By on August 20, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

2018 GMC Acadia Denali AWD

3.6-liter V6 (310 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm; 271 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

17 city / 25 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

13.5 city, 9.5 highway, 11.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Observed: 22.2 mpg (10.6L/100km)

Base Price: $48,490 (U.S) / $54,695 (Canada)

As Tested: $51,045 (U.S.) / $65,105 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,895 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

[Get new and used GMC Acadia pricing here!]

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.)

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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63 Comments on “2018 GMC Acadia Denali AWD Review – Forbidden Love...”


  • avatar
    gtem

    Now try driving an Avis-spec SLE with the powerhouse 2.5L NA motor! Hoo-jeez.

  • avatar
    RSF

    I still wonder why GM made the new body Acadia so much smaller than the previous version but kept the Enclave and Traverse the same size as before. This seems like a ton of money for such a small suv.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      MSRP means nothing.

      I see the mid trim models with V6 and AWD being advertised under $40K.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      But now they can offer a new GMC rebadge on the Traverse platform and a new Chevy rebadge on the Acadia platform (the Blazer)!

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      By designing the platform for two wheel bases it opens up a future smaller CUV for Chevy (re: Blazer) and Buick, and a future larger CUV for GMC. I suspect that the Acadia was made smaller because the short wheelbase version was ready first and GM wanted a higher volume partner (with an established name) for the Cadillac XT5 that also uses the platform before the long wheel base version was available.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      There was a remark published here 3-4 years back that GMC dealers wanted something to move that seated five, as GMC buyers were not using the 7 seats, and the Enclave is actually the good Buick.

      It looks like GM listened to the dealers, which, although not the first, probably is in a set that can be counted on one hand.

      I know people who have wanted a competitive choice in the 5-seater, mid-sized CUV/SUV category, and if you hated the Equinox and didn’t want a Cadillac, GM wasn’t in the game.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      According to a dealer in Dallas with the volume to know what he’s talking about, it was because Acadia sales were starting to eat in Yukon sales as people realized that it was better in the city and there was true no interior volume gain to justify the price. Can’t have that.

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Ahhh….no wonder I have been confused. Since the redesign of these I can’t seem to tell an Acadia vs. Terrain, whereas with the old style it was easier to distinguish them.

    • 0 avatar
      legacygt

      I agree but not so much because of price but for competitive reasons. The previous Acadia/Enclave/Traverse/Outlook were all decent vehicles but their real competitive advantage was size. They could all fit 7/8 passengers and offered more cargo room than most of the 3-row CUV competition. If there was an objective reason to pick one of these cars over a Pilot/Highlander/Explorer/CX-9/Durango/Pathfinder it was size. If a buyer didn’t prioritize interior volume, then these other vehicles were preferable t the GM offerings. Fast-forward to the present and GM retained the class leading size of the Traverse and Enclave. Why did they shrink the Acadia? Especially when they already offer the Terrain one size down. Is there something more “professional grade” about the Acadia’s size vs. the Traverse/Enclave? I don’t think so.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I can see the attraction to Denali period in any GMC vehicle. I laughed out-loud when I saw Business Insider had an article titled “Why the Canyon Denali is a great value.”

    However I can see a certain amount of attraction for a V6 AWD Acadia with the All Terrain package (now that it isn’t a porker like the 1st generation Acadia). I’m also sure this is the kind of thing my wife would like to see me drive but fortunately she also has a strict policy of “it’s your money” not mine that she maintains because she wants me to afford her the same courtesy.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t do any better in fuel economy than my current commuter and I’d like to do a little better than 22-23 mpg in my heavily highway biased commute.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    This Denali starts out as low as $32K on autotrader. Not a fan of the V6 in the Acadia Limited(old style, large one) at highway speeds as every incline is met with platform induced drone of the 3.6l, where my 2.0T is only audible and never felt training like the V6. Down hills or like gliding with engine off.

    These blend in too well today but cook the part of Professional Grade in Denali guise.

    • 0 avatar
      e30driver

      I’d love to see this $32k unit you speak of. The cheapest new Acadia Denali that I see running a nationwide search on Autotrader is just a hair over $38k for a FWD model. This is a genuine question, not meant to be snarky, as I have been in the market for a 3-row SUV but finding it hard to rationalize close to $40k buy-in to get a decently optioned vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Welcome to TTAC. He quotes Auto Trader all the time; usually GM products at low,low prices and anything imported, especially Japanese, at ridiculously high prices. He’ll never post the zip code where he found this “Denali”. However, you’ll have a friend for life if you ask him about a “TRIFECTA TUNE”. The Trifecta Tunes give GM Ecotechs Corvette Z06 performance and Volt fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The $38K is correct for Denali. My typo. A base MDX is as low as $41K.

