The main problem with luxury SUVs is that they’re not much good at the “sport utility” part of “sport utility vehicle.”
Unless you’re talking about purpose-built off-roaders — SUVs from Land Rover or Toyota — the modern premium SUV is a station wagon on steroids. Its core purpose is to haul families, groceries, gear, and pets around the nation’s suburban enclaves.
GMC has been around for a century and has long been thought of as an upscale truckmaker, especially under the Denali sub-brand. There are no passenger cars in the GMC portfolio, just pickups and SUVs/crossovers, and the division has lately been making an enviable boast: it’s average transaction price is stratospheric for a “non-luxury” brand, at $45,000.
Almost a third of all GMCs sold are Denalis, which means that GMC is something of money-printing machine inside General Motors.
Across the board, however, GMC has a lofty brand promise to live up to: upscale utility. These are trucks and SUVs for the discerning contractor or the demanding rancher. If you want to bust up your truck in fields and streams, then loom to Chevy. If you want to get cleaned up for a night on the town once the day’s labors are done, check out GMC.
This credibility means that GMC SUVs and crossovers in particular can also appeal to Lexus/Acura/BMW/Mercedes/Audi customers who might doubt the ability of, say, a Lexus RX 350 or BMW X3 to get down and dirty.
We got the chance to put this all to the test when we recently borrowed a 2017 GMC Acadia Denali, with all-wheel-drive. This maxed-out mid-size crossover, which shares a platform with the new Cadillac XT5, stickered at $52,185, with numerous options. It is possible, however, to get a base Acadia for around $30,000.
Here’s what we thought:
It wasn't rainy for the entire time that I tested out the Acadia, but it was when I took these photos.
Our test-car came with an all-wheel-drive system. It can probably handle moderately challenging off-road conditions, but I didn't put it to the test. The Acadia was plenty surefooted, so I think it would do fine in snow, sleet, and slush.
The wheel arches are a design sticking point for some. With a somewhat low vehicle like the Acadia, they lose some of the their ability to evoke a larger pickup truck ...
Cargo capacity is perfectly reasonable. We transported five people (two adults and three kinds) using the three-row seating configuration and had enough room for everyone's gear. We also had room to bring back some extra stuff at the end of our roughly 400-mile round trip.
The detailing on the leather interior -- in 'Jet Black' -- is quiet. GMC wants to project an impression of seriousness wherever possible.
There's charging available everywhere in the Acadia -- which makes sense, given that the SUV comes with OnStar 4G LTE wireless connectivity, meaning that everyone in the vehicle can tap the wifi to use a device.
Purposeful leather, brushed metal, and a simple analogue-style instrument panel present themselves to the driver.
The steering wheel is heated! This is a must-have feature for me these days on luxury SUVs, to it's terrific to see it here on the Acadia Denali.
You have the usual charging options and USB ports up front, plus a pair of cupholders and plenty of storage for small items.
The overall impression is very masculine. And that makes sense, because GMC is aiming this vehicle, in this upscale trim level, at male buyers. I think women will like it too, however. It's sharp without being fussy.
A 'Dual Skyscape' sunroof makes sure that the rear passengers aren't sitting in a dark cave. (But it's a $1,400 option, one of just a few on the Acadia Denali, which comes with a long list of standard features for its $46,920 price tag.)
Let's talk tech. With GM cars and trucks, that story begins for 4G LTE wireless connectivity, piped through OnStar (which can, by the way, still do all the things that we love about OnStar, including obtain directions at the push of a the blue button.)
The infotainment system is operated with this eight-inch center touchscreen and via controls on the steering wheel, as well as through voice commands. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Combined with OnStar, 4G LTE, and providing excellent ease-of-use, I think GM's infotainment systems are currently the best on the market.
Basic knobs and buttons are also on hand. These useful when you're driving with gloves or don't want to be distracted by the touchscreen.
There's a standard satellite radio, and the eight-speaker Bose audio system (also standard at this trim level) can handle a wide range of music, from rock to jazz to classical to pop.
Bluetooth connectivity is seamless and media is easy to access using a wired or wireless connection. The touchscreen also enables control of various vehicle functions ...
Camera views are extensive and can be assisted with the 'Surround Vision' birds-eye view composite image. There are cameras front and rear -- four in total.
Guides and sensors/proximity warnings assist the driver in parking and, given that this is a GMC, towing maneuvers. The Acadia Denali can manage 4,000 lbs.
The Acadia Denail gets a 3.6-litre V6 engine, making 310-horsepower. MPGs are 18 city/25 highway/20 combined, which isn't stunning, but you can haul around seven humans with this thing and tow a small boat. I observed what I thought was better fuel-economy than rated on my journey with the vehicle, but I was also taking advantage of a cylinder-deactivation feature on the highway. The transmission is a capable six-speed automatic, and this knob-and-button cluster allows you to activate parking alerts and lane-departure warnings, as well as toggle among drive modes: 2WD, AWD, Sport, Off-Road, and a towing setting.
The instrument panel is refreshingly straightforward, with a basic three-gauge design. It can however provide ...
It's just incredibly solid in every way. The vehicle is packed with unpretentious premium materials and high-end technology, and it has all the versatility a family of five could want, without graduating to a full-size SUV.
On a highway cruise from New Jersey the East End of Long Island and back, everyone travelled in mellow comfort, enjoying the quality audio system and the extensive OnStar 4G LTE connectivity. A bunch of advanced cruise-control features -- ranging from a forward-distance indicator to low-speed forward braking, a following-distance indicator to lane-keep assist -- made for a low-key jaunt. (In cities, there's a helpful front pedestrian-detection system).
If I had one complaint, it was that the Acadia Denali's ride, no matter which mode it was in, was a tad stiff. Stiffer, to be sure, than the Cadillac XT5, with which it shares a platform. The GMC's engine, however, felt more robust than the Caddy's even thought they're effectively the same. This could be due to the XT5's eight-speed transmission, versus the six-speed on the GMC.
Overall handling was very good. This is an SUV that you can hop into an feel comfortable with right away. The learning curve is minimal. We're not talking about a sports car, but the Acadia Denail comes off as rather nimble, for a crossover than can accommodate so many people (the 2017 Acadia is actually 700 lbs. lighter than the previous generation of the vehicle, which was also bigger).
The weird thing about the Acadia Denali is that its fully optioned pricing is right up there with Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and others, but it's brand reputation isn't based on luxury. Instead, it's based on the true utility of a truck, even if it's a crossover SUV. So the Acadia Denali comes off a more serious ride than, say, a Lexus RX 350.
The mid-size crossover is an incredibly competitive segment -- one of the most important for automakers doing business in the US and increasingly in China. But the Acadia Denali doesn't approach with a lack of confidence. It's almost as if this SUV has nothing to prove, but goes ahead and proves it anyway. This is stealth luxury.
It's impressive, and it's why the Acadia Denail is my new favourite luxury SUV than isn't actually a luxury SUV.
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