By on March 23, 2011

With its minivans and conventional midsize SUVs discontinued, GM relies heavily on its large “Lambda” crossovers—the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave—to serve the family market. With over 230,000 sold in 2010, they’re easily the best sellers* in the segment. In comparison, Ford shifted only 34,000 Flexes. But, now in their fifth model year, the Lambdas are getting old. With cash short leading up to the bankruptcy, what might be done on the cheap to maintain buyer interest? The winning answer: a new Denali variant of the GMC Acadia.

GM got the Lambdas’ exterior styling right from the start. Riding on a bespoke platform, the Lambdas’ tight, athletic proportions are far better than those of the minivan-based vehicles they replaced. With the Saturn Outlook pruned, each of the remaining three models looks good while staking out its own aesthetic territory: sporty and car-like for Chevrolet, sleek and luxurious for Buick, and traditional SUV for GMC. To kick the Acadia’s brawny theme up a couple notches for the Denali, GMC fitted a chrome honeycomb grille, monochrome body kit, and massive 20-inch, two-tone chrome-clad alloy wheels. The bold appearance of the Yukon Denali has been successfully transferred to a Lambda. But the Acadia SLT, with its slimming black lower body cladding and cleaner five-spoke alloys, is arguably more attractive if less likely to draw attention.

Substantial changes to the interior would have been more expensive, so less has been done. The door sill trim plates light up “Denali,” the leather on the seats is perforated (an option on the SLT) and seems more luxurious, matching vinyl trim partly covers the door panels, and dark wood-tone trim replaces faux metal on the console, center stack, and doors. The trim on the steering wheel is allegedly real mahogany, but with no evident grain it looks like “piano black” plastic and doesn’t match the faux timber. These changes upgrade the interior ambiance, but not enough. The wood-tone trim is too obviously fake, the door-mounted armrests retain a downscale look and feel, and there’s too much hard plastic. Judging from more recently designed products like the Chevrolet Cruze, GM would craft a much nicer interior if it were starting from scratch today.

One stupid design choice: a ridge at the base of the A-pillars requires a highly precise instrument panel alignment that the plant doesn’t often achieve. Other quality lapses (in case you’re under the illusion that the press receives thoroughly inspected, even tweaked vehicles): wrinkles in the drivers seat leather and a side panel in the cargo area that refused to fasten. These noted, I should also note that owners of 2011 Lambdas have reported no repairs yet through TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. The 2010s are about average, while older model years straddle the line between average and “worse than average.” Common problems on the older cars (which might have been fully resolved prior to the current model year) include airbag wiring, headlamp sockets prone to melting, seat tracks, and, hardest to fix, water leaks.

Quite a few features that might have further distinguished the Denali are absent:

* no adaptive cruise
* no steering-linked headlights
* no auto-dimming headlights
* no rain-sensing wipers
* no blind spot warning system (would certainly help)
* no forward obstacle detection (ditto)
* no keyless ignition (standard on most Nissans)
* no power tilt-and-telescoping wheel
* no heated steering wheel
* no heated rear seat (available on a Hyundai Elantra!)
* no fancy ambient lighting.

The absence of so many features can be traced to the age of the Acadia (these features were much less common five years ago), its sub-premium original mission, and GM’s recent history. A mid-cycle enhancement, which normally would have occurred by now, would have added many of these features. But during its brush with bankruptcy GM had to cut everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. The Denali had to make do with features already available on the Lambdas.

Noting that minivans were in decline despite their superior functionality, GM gave the Lambda’s a high SUV-like stance. Getting in requires more of a climb than in other crossovers. Once in the driver’s seat the view forward is commanding without being as expansive as in a minivan. You feel more like you’re sitting in a car, albeit a tall one. In both the second and third rows visibility is much more constricted than in the “stadium style” seating of a Ford crossover.

The Acadia includes more passenger room than any other crossover (though a Ford Flex offers seven inches more legroom in the second row). A largest-in-class exterior (200.7 inches long, 78.2 inches wide, 69.9 inches high) enables over 61 inches of shoulder room; most competitors have a substantial two-to-four inches less. The Acadia’s third row is a tight fit if the second row is all the way back, but the latter can be moved forward a few inches for all but the tallest adults. The largest minivans provide much more third-row legroom, but most people seem willing to sacrifice this advantage to gain more adventurous styling.

