I’ve always made it pretty clear that I have an affinity for GM trucks, especially their pickup and SUV lines. I credit GM for being one of the first manufacturers to make a big leap of faith into the crossover market almost 15 years ago now. Sure, there were plenty of crossovers before it, but I feel like the Buick Rendezvous, as terrible as it was, was the vehicle that familiarized the masses with the concept of a crossover. I still remember the commercial where a luxury sedan, minivan and an SUV all drove into a haunted looking castle and a Rendezvous, driven by Tiger Woods, emerged on the other side. Since then, the idea of a crossover with the comforts of a sedan, the seating of a minivan and the capability of an SUV has been a concept that’s changed the automotive landscape.
While those early crossovers didn’t exactly live up to the marketing, massive improvements have been made over the last 15 years and I’ve driven some excellent models. Given the chance to spend a week with a 2015 GMC Acadia Denali, one of the biggest, shiniest and priciest crossovers on the market, I set out to see if GM had finally succeeded in building a crossover that really was as luxurious as a sedan, as roomy as a minivan and as capable as an SUV.
I find most crossovers to look awkward, and truthfully, the Acadia isn’t much of an exception. However, it’s worth noting that the up-market Denali trim does go a long way to distracting from the awkwardness. Big chrome 20” wheels, chrome body accents, big blocky Denali emblems and that signature Denali grill make it pretty clear that this is more than your run of the mill people hauler. It does have a rather aggressive stance, which, combined with the massive grill and LED accented HID headlamps, give the front end of the Acadia Denali a pretty menacing look.
In keeping with the goal of providing the roominess of a minivan, the engineers at GM have made a strong effort to maximize the use of interior space. The Acadia has more total cargo space than any other crossover in its class. More importantly, the cargo space behind the third row is roomier than any other competitor as well. In my Denali tester, the rear seats can be configured using buttons in the rear cargo area, eliminating the struggle with levers and sliders when loading cargo or kids. The fact that crossovers, by design, don’t have sliding rear doors will always making climbing into the third row more difficult than in a minivan, but the Acadia’s one-touch slider system on the second row seats make the task much easier.
The Acadia definitely boasts minivan-like roominess – check one box to the crossover’s credit. Unfortunately for GM, I got into a 2015 Chrysler Town & Country just hours after returning my Acadia tester and immediately noticed two things. Firstly, the squared-off roofline of the van gives more headroom and makes the space feel much more open than in the Acadia, even with the Acadia’s fancy dual moonroofs. Secondly, the Acadia is lacking storage solutions up front; the centre console is small and there are not many alternative places to toss a lot of the junk we carry with us these days.
From a comfort and luxury standpoint; the $61,000 fully optioned out Denali model, it’s all here. My tester came with just about every creature comfort I could rhyme off, including heated and cooled front seats, rear DVD entertainment, navigation, heated steering wheel and a Bose 10-speaker audio system. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I think I am pretty good at jumping into most cars and figuring things out, but I’ll admit that the Acadia beat me. The controls are a bit difficult to decipher. After a good 10 or 15 minutes trying to figure out how to display my fuel economy, I was forced to break out the owner’s manual – a definite first for me. The dashboard is a slew of small buttons labelled with unclear symbols and even the IntelliLink infotainment system, which I am usually a fan of, felt dated in the Acadia.
The overall fit and finish of the interior follows in a similar tone. Inside the cabin is furnished with some glossy wood trim, lots of leather, elegant lighting and beautifully stitched seats all the way around; however, these elements just don’t come together as well as more modern trucks from GM, like the new Canyon or the Yukon. The gauge cluster and steering wheel look a few years behind what I know GM is capable of building today. The right elements are here, but the Acadia’s interior is not a reflection of the latest and greatest that I’ve personally seen come out of GM. The silver lining is that when GM decides to update this interior, I am confident that we’ll be able to expect great things.
I think it’s pretty clear that the Acadia Denali is by no means a rugged off-road going SUV type of vehicle. Although the majority of SUVs rarely see more difficult terrain than a snow covered mall parking lot, the Acadia handles those small challenges with ease. During my test week, the AWD system confidently handled the slippery January roads and the additional ground clearance assured me that I’d get where I was going no matter how wicked old man winter would get. As capable as a proper SUV? No, definitely not. As capable as most families would ever need it to be? Yes, absolutely.
The Acadia is pleasant and well-sorted on the road. I found it very easy to drive due to its very predictable handling characteristics and tight turning radius. Braking is also very linear and predictable, something I definitely think about when talking about big family haulers like this. It’s powered by the corporate 288 horsepower 3.6L V6. Acceleration is enough and power delivery is smooth, but it’s far from exciting. The strong point for the Acadia is its ride quality; it absorbs the city’s rough streets flawlessly and rides like a cloud on the highway. That should make it great for extended road trips, or for helping babies fall asleep – a likely task for the mighty Acadia. The V6 works hard to haul around the Acadia’s mass and for that reason it drinks a little more than it does in other applications. I averaged about 12.7L/100kms in my mixed commuting, which is right in line with the rated numbers and with the competition.
The bottom line with the Acadia Denali is that there are other crossovers out there for the $60K price tag. However, I do think there is a place for the Denali nameplate on the Acadia as an upmarket option, and it’s pretty clear to me that all the elements needed to build a great crossover are present here. GM just needs to spend a little more time refining this one with the same attention to detail used on the latest Tahoe and Yukon redesigns to deliver the quality and refinement that shoppers in this price range are going to expect.