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.

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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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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.

  • Analoggrotto Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes around a mustang owner would know this will be in insta-hit.
  • FreedMike Interesting time capsule.
  • 6-speed Pomodoro I had summer and winter tires for a car years ago. What a pain in the butt. You've permanently got a stack of tires hogging space in the garage and you've got to swap them yourself twice a year, because you can't fit a spare set of tires in a sportscar to pay someone else to swap 'em.I'd rather just put DWS06's on everything. But I haven't had a sportscar in 8 years, so maybe that's a terrible idea.
  • ShitHead It kicked on one time for me when a car abruptly turned into my lane. Worked as advertised. I was already about to lean into the brake as I was into the horn.
  • Theflyersfan I look at that front and I have to believe that BMW and Genesis designers look at that and go "wow...that's a little much." Rest of the car looks really good - they nailed the evolution of the previous design quite well. They didn't have to reinvent the wheel - when people want a Mustang, I don't think they are going to cross-shop because they know what they want.