Back in 2006 I found seating to be a Lambda weakness. In the years since it has only gotten worse. The front seats are fairly comfortable, but they continue to provide no lateral support and their power lumbar adjustment is now two-way rather than the original four-way. More substantial thrones would help justify the Denali label.

Despite the Acadia’s vast interior, its second-row seats remain among the least adult-friendly in any crossover. They’re thinly padded, insufficiently contoured, and too low. The second-row seats in Chrysler minivans suffer from similar shortcomings, but to enable them to stow beneath the floor. What’s GM’s excuse? Most likely: to enable the seats to collapse like folding chairs as they slide forward, opening up a wide path to the third row. This can’t be done with a child seat installed, so those with young children tend to opt for the “captain’s chairs,” which have a wide (if squishy, because of how the floor is constructed) walkway between them, rather than the three-person split bench.

The third-row is wide enough for three people (compared to two for all competitors save the Pilot), but it’s even lower to the floor. In one of the auto industry’s greatest unsolved mysteries, this seat originally provided the best lateral support of the bunch. A complicated mechanism inside the seatback extended bolsters as the seat was unfolded. Given the cost of this mechanism and the senselessness of providing lateral support in the third row when none was provided in the other two, GM later deleted it.

Cargo volume behind the third row, more plentiful on paper, isn’t as usable as in a Honda Pilot or Ford Flex because there’s no deep well. The Acadia does have a storage compartment beneath its relatively high cargo floor, but (unlike that in the new Nissan Quest minivan) this compartment is too shallow to hold much. Fold the seats, though, and the Acadia can hold much more than any other crossover: 68.9 cubic feet behind the second row (vs. 47.7 in the Pilot and 45.0 in the Flex), and 116.9 cubic feet behind the first row (vs. 87.0 in the Pilot and 86.7 in the Flex). The largest minivans offer 140+ cubic feet atop a much lower load floor, but except with the Chryslers you’ll have to remove the second-row seats to achieve it. One Flex advantage: unlike the Acadia’s, its front passenger seat also folds to accommodate unusually long items.

GM doesn’t provide specific curb weights for the Denali, but it must weigh over 4,800 pounds with front-wheel-drive and over 5,000 with all-wheel-drive. The new Dodge Durango, though nearly as large and engineered to handle the additional stresses of off-roading (in Jeep form) and heavy towing, weighs about the same. GM clearly used a front-wheel-drive, car-like platform to increase interior volume (maximum cargo volume is only 84.5 cubic feet in the Dodge SUV) rather than to reduce mass.

Probably because the Durango’s five-speed automatic has relatively tall initial gearing, its 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 feels weak at low speeds. The solution: Dodge also offers a 360-horsepower 5.7-liter “HEMI” V8 that more readily motivates the Durango’s 2.5 tons. GM planned to offer an all-new “Ultra” V8 in the Lambdas, but this engine was aborted a few years ago as funds grew tight. A turbocharged V6 along the lines of the Ford Flex’s optional “EcoBoost” would be an interesting alternative, but GM won’t have such an engine ready until the 2013 model year.

Not a big problem; with GM’s six-speed automatic, a stronger engine is less necessary unless you need to tow something substantial. I’ve argued that the non-turbocharged V6 works well enough in the Flex, and the same is the case with the 288-horsepower direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 in the Acadia. During my week with the Denali I never wished for more power.

I did wish for less torque steer. I had assumed that GM would provide a vehicle with all-wheel-drive. I learned otherwise the first time I put the pedal more than halfway to the floor and the front end went all light and squirrelly. Unless your right foot is almost always feather-light, all-wheel-drive is highly recommended.

GM’s six-speed automatic has gotten smarter in the last half-decade. It now picks the correct gear more smoothly and with more self-confidence. For curves and downhill grades a lower gear can be manually selected via a toggle on the shifter. The transmission isn’t always quick to react to these inputs, but the “range selector” serves well enough for how it’s likely to be employed. The head-up display (HUD) helps by projecting a tach and the selected gear onto the windshield.

The Acadia Denali’s trip computer usually reported a little over 16 MPG in typical suburban driving. This is consistent with the EPA ratings of 17 city and 24 highway (16/23 with all-wheel-drive). Not bad considering the Acadia’s size and consequent weight.

Aside from louder clomping across minor bumps (especially at low speeds), the Denali’s ride isn’t affected much by its chrome-clad dubs. Slightly firmer suspension tuning to compensate for the upsized wheels’ additional unsprung mass has, if anything, improved on the Acadia’s already good body control. (In the front seat at least; children in the third row reported a bumpy, noisy ride.)

