2019 GMC Acadia AWD Denali Review - Explore With Four

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2019 GMC Acadia AWD Denali

3.6-liter double overhead cam V6 (310 hp at 6,600 rpm, 271 lb/ft at 5,000 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, 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)
22.5 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $48.495 USD /$54,695 CAD
As Tested: $52,170 USD/ $59,025 CAD
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.
2019 gmc acadia awd denali review explore with four

Acadia. Denali. Two National Parks that connote wilderness adventure. Acadia — the easternmost National Park — covers much of an island off the coast of Maine. Denali, named after the eponymous mountain that was occasionally named for the best President to come from Ohio in the twentieth century — is a park larger than the state of New Hampshire. The names make you think of wide open spaces, which should be a desirable trait in a family-sized crossover.

Not even a month ago, Associate Editor Steph Willems professed his love for the 2018 edition of the Acadia Denali. And while Steph and I are of similar mind on certain features on this three-row crossover, he and I have diverging uses for such a vehicle. For many, I’m sure, the 2019 GMC Acadia Denali is ideal. Due to some space issues, however, it isn’t the perfect family hauler for me. It comes up a bit short.

I make my observations based on how many families use a three-row vehicle. In my experience, those three rows are there so one can carry mixed cargo — mixed between flesh and stuff. When the third row is laid flat, this Acadia has plenty of room in the wayback for whatever a family of four might need — four only, however, as the Denali flavor of Acadia restricts the second row to (impressively comfortable) captain’s chairs. It’s great in that respect. The ride is comfortable and quiet, with plenty of room for everyone to stretch out.

If that family of four expands, whether temporarily or permanently, non-human cargo will be sacrificed if the Acadia Denali is your steed of choice. Need to take an extra kid or two to a soccer game? The kids can come, but their bags will be tough to stow. That third row is reasonably comfortable, but there isn’t even enough room behind that row for a single 20-inch carry-on bag. I could only stuff a pair of backpacks in that cargo area when we took Grandma along in the Acadia for a long weekend trip. Mercifully, the youngest shared the back row with a split-fold seat, and had the primary luggage riding alongside her.

While I struggle with the cargo hold, I have nothing but praise for the driving experience. 310 horsepower out of the big V6 is plenty to hustle the two-ton ute to alarming speeds. Mercifully, the demure Blue Steel paint rendered me invisible to the Ohio Highway Patrol swarming the roads around Labor Day weekend. Not even the bright chrome signature Denali grille turned the troopers’ heads. The big 20-inch alloy wheels did amplify every massive Michigan pothole into the cabin, however.*

*That wasn’t meant as a dig toward my Wolverine readers. I’m just noting that on my trip, I spotted roughly 20 silver Ohio patrol cars for each blue Michigan cruiser – and the proportions for Michigan to Ohio potholes were roughly the same.

The six-speed transmission shifts without drama, and, while more gears might be nice for fuel economy, such gearboxes tend to annoyingly hunt for the optimal ratio when encountering gentle changes in highway grade. The six-speed in the Acadia Denali seems to lock into sixth, letting the torque of the 3.6-liter manage any needed changes when the adaptive cruise control decided I needed to slow.

Beyond the pothole noises, the ride is quiet and drama-free. Steering has the typical Interstate dead feel one would expect of a large vehicle not meant for the twisties, but at lower speeds the wheels do communicate well enough to let the driver know what’s going on.

The interior is a mixed bag. The plastic and leather surfaces are generally quite good — the seats are a highlight, with heating elements in all four front places, and effective cooling for the driver and front passenger, as well. But the wood trim on the doors, dash, and shifter surround is not convincing. Further, when one retracts the shades for either the front or rear glass roof, hold on tight. Releasing the handle slams the shade hard into the rear stop with a loud, worrying thwack. Try it a few times while parked if your kids are tall enough (like mine are) to reach and release the shades and, like me, you’re prone to being startled by unexpected loud noises eight inches from your ear while driving in busy interstate traffic.

Having never spent a great deal of time in any Denali-branded vehicle, I was surprised by the choice of the rubber floor mats throughout the Acadia Denali. But I like it. GMC’s heritage as a proper truck maker requires a nod to proper utility. While, yes, it is a luxury vehicle, it’s also a vehicle meant to be used by a family. After past family road trips to beaches, I’ve struggled to get the sand out of my van’s carpets for months after. The rubber mats here are a great, easy-clean addition.

[Get new and used GMC Acadia Denali pricing here!]

I’ve road-tripped to Acadia National Park twice. Once, 14 years ago next week for my honeymoon, driving our Miata. The second, four years ago around our 10th anniversary, in our minivan with the kids. I wouldn’t hesitate to make tracks northeast to one of the smallest National Parks one more time in the Acadia Denali with the pair of tweens in tow. But adding extra passengers would cramp us all like we were back in the roadster. The Acadia Denali needs a bit more Denali size to go with the Denali style.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Join the conversation
4 of 29 comments
  • Ernest Ernest on Sep 13, 2018

    Given the price tag, I'd be seriously considering a Yukon. This has been my ongoing observation of mid-sized SUV's in general. They aren't cheap enough to be budget friendly, fuel economy is so-so, and they're still compromised in their design for the family friendly mission in life.

    • See 1 previous
    • Thegamper Thegamper on Sep 13, 2018

      I wonder if the design is really compromised but rather GM filling a gap in it's lineup. The Traverse and Enclave are significantly larger than most three row crossovers but GM had nothing to really compete in the "jump seat" three row crossover segment that seems more typical than a true minivan alternative like the Traverse/Enclave.

  • CannonShot CannonShot on Sep 14, 2018

    We've put almost 100,000 miles on our 2014 Acadia. With 4 kids and a friend occasionally tagging along, the third row has been used a lot. It's been a great family hauler. Tons of cargo room. It was about $31,000.00 new -- a great value. We've had no problems whatsoever with it. Fuel economy is about the only drawback I can think of. When it's time to replace it, we'll probably get a Traverse because we need the space. My wife refuses to drive a mini-van and we can't afford a Yukon/Tahoe.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.