2011 GMC Acadia Denali Review

Front 3/4 view of white 2011 GMC Acadia Denali
The 2011 GMC Acadia Denali.

Almost 20 years ago,  I bought a GMC Suburban (now known as the Yukon XL). In those days, there was nothing to differentiate the GMC from the Chevrolet except for the badges and the price tag. GMC's was generally a bit more, but I found a dealer who beat all the local Chevy dealers.

It occurred to me at the time that GMC could do very well for itself by making its Suburban a much more luxurious piece than the Chevrolet...leather seats, say...and how about upgraded audio systems? Maybe automatic climate control. Nicer wheels...maybe even a sunroof.

Hard to imagine now, but this was radical thinking at the time, though within 5 years, GM embraced the concept beyond what I was thinking. The GMC version became almost Cadillac-like in its luxury...and then came Cadillac's Escalade, taking it all one giant leap further. And they sold like hot cakes.

The Suburban, Yukon XL and Escalade ESV are all still in production, and still sell, but the strike zone has moved to smaller machines. That's not keeping GM from going back to the playbook for what worked so well a decade and a half ago.

Behold the GMC Acadia Denali. The base Acadia is a reasonably priced vehicle...$32,000. And it's very much like the $29,370 Chevy Traverse. The Denali fixes that...for a price.

Rear 3/4 view of 2011 GMC Acadia Denali
Rear three-quarters view of the 2011 GMC Acadia Denali.

The all-wheel-drive Acadia Denali we tested starts at $45,220. 13 grand and change more than the vehicle that underpins it all. And not a penny of it is under the hood. The base Acadia has the exact same 3.6 liter V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic as the Denali.

There's two inches less front headroom and one inch less in the rear, thanks to the standard sunroof,  and you can carry one fewer person thanks to the standard second-row buckets. Otherwise, the dimensions and statistics are the same.

So where's the $13K? On the outside, it's in fog lamps, Xenon HID headlamps, a remote tailgate release, heated exterior mirrors, chrome wheels, performance tires, a trailer hitch reciever and a Denali-specific grille.

Interior shot of 2011 GMC Acadia Denali
The 2011 GMC Acadia Denali interior.

Inside, the Denali steps up with a rear-view camera (always a good idea, especially in SUVs), rear parking assist, dual zone climate control, remote vehicle start, the aforementioned sunroof, power heated driver and front passenger seats, the 2nd row buckets, memory seats, a premium sound system, rear seat audio controls, Bluetooth, a universal home remote control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with memory and a power lift gate.

That plus all-wheel drive, which is worth about two grand, so yeah...that's probably about $11,000 worth of options. And our tester had more...$1,890 for nav with 3 months of SiriusXM NavTraffic, $1,445 for a rear seat DVD entertainment center, including headphones, and $795 for White Diamond Tricoat paint (which is very pretty). Bottom line on ours after destination charges: $50,125.

I can't knock the end result...a very luxurious, well mannered, fast, capable SUV. I'm even okay with the price. And the mileage is in the ballpark, too: 16 city/23 highway. What I don't get is why GMC sells an Acadia other than the Denali. Unlike the Yukon/Escalade and Yukon XL/Escalade ESV deal, Cadillac doesn't have a clone of this model...so why bother selling the $32,000 version at all? Why not let that be Chevy's?  If you've got thoughts on that one, I'd love to hear them. Just click the "comments" button.