For anyone used to a smaller vehicle, the Acadia’s size requires considerable acclimation. The big crossover is out of its element in parking lots, where the corners are hard to locate and there’s little room for error, and in very tight turns. But in more generous curves it feels poised and planted, with minimal lean and understeer for this sort of vehicle. The stability control, if and when it does kick in, is unobtrusive.

Given this capable, thoroughly predictable chassis, it’s a shame that the Denali’s steering is inferior to that of an Acadia SLE I drove for the sake of comparison. The shorter, stiffer sidewalls of the Denali’s tires should make its steering feel more direct. Instead the Denali’s tiller often feels more disconnected and vague, even sloppy on center. My guess: while the suspension was tweaked to work with the 20-inch wheels and tires, the steering was not. One other difference: while the SLE has constant effort steering, the SLT and Acadia have a variable-assist unit. I failed to observe how the latter was preferable at any speed. Firmer, tighter steering—like that in the revised Chrysler minivans—would make the Denali much more confidence-inspiring and enjoyable to drive.

In keeping with its luxury theme, the Denali is fitted with the Buick Enclave’s laminated front side glass and additional sound deadening. As a result, the Denali is quieter inside than other Acadias, with a more upscale quality to the remaining noise. But even the regular Acadia is quiet inside (and, if memory serves, quieter than when it was introduced).

The tested vehicle lists for $48,125 with nav ($1,690), rear entertainment ($1,445), and “white diamond tricoat” paint ($795). Add $2,000 for all-wheel-drive. The rest the Acadia’s available features (including a two-panel sunroof, HID headlights, and the HUD) are standard on the Denali.

GM didn’t do much to transform the Acadia into a Denali. But, to its credit, it’s not charging much for the changes: just $1,205 more than a similarly-equipped Acadia SLT. Adjust for the largely cosmetic items not offered on the SLT using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the difference is only about $250. If you prefer the Denali’s appearance, and want all of the features it includes, this isn’t much extra to pay for it. With the GMC Yukon, the Denali upgrade commands a nearly $4,000 premium.

A similarly-equipped Dodge Durango Citadel lists for $2,320 less than the Acadia Denali—enough to pay for a HEMI upgrade, and then some. What’s more, the recently redesigned Dodge has many of the “latest and greatest” gadgets not available with the GMC. Adjust for these and the Dodge’s advantage widens to about $4,300. With such aggressive pricing, the Durango seems like a steal if you don’t need the Acadia’s additional interior space.

But if you do need the Acadia’s interior space, there aren’t any alternatives aside from the other Lambdas. No other crossover comes close in this regard. The Acadia also continues to perform, handle, and ride well. Unfortunately, those aspects most in need of improvement—the seats and the interior materials—haven’t improved over the past five years.

In this context, the Denali is a disappointment. It adds no new non-cosmetic features, much less a stronger engine, its interior isn’t enough of an upgrade, and its steering is a step in the wrong direction. Apparently recognizing how little the Denali bits add to the Acadia, GM charges very little extra for them. Even so, unless you prefer the bolder, more massive look of the Denali I’d opt for the SLT until GM offers a vehicle more deserving of the premium sub-brand. How soon might this happen? With GM now in much better financial shape, the Lambdas are being redesigned for the 2013 model year.

* The Lambdas are the top sellers if you define the segment as three-row crossovers. If you include the Odyssey (along with the Pilot and MDX) Honda takes the top spot.

Author’s note: Some Detroit residents took exception to the photo of inner city Detroit I included in my auto show coverage. As compensation, I offer these photos of a mansion currently under construction a couple miles away from my house in the ‘burbs. Someone clearly still believes in the vitality of the area. They also clearly love cars: the house itself includes nine garages, and a pre-existing carriage house adds three more.
GM provided the Acadia Denali, along with one tank of gas and insurance for this review.

Dick Johnson of Lunghamer GMC provided an Acadia SLE. He can be reached at 248-461-1037.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

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57 Comments on “Review: 2011 GMC Acadia Denali...”

  • avatar

    Nice review. Compared to the more athletic-looking non-Denali model, this looks a bit like an automotive buttercream-frosted multilayer cake. I don’t dislike it, but it might be trying to hard, like most Denalis.

