New Car Review: 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Front 3/4 view of 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Full disclosure:  20 years ago, I signed on the dotted line for five years worth of payments on a brand new 1993 GMC Suburban.  We had a small child, another on the way, Mrs. TireKicker didn't like to fly and so with a week or two worth of vacation clothes, a double stroller, a Pak N' Play and all the rest, the big 'Burban seemed like a sensible family vehicle.

As I said, that was 20 years ago.  Since then, GMC has renamed the Suburban the Yukon XL, and while it's still in production along with its identical cousin, the Chevrolet Suburban, those vehicles have gone back to their roots as vehicles for folks who really need that sort of size and capability.

The mass market for SUVs has found its way into crossovers. You can get seating for seven and double-digit cupholders in surprisingly small packages these days.

Which makes the original big crossovers, which seemed tidy and compact when they arrived six years ago, seem big now.  But big is as big does.  And GMC's done a great job keeping the Acadia Denali on top of its game.

Interior view of 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

There's a major refresh for 2013, an overall change in stature and line achieved through the simple expedient of taking the bodyshell of the  Acadia's now-departed cousin, the Saturn Outlook, and putting it on the Acadia chassis, with some tweaks and distinct GMC styling cues.

The Outlook always struck us as the best-looking of the full-size GM crossovers (which include the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave), so the Acadia now has a more aggressive stance, more muscular, well-defined bodywork.  It was definitely the right move, and used tooling that GM already had in its possession (for the taxpayers among us who are keeping track of those things).

The Denali is the top-of-the-line Acadia.  $47,945 is the price of admission and it brings a standard equipment list that would make your eyes glazed over typed in this space.  So go here instead.  I'll just mention that the sole available powerplant is a 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, it's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and the EPA estimates mileage at 16 city/23 highway, which our week at the wheel suggests is realistic. While that's not a figure you want to brag about at Sierra Club meetings, it's a considerable improvement over the 12 city/16 highway that was my '93 Suburban's consistent economy benchmark.

The best word to describe the experience of driving the Denali...smooth.  No muss, no fuss, no drama.  Just select "D', press your right foot down and the machine glides along.

Instrument panel of 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

GMC didn't stop the refresh on the outside.  The quality of materials has been upgraded and the new instrument panel has a much more contemporary look.  Big thumbs up for the work there.

Our tester added only two options...$995 for White Diamond Tricoat paint (it was very pretty, but I'd think before adding five bucks shy of a grand for a paint color) and $2,240 for a combination of navigation and a rear-seat entertainment system.  As the price of nav systems alone have come down, it's hard to argue against them bundled with rear-seat entertainment...especially if your kids are young enough that they're not yet immersed in personal devices and will watch DVDs on the screens in the car.

With destination, the as-tested price is $52,075.  That's significant money, to be sure, but the Acadia Denali is a lot of vehicle, and with the attention paid to styling and the interior upgrades, finally feels like the premium vehicle GMC has been pitching.