome-clad wheels; high-intensity-discharge headlights; chrome interior accents; a head-up windshield speedometer display; and heated and cooled front bucket seats.
It continues the high-end Denali designation that GMC has used on the Yukon full-size SUV and Sierra full-size pickup. The first Denali package debuted on the 1999 Yukon, and GM said that adding it to the Acadia was a “logical extension” of the concept.
For GMC, it has been a popular option. Nearly half of all Yukon sales are of the Denali model, and with this newest version, the luxury Denali features are available on a fuel-efficient crossover model.
The Denali has the same 3.6-liter, 288-horsepower, direct injected V-6 engine that comes in the other Acadia models. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. There is plenty of power with this engine, even with the vehicle loaded up.
With front-wheel-drive, the Acadia is EPA rated at 17 mpg city/24 highway; the all-wheel-drive model has ratings of 16/23.
Introduced for 2007, the Acadia was the first crossover for GMC, replacing the truck-based Envoy. GMC added the midsize Terrain crossover to its lineup for 2010.
All of the Acadia models can seat up to eight people. They are built on a unibody car chassis — body and frame combined into a single unit — to help reduce weight and to improve fuel economy. Traditional SUVs such as the Yukon are built on truck chassis, with the body sitting on a separate steel frame.
Fuel savings with GM’s large crossovers aren’t huge, but they are significant, especially as gasoline prices continue to fluctuate.
There are other pluses, though. Crossovers are more stylish than traditional SUVs, and the Denali package makes the Acadia even more carlike and luxurious. Seven- and eight-passenger seating configurations are available.
Other Acadia models include the entry-level SL front-drive model ($32,605); SL all-wheel drive ($34,605); SLE front-drive ($35,080); SLE all-wheel drive ($37,080); SLT-1 front-drive ($38,830); SLT-1 all-wheel drive ($40,830); SLT-2 front-drive ($39,735); and SLT-2 all-wheel drive ($41,735).
Our tester was the front-drive Denali model with the impressive White Diamond Tricoat exterior color ($795 extra) and ebony leather interior. The starting price isn’t all-inclusive, though. Besides the fancier paint, we had two other options that helped raise the total price to $48,820 (including freight).
They were the touch-screen navigation system with rearview camera ($1,890) and a rear DVD entertainment system with a roof-mounted flip-down screen and a pair of wireless headphones ($1,445).
The nav system is nice to have, especially for the map feature. But with the OnStar system included in the base price, the Acadia already has turn-by-turn navigation available. While driving the Acadia and other vehicles that have both, I have found the OnStar service easier to use than trying to follow the onboard navigation system.
The test vehicle came with the seven-passenger seating, which includes separate single middle seats with a gap in the middle. They can be moved forward or backward to allow easy access to the third seat or to give either middle or rear passengers more legroom.
A three-person, 60/40 split-folding second-row seat is optional, but there is no extra charge for it. It expands capacity to eight people.
Unlike most of the Acadia’s competitors, such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, even the third row offers relatively comfortable seating and can hold three people.
But as with any third row, it’s easier for kids to get into and out of than larger folks. In our tester, the third-row passenger with the longest legs sat in the middle position because there was no seat in front to get in the way.
The Acadia and its Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave siblings are the roomiest crossovers on the market, with more passenger and cargo space than the Pilot, Highlander and Acura MDX, their main competition.
Behind the third row there is 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which was sufficient for us on a weekend college-football trip. We had enough room for our luggage and some tailgating necessities, including an ice chest and folding canvas chairs for our group.
With the rear seat folded, cargo space expands to 68.7 cubic feet; with second and third rows folded, the area grows to 115.9 cubic feet.
The monocolor exterior and honeycomb grille are used on all GMC Denali models. Other exterior design cues for the Acadia Denali include unique lower front and rear fascias; body-color lower side cladding, rocker-panel molding, rear fascia and fender flares; body-side moldings with chrome accents and Denali badges; and dual chrome exhaust outlets.
Besides the White Diamond Tricoat, exclusive exterior colors include Quicksilver Metallic, Summit White, Carbon Black and Red Jewel Tintcoat.
The Denali model also has special laminated glass, triple door seals and liquid-applied sound deadeners to make the cabin quieter than those of other Acadias.
Among other standard features are perforated leather seats with matching leather door-panel trim; leather-wrapped steering wheel with mahogany wood inserts; wood-grain trim on the instrument panel and center stack; accent lighting in the foot wells; chrome, lighted doorsill plates with the Denali logo; and a dual sunroof, with a slide-open front section and fixed rear glass.
Other amenities include trizone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a premium audio system with USB port and Bose 10-speaker sound system, XM satellite radio, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory, and remote vehicle start.
Also different is the suspension, which is specifically tuned for the Denali’s 20-inch wheels.
The optional all-wheel-drive system works automatically to provide the best traction on all road surfaces, wet or dry, but it does not include low-range gearing for extreme off-road use.
Among standard safety features are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, traction control, tire-pressure monitoring, front seat-mounted side air bags and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for all three rows.
Contact automotive columnist G. Chambers Williams III at 210-250-3236 or email@example.com.