    Your list of features not available on this very expensive wagon were quite damning, but I concede that this is an aging model and GM is saving its resources for a proper overhaul (as well as a new Malibu which could well be to its predecessor what the Cruze was to the Cobalt).

    As very healthy Lambda sales can attest, the conspicuous lack of bells and whistles isn’t hurting, at least not yet. I guess there’s still a considerable segment of buyers out there who just need space, utility, and ride height, and are either scared of or indifferent towards all the new tech toys Ford et al are rolling out with alacrity. Again, this will change as the Lambdas continue to fall behind the curve, but they show no signs of weakening yet, which is surprising considering their age.

    I feel like GMC did their homework in approving this, and that there are customers out there willing to spend still more on a crossover that looks fancy and upscale, but remains steadfastly unladen with features that, as you said, weren’t common when Lambdas were new. To me, for instance, a five-year old car might as well be new. My car is thirteen.

    It was initially surprising that GM never considered stuffing a small block under a Lambda’s hood – maybe on the forthcoming Cadillac version? – since this would go a long way towards differentiating a Traverse LTZ, Enclave Super…or Acadia Denali. GM did it with their bigger sedans, after all. In any case, the days for non-HEMI V8 options in mainstream cars seem numbered in this age of increased four-cylinder-only models.

    BTW, how is that handsome Taurus X holding up? I love how the Denali slims it down a bit when sharing the shot! An uncle of mine will be in the market for a largish Ford/Chevy soon.

    • 0 avatar

      The Taurus X is doing okay, though I have had to repair a seat heater and replace the rear brakes on a CPO car. The CPO warranty covered the former while the selling dealer reluctantly agreed to reimburse for the latter.
      From the driver’s seat the Taurus X feels much smaller than the Acadia, even though they’re about the same length. Parked next to the Acadia is looks even more like a station wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Presumably, those are all features that we’ll see available on the the next-gen Acadia, Enclave, & Traverse. As noted, the Lambdas are getting a bit old, and are due for replacement any year now, just to stay fresh. But as they continue to sell well, thanks to their development during the Lutz years, they started far enough ahead that they can afford to coast a bit.

      I strongly hope to see driveline differentiators such as an Ecotec option for the Chevy, eAssist standard on the Buick, and a towing package for the GMC. Also, hope to see stronger chassis SWB/LWB & ride height differentiation between Chevy vs Buick to make things more obvious to the buyer, beyond the current suspension & ride dynamics tweaking.

    • 0 avatar


      I just replaced the rear rotors and pads on my Taurus X last weekend.  From what I have read, and according to the service writer, this is one of the few weaknesses of the T-X.  Apparently the design of the parking brake and the rear calipers causes excessively close contact between the inner pads and inner rotor face, accelerating wear.  I got 43K out of mine, not terrible, but the front pads are still around 50%.

  • avatar

    Superior review as always. What’s stadium-style?

    • 0 avatar

      Stadium style means each row is significantly higher than the one ahead of it, as in a stadium. I took photos while sitting in all three rows in both the Acadia and the Taurus X. Compare how much headrests impede forward visibility. In the 3rd row photo in the Taurus X the second-row headrests barely make it into the shot.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    Not a bad review, but no comparison with the Yukon Denali (which it will likely outsell just based on Acadia outselling Yukon in general)?

    Or how about a direct comparison between this and the Flex?

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t driven a Yukon Denali in a long, long time. But, based on my recent test drive of an Escalade these are two very different vehicles. The Escalade has a lot of rich, traditional flavor, complete with a burbling V8, but has awful space efficiency. The Acadia has a more modern feel and is much more space efficient, but has less character.
      The Flex has much better seats but less cargo space and an inferior suspension. GM really knows how to tune the suspension on a large SUV. If only they could also get the steering right.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie


      Given that most SUVs & CUVs serve as mommy wagons, the larger, more modern interior space and somewhat better mileage mean the Acadia- Yukon gap will likely widen.

      The Flex came out in 2009 (same year as the Traverse, BTW), with a newer chassis, so is it a lot more modern than the Lambdas? Is it the somewhat smaller space & suspension that’s killing it in the market?

    • 0 avatar

      Styling killed the Flex. The less functional Explorer will sell much better.
      The Flex was new for 2009, but the platform was already four years old at the time. Even older, if you consider the 1999 Volvo roots. But I think Ford reworked pretty much everything. The Lambdas were a clean sheet in 2007 (MY).

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      OK, thanks! That makes sense.