  • avatar

    The auto media keeps perpetuating this myth that crossovers are bad like fire, so in turn, “enthusiasts” repeat the same garbage without actually driving or owning one.

    I have a 2016 Honda CRV EXL AWD and I love it. It’s ideal for my family (I now have two kids), and I enjoy driving it. No, it’s not a performance car, nor does it pretend to be. It hauls people and cargo like it’s supposed to.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      It reminds me of the horrible five years of hearing every website comment box warrior talk about the “texture of the soft touch plastics”, as if the average driver spends his time stopped at traffic lights gently rubbing his skin on the door insert for the tactile pleasure.

      When winter is 5-6 months of bad driving, it’s nice not to have to rely on snow tires for the Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      Carroll Prescott

      And looks ugly and those tall skinny wheel/tire packages make it look like it is going to tip over – I know – I followed one one day this past week and could not figure out why something so new would look like it was riding on such skinny tires (and yes, factory wheels).

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        The wheels on his CRV are 6.5″ wide. How much wider do they need to be?

        Instead of studying things (like CUVs) to try to find reasons to hate it (or justify your existing hatred), maybe focus on positive things instead. You’ll be a much happier person.

      • 0 avatar
        KalapanaBlack7G

        They are 225 width tires even on the base CR-V. Same as Equinox, RAV4, Journey, Envision, Santa Fe Sport, Sorento, and a million other similar vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      AK

      They’re not bad like fire. They’re just generally worse than the alternatives (sedans, hatchbacks, wagons, vans).

      But if you like your CRV, good!

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      family has a cash for clunkers 2009 CR-V. 240,000 miles. Nothing but routine maintenance, new brake pads, new axles at 180k, and replacing a failed relay that stuck on and drained the battery overnight in the driveway.

      take good care of the CRV and you should be set for a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Extreme reliability just means driving a turd for a really long time.

        I’ve had every generation of CRV at least once for rentals, didn’t like any of them. Loved the 2nd gen RAV4 (and roommate owns one), but not what has come since. How Toyota made something based on the Camry fun is a minor modern miracle.

        In general, with a gun to my head, I would take a CUV over a sedan, but not over a not-jacked-up hatch or wagon of roughly the same size. For the larger CUVs, give me a proper truck-based SUV with real underpinnings and towing ability. I find the 7-seater CUVs completely pointless – just buy the darned van you actually need but are too “cool” to be seen driving.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        What relay did you replace? My cousins CRV (same bodystyle) will drain the battery after being parked a few days. If she isn’t planning on driving it for a while, she takes the battery cable off. Its a ridiculous thing to have to do on such a new car.

        The battery was replaced when the problem started, the alternator has been checked numerous times, still does it. Thanks in advance.

        • 0 avatar
          mmreeses

          The relay that regulates the A/C compressor. I can’t remember the part number. (see relay schematics in the manual).

          but since your cousin’s car drains after a few days, it’s probably something that draws less electricity.

          Check the relays and hopefully you’ll find a bad one. Pull it if non-essential.

          Bought a replacement relay from Rock Auto for a couple of bucks, installed. Problem solved.

          From what I remember reading on the internets, supposedly it’s a common problem—as water from car washes will hit the relay from underneath. Corroding relay innards—making it stuck on, thus draining the battery.. Supposedly the relay has been re-designed (look for a higher number suffix at the end of the part number that Honda uses)

          Good luck.

        • 0 avatar
          KalapanaBlack7G

          If your cousin’s CR-V has bluetooth, disconnect the BT module and recheck. Big Honda/Acura issue for about a 7 model year period.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Hoping they make a GMC version of the upcoming Blazer with the V6 and 9AT. This looks good but is a hair too big. The 2 row midsize crossover is underappreciated.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      The Acadia is available as a two row (the 3 row is actually optional) but I doubt you’ll find any but poverty spec models equipped like that at a dealer.

      Given the excellent reviews I’ve seen for GMs 9-speed, I’d like to see that in the Acadia as well.

  • avatar
    kennyh

    We enjoyed my wife’s first ’18 Acadia Denali so much that we decided to get a second one for our au pair. We went with the Denali trim as it was ~$25/m +/- more than a lesser trim, and I’d occasionally have to drive it. My usage aside, I believe that some of the more advanced safety features are only offered in the Denali trim (I could very well be wrong), so it was worth the extra few dollars per month.