  • avatar

    Now this, THIS, is a proper review.

    Two co-workers of mine have 2 year old Lambdas, and they have had their share of problems.  Leaks are the most prevalent, and steering issues have been more recent.

    Why people continue to build large new homes in the Detroit burbs is a mystery.  There are so many similar (and garish) homes on the market right now, especially in the Northville/Novi area where my parents and brother reside.  Bargains aplenty.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe none were available with a dozen garages? Cars will occupy the entire bottom floor in both wings, and the entire bottom floor of the carriage house : )

      Unfortunately I spent about three times my typical number of hours on this review. Even after spending a couple hours trying to slim it down, and ultimately failing, it’s nearly triple RF’s old limit–how many people want to read 2,400 words? So I’m not sure there will be many others like it.

    • 0 avatar

      I prefer exhaustive reviews that are direct, to the point and not snarky. Totally professional and an excellent job. I’d like to read more reviews of this type, as I research cars I plan on purchasing quite extensively. Question: how stripped can you buy a Lambda-platform vehicle? Sometimes UTILITY is what a customer wants with few bells and whistles. BTW, where’s Dr. Olds?

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      @Zackman: You probably can’t, short of special order, and you’d probably do best picking up a previous MY mid trim in Feb.

      GM Lambda sells very well, so GM is mostly selling and stocking mid to high trim models, not strippers.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I don’t think it’s that hard to find a base model. The SLE I test drove at the dealer didn’t have much on it. And they shouldn’t be in short supply–plant capacity is over the 230k they sold during 2010. Base invoice on a Traverse is about $28,500 before incentives.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that the Albanian mob allowed you to take photos of the Acadia parked in front of their headquarters.

    • 0 avatar

      The house certainly does look quite tacky…

      And I appreciate the guy is a car enthusiast but this many garage boxes? I mean 3 or 4 I can understand but if you have a small collection I think I’d buy a seperate storage building somewhere not attached to the house.

      Ah well…each his own.

  • avatar

    I checked out the then-new Lambdas when I was shopping for a family vehicle in 2006.  I didn’t get any farther than looking at the window stickers though — over $40k moderately well-equipped.  (I don’t think the Chevy was out yet.) I ended up getting a comparably-equipped Dodge Grand Caravan that was $33k list and under $26k after rebates, incentives, etc.  That $14,000 difference  is roughly what I’ve spent on family vacations over the last 5 years.  I could have had the Lambda and stayed home all the time or the minivan and gone on yearly family vacations. I’m glad I chose the minivan.

  • avatar

    I had to go to Canada in the dead of winter twice last year, and the first time got an Envoy as a rental, and the second time got an Acadia SLT.  Leap forward was very apparent, and pretty gnarly winter driving was relatively easy in the Acadia (as opposed to the Envoy, which almost sent me into a ditch once or twice and whose AWD system actually stopped functioning during a drive on the highway in a snowstorm).
    The outside is great, the inside is just….not in the same league.  Echo review comments about being a good drive, but never found visibility to be a big problem.  The lack of toys is though – one of my friends can only buy GM to appease a company man father-in-law, and was seriously considering one of these until he found out how little he could actually get for all that money.

  • avatar

    “Some Detroit residents took exception to the photo of inner city Detroit I included in my auto show coverage.”

    Well, the population has declined 25% during the past 10 years.

    It is well known that the City That Exports (TM) is in ruins.

    (Everyone who exported themselves therefrom can buy an $80 “Exported from Detroit” hoodie from me.)

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    It will be interesting to see what this market looks like in say 5 years when I’m in the market for something like this.  I wonder if manufactures will be able to keep these behemoths and raise the fuel economy without turning them into gutless wonders.  (BTW my lady likes the styling of the Buick Enclave and the Ford Flex, and wants to have enough kids to fill those three rows.)

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      In five years, you should be seeing the refreshed 2nd Gen Lambdas hitting the road.

      Based on the market, large, 3-row vehicles aren’t ever going to disappear. The CUV is simply a large unibody wagons alternative to a minivans.

      I’d expect further incremental refinement such as: somewhat lower ride height, marginally smaller dimensions, and eco-friendly (smaller) engines.

      On the GM front, I hope GM continues to differentiate the various flavors, making the 2nd gen Enclave even more Buick than GM.

    • 0 avatar

      The first time your lady has to somehow contort herself and her back to buckle up the third (let alone the fourth) kid that is sitting in the third row will be the day that you find yourself deciding between an Odyssey and a Sienna.  And no, putting three side by side in the second row is not better when she has to lift a baby IN the car carrier into the middle position, try practicing by lifting an awkward 15-20lb weight to almost head height and then forward 2-3 feet before gently setting it down again….And THEN unlatching said seat and doing it in reverse upon arrival at the mall for some shoppin’….
      Been there, done that, there will be a minivan in the garage until the last one is out of the booster seat years…

  • avatar

    I currently have the Buick version as a rental. I don’t get the appeal. For Dog’s sake, if you need a minivan, just buy a minivan! It feels every one of it’s 5000+LBs, the steering is aweful, and I am averaging 16mpg in 75mph highway and 60mph rural two lane driving! And you absolutely CANNOT see out the back of it. Thankfully my rental has a rearview camera.
    My Mom’s Routan is a superior drive in every possible way, from ride to handling to steering. The Buick does have a very nice interior though, I have to give GM credit for that.

  • avatar

    In my opinion, this is the only crossover from Detroit that is competitive with the Pilot and Highlander.  On the east coast, it seems to be the only midsize crossover from Detroit people actually like.  Good job GM. 

    On the east coast, when you drive a Detroit product, people ask why, and you usually respond with a “supporting Detroit” type remark. With the Arcadia, no excuses are needed.

  • avatar

    No rain-sensing wipers and auto dimming headlights?!? I’m pretty sure they were optional on my frigging POS ’98 Intrigue!!! I know I had a dummy button plug on the dash for such devices…. This huge 2011 $40k+ rig can possibly have leaks? I can see a $17k Focus wagon leaking but a pricey 5000lb “luxury” ute? They should rename this thing the PT Barnum Special.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a ’98 Intrigue, though mine was not a POS. Neither feature was offered on the Intrigue.
      GM actually dropped rain-sensing wipers from a number of its luxury models recently. I don’t know why, but assume they either had a problem with the supplier or decided that people didn’t really want the feature.

      The leaks seem to have been related to the sunroof. Or the luggage rack. Or both. It wasn’t clear at first, and quite a few 2007 and 2008 Lambdas got lemon lawed as a result. One thing I’ve learned from conducting TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey is that sunroofs are designed to leak. The water they let in is captured then channeled through tubes to an outlet beneath the car. Leaks occur when these tubes become disconnected or get plugged up. In the case of the Lambdas they were shrinking over time, and eventually pulling out of their fittings.

      The other common source of leaks, not in the Lambdas but in general: plugged up A/C condensation drains. If you have a wet floorboard under the instrument panel, this is the most likely source.

    • 0 avatar

      Huh. Intriguing. (sorry, couldn’t help myself) Now I remember, that plug was for the auto-on headlights. I learned never to buy a used vehicle at 66,666 miles (actual miles, not a lie) with that bright red bewinged Intrigue. Christine without the healing factor. The less said the better.

  • avatar

    I think I like the SLE version more… the body kit looks a little bit too much like something you’d see on one of those vans converted for handicapped use for my taste, especially for $50k.

  • avatar

    I drove an Outlook a few years back and was quite impressed, especially with the handling. It was, somehow, rather fun to drive. The interior wasn’t amazing but I didn’t think it was bad either; the Highlander and Pilot aren’t any better, materials-wise. The only cars in this class I can think of that don’t have hard-plastic dashboards are the Flex and Explorer.

  • avatar

    My apologies to the mods for going slightly off topic but the other day I passed a rather bland looking, white sport utility.  I didn’t recognize it and when I peared closely I saw it was Chevrolet Orlando.  What the hell is that?

  • avatar

    I was one of the readers that took exception to your ghetto pic. Now I’m wondering which member of the Chaldean maffia is building that mansion.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I’ve got rain sensing wipers on my E46 3er.
    But that’s hardly the first place they appeared in the US market – the Jetta GLX VR6 had them as far back as the ‘99.5 model year (the first iteration of the A4 platform in the US).
    However, I could easily live without them (how hard is it to flick the stalk to turn the intermittent wipers on and off?).

    • 0 avatar

      Buick featured it earlier as part of the Prestige Package for the ’97+ Park Avenue Ultra; ditto Cadillac for the Eldorado/DeVille as part of the MY97 refresh.

      And you’d appreciate Rainsense in a Florida rainstorm where the intensity of the rain is as intermittant and variable as the wipers…I know I do!