    Per this article, it does everything that it’s supposed to well, and for a very good overall value. We’re all-in on each for sub-$500/m on a 36-month lease, where the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90 couldn’t come close. Price aside, it really is a great, versatile family SUV.

    Outside of a couple of Apple CarPlay related initial issues (which’ve been fixed via software updates), both cars have been flawless.

    We’re pleased with our decision and would recommend to other friends in the market.

    Happy to answer any questions if helpful-

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Sweet Jeebus and shades of a 74 Pontiac Granville, that’s some vile, if not just nasty PLASTIWOOD on the center console. Please don’t tell me that’s the Denali trim. Besides Escalades and Suburbans, is there a GM made SUV with a V-8? It’s something GM does so very right.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Sweet Jeebus and shades of a 74 Pontiac Granville, that’s some vile, if not just nasty PLASTIWOOD on the center console.

      BROUGHAM IS BACK BABY!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’d like it better with red velvety-velour hooker’s bedroom seats in it. And chrome knobs everywhere. Go FULL Brougham or go home.

        • 0 avatar
          9Exponent

          It definitely should come with tufted pillows. I would take them out of the car, but I want the pillows.

          On second thought, I’d rather have a well-furnished man cave than drive a brougham.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Deluxe Brougham: https://www.cargurus.com/Cars/1970-Cadillac-DeVille-Pictures-c8504?picturesTabFilter=INTERIOR#pictureId=35672121

        Wide Track an body by the yard: https://classics.autotrader.com/classic-cars/1975/pontiac/grand_ville/101016235

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    This is hardly mid-sized. It has nearly the same footprint as a Tahoe.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      The new Acadia is a good ~10″ shorter, ~5″ narrower, and ~6″ lower than the Tahoe. It was the old larger Acadia that was about the same size as the Taho/Yukon. The new one is not that much larger than a Ford Edge.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        The current Acadia is supposed to compete with something like a Grand Cherokee (no seriously, that’s what GM believes).

        Not having something competitive in that size class was seen as an oversight by GMC brand managers.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    This isn’t bad, but 51k msrp it is not. This drives, rides and feels like a 40k vehicle. Everything is just ok for a 3 row minivan alternative.

    It is not what I think of with a Denali level trim.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Carroll

    Correct. These things are real big.

    Tahoe like inside.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    GM can take a hike on their pricing.

    Tri coat white? $995.

    Anything other than flat white? $395.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    Like the author, I got one of these as a dealer loaner and was shocked to discover how much I liked driving it. Not too big, handled well, controls all made sense and were easy to use, lots of room. About the only thing I didn’t like were the membrane switches for cruise, etc on the steering wheel. But it was really comfortable and the driving experience just felt right. By contrast, some months before I got a Caddy XT5 as a loaner and absolutely hated it as it was full of annoyances. The difference was like night and day. I could see myself with one of these. It seems like a vehicle that GM got pretty much right straight out of the box.

  • avatar
    shappy

    My wife is closing in on 2 years with her FWD Acadia Denali and she absolutely loves it. She is even talking about wanting another one after the lease is up. We also got a silly-good lease on it. It has also been problem-free.

    While the Acadia compliments my ND Miata nicely, I still cringe every time I have to get behind the wheel of it.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Good lord that fake wood around the shifter is horrendous. How can anybody be satisfied with dropping tens of thousands of dollars for a car to come with…that?

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Nice DC-6.

    I test drove a Mitubishi Outlander PHEV the other day. Same reaction, what’s not to like about this thing? Mostly, anyway.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “If a Mustang or Miata is a mistress, this vehicle is the compassionate and understanding wife…”

    For the price of this GMC I can buy a V8 Durango and have enough remaining fill every seat with an hourly mistress.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    What? A normal console shifter? I wonder how long will that last before GM curses the Acadia with the Terrain’s push button shifter in the name of “creating space?”

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    All I see is a big fat fake. Nice metaphor for this society.

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    Hey, that last picture is the Ottawa Aviation Museum. I can almost see it from my house. Not all the displays are ratty like that broken down DC-4 in the picture. Inside the museum’s great! This in case anyone was wondering.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      That’s a North Star-variant of a DC-4 in the background. Inline 1650ci Rolls-Royce V-12’s instead of radial round-motor engines. Probably the only one still existing.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    These look terrible in 3/4 view, the angle car designers want to look the best. They look sort of ‘runty’ somehow.


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