  • avatar

    This is a good review. The vehicle rides like a truck with a lot of engine and road noise transmission. In a world of downsizing, this vehicle is proof just why GM will not survive – it’s huge with no reason to be so. Seats are dreadful, both leather quality and side support. Plastics are hard, buttons are small and confusingly set-up. Material quality is quite poor- this is not a car that is meant to last – cheap and thin plastics, even cheaper thin sheet-metal.

  • avatar

    I’ve only had experience with the Lambdas as overnight rental vehicles when my wife’s car has been in for service. I’ve driven one Enclave and two SLT Acadias, between them I like the Acadias much better. The Enclave is quiet as a tomb, maybe a little too isolated. The Acadias seem sporty, especially in relation to the Enclave. It must a sign of old age creeping up on me, but I really didn’t think the last Acadias I was in were short on options. If they were missing the automatic wipers, I wasn’t aware of it. Personally, I’d be happy with an Acadia, but it’s way more truck than I need right now. Heck, probably ever… I’ve seen the Denali Acadia at our Buick GMC dealer, and I would agree it looks like an Acadia dressed to the nines.

  • avatar

    I somehow doubt many who have actually been on Denali, would associate it with opulence and luxury :) It;s a bizarre name for a trim line that really ought to be named Park Avenue, or some such.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I saw one of the last Buick Century’s in traffic this morning and someone had stuck a “Park Avenue” badge on the butt.  Wonder how long it will take for someone to do that to a Buick Verano or whatever it’s called.

  • avatar

    That is the worst under-hood view I’ve ever seen, though I suppose it saves the general public from the horror of having to see anything mechanical if they accidentally open the hood.
    I don’t understand the design of the steering wheel.  What advantage does the smooth, hard surface on top and bottom provide, and why is leather preferable to this material on the sides only?

    To me, the SLT is a much better looking vehicle.

  • avatar

    Mr. Karesh may be an outstanding car expert but this is becoming epinions. His reviews are competent and, bearing TTAC’s pennant, are truthful. But Mr. Karesh’s reviews are not good prose. While I can’t find even a close equivalent of Mr. Karesh’s reviews at car magazines, etc., precisely due to Mr. Karesh’s integrity, and do appreciate his steady beat of “too much hard plastic”, “the front seats are fairly comfortable”, “the transmission isn’t always quick to react” – what is the point here for me, as a casual reader and not a car expert? More in style of “epinions” and “consumer reviews”? No, I already know their web addresses> Also, I had me some farrago and now I want good writing about cars, be it funny or sad, but always concise, unpredictable, cruel and thrilling. Perhaps if Mssr. Mehta and Baruth spend less time on pieces like “Japans Auto Output Down Slightly In February, Will Be Sliced In Half In March”, and more on briefing Mr. Karesh and reducing his impression to written pieces, we, casual readers, would only benefit. Because it has recently been the opposite.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll readily grant that my reviews are less artful and less fun to read than Jack’s, and that barring some alteration to my brain chemistry this isn’t likely to change. I was never happy when I had to conform to RF’s style, as it’s so different than my style.
      But many readers seem to prefer a thorough, straightforward review. Because we have at least two different sorts of readers, TTAC offers both sorts of reviews as much as possible.

    • 0 avatar

      I happen to like Michael’s reviews: they’re factual, but with a reasonable amount of of flair and yet without the sycophancy you get from many reviewers.  I don’t always agree with them, but it’s a good style.  It’s not nearly as dry as Consumer Reports, either, but it’s not hyperbolic or sycophantic as most other magazines and blogs, either.  I certainly comment on them more than I do TTAC’s other reviews because I find them relevant and engaging.
      Jack’s. on the other hand, don’t really tell me a whole lot at all unless I’m interesting in how well the brakes perform on the track.  Materials?  Seat comfort?  Truck space?  Anything?  Bueller?  I mean, they’re fun to read, and if I want someone to tell me how awesome a particular late-model Ford is I’ll certainly peruse it, but it’s often more fact-free as Clarkson.  I can’t help but think he’s cut out a lot of content to meet a word-count guideline.  For example, I know Jack reviewed the Taurus, but I’ll be damned if I can remember anything about the review or the car.
      It’s certainly interesting to read two reviewers’ take on the same car.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe it is the same car (eg, Michael and Jacks’ takes on the Ford Fiesta, for example).  I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

    • 0 avatar

      I like reviews from several different sources, as that gives me a bit clearer picture of what the vehicle in question is really like. Jack’s writings are filled with drama, melodrama and satirical humor and can be very entertaining, while Mike’s reviews are more straight-forward and to-the-point; “just the facts, Ma’am” with a little extra. I like both versions, but I also look for any other TTAC writes’ takes as well.

    • 0 avatar

      This is why there is more than one writer reviewing cars for TTAC.
      If I want to envision Jack lapping his fellow automotive drivers in their Lotus Elises, whilst snorting coke from a strippers butt-crack in a first generation Chrysler Minivan – while simultaneously surfing the web on his iPad, then I read Baruth.
      If I want to know what a vehicle performs like for a suburb cruising father with a preference for small and responsive, yet practical cars(much like my own preferences), then I read Karesh.
      In fact, I always read both. I’ll even read Ed’s reviews. ;)

  • avatar

    GM really needed these vehicles to sell, so I am pleased that they did so well on the Market. That said, GM did not put an awful lot into them originally, and since they had done their sales tasks so well, this should have bought GM enough time to roll out decent replacements for them.

    I’m not impressed, but am pleased that so many others are. I find them too expensive and too much for daily use. I prefer a more honest and better engineered design. There are no excuses for those poorly done seats. I’ve sat in them too often and just cannot justify how an automaker can conscienciously make these things and charge that much for the vehicle.

    With gas prices as they are and as they will be, I will not be buying a vehicle this size unless I am towing and vacationing in it. I see so many better vehicular choices out there than this, for me, that is.

  • avatar

    A good friend of mine has one of these and has had no issues in over 60k miles.  I’ve always thought the Lambdas were designed and executed well but fuel consumption remains disappointing for me, at least compared to GM’s traditional V8 SUVS.  I have an 07 Escalade that produces 403hp, with AWD, can tow quite a bit, and accomodates eight.  It averages 16mpg overall, the same as my friend’s Acadia and the one in this review.  If crossovers are supposed to use less fuel ones like the Acadia (and most others I suspect) really don’t over a tradtional SUV.

  • avatar

    My neighbor had one of these, a loaded Outlook, which GM ended up buying back under my state’s lemon law.  The water leaks were so pervasive that almost all of the interior was replaced before they gave up.  Headliner, door panels, carpets, electrical components.  Mold started growing in the body cavities.  Ridiculous.  And he had other, non-lemon law issues like power seats that worked sometimes, sometimes not.  Oddly enough, this guy had always been an import brand-only guy (and anti-GM) but found the Outlook so compelling, he figured they finally got something right.  Not so much.  He bought a Highlander and now enjoys just getting his oil changed every 5K.

  • avatar

    An excellent design, back then, EXCEPT: Too long, too heavy, too thirsty and too expensive [all the Lambdas]. Other than that, terrific.

  • avatar

    GM still hasn’t learned its lesson…still cutting corners, cheapening what are otherwise perfect designs.

  • avatar

    Just bought the Acadia Denali.  Looking at the review there are some thing left out in the Durango comparison. 

    1) If you complain about the seat configuration in the Acadia, never drive the Durango. It is basically the Rendezvous (with storage) or the Pacifica according to the configuration (same with the Explorer). I have 4 kids and found this configuration unworkable. Now I just open the door and they walk to the back and buckle themselves in. No barrel rolls over the seats or stepping on a center console.

    2) GAS GAS GAS. The Durango sucks on gas (16/22 to 13/20), I love my 17/24.   

    3) RWD Since I drove an 85 lincoln through college and live in a cold weather state I know better than having a RWD on ice. (I could survive but my wife has never driven RWD)  So I basically have to upgrade to the AWD and if it is anything like my Jeep liberty the gas numbers are . . . suspect at 16/22 and 13/20.  We noticed a huge drop in gas purchases going from the 4×4 liberty to the Pacifica when the MPG #’s were supposed to be similar.   

    4) Bugs:  I usually wait to the end of a cycle of cars to buy so all the bugs are fixed and I liked the Denali’s chrome and molding and don’t mind the plastic molding as it is easy to clean (see 4 kids) and looks like a mans car.  And by the looks I get everyone else seems to like the design too.  (Although boththe Durango and Charger designs are nasty & pleasing to the eye more than I can say for the Flex, Pilot, Mazda-9).  Plus all the standard options on the Denali made it so I didn’t have to hagle over options but just the final price.     

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