2012 GMC Acadia Denali: One for the long haul


(Photo courtesy of GMC)
Warren Brown
Columnist February 11, 2012

Automobile companies invest considerable resources in naming their products. The results often include stylistic spellings and celebrations of conflated imagination. Thus, we have “infinity” spelled “Infiniti,” with both signifying boundless possibilities, and, in the case of this week’s subject vehicle, a masterful mixture of meaning — the Acadia Denali.

Leave it to automotive nomenclature to combine a swampy Louisiana parish with the tallest mountain peak in the United States and send it to market. It is a science.

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

Acadia in the generic means “place of plenty,” as in those produce-filled swamps, bayous and waterways in Acadia Parish, La. Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, stands 20,320 feet above sea level — America’s tallest peak.

So how do you combine those names for a full-size front-wheel-drive family crossover-utility vehicle? First, you must have a conflated mind-set. For example, “a place of plenty” is a place of plenty, even if it’s in a crossover-utility vehicle.

The Acadia Denali has enough space to provide comfortable seating for eight people . . . without the morbid worry of passengers in the rearmost seats being unduly exposed to ruinous injury in a rear-end accident.

Engineers and lawyers at General Motors, maker of the Acadia Denali, paid extra attention to that — designing the front, the rear and the side panels of the unitized-body vehicle to absorb most survivable crash energy before it reaches the passenger cabin.

The caveat, “survivable,” is necessary because real-world statistics at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration clearly indicate that not all crashes are survivable — drinking, excessive speed and unbelted vehicle occupants lower the odds considerably. All things considered, the Acadia Denali is reasonably safe. NHTSA gives the vehicle five stars, the agency’s overall top safety rating.

But most of us don’t climb into our new vehicles expecting to crash. We’re looking for fun, which is where the “Denali” part of Acadia Denali comes in. It’s “the high one,” to revert to the Native American translation. It’s the top of the GMC Acadia line, which also includes the SL, SLE, SLT-1 and SLT-2. The Denali has the most standard and optional stuff: navigation, rear backup camera, parking proximity warning system, OnStar emergency communications, leather-covered seats, panoramic glass roof, premium sound system, 20-inch-diameter wheels with chrome-clad wheel covers, cabin-air filtrationthe list is seemingly endless.

And there are options. For example, you can add all-wheel drive.

But all that stuff comes with a price, particularly at the pump, assuming you choose all-wheel drive. Stuff equals weight. All-wheel drive means more engine work. All that weight (a factory weight of 4,656 pounds in the Acadia Denali) and all of that work has to be done by the same 3.6-liter, V-6 engine (288 horsepower, 270 foot-pounds of torque) standard in all full-size GM crossover utility models, which include the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse.)

My long-drive (500 miles), real-world experience in all GM full-size crossovers is that loading them with features and all-wheel drive knocks at least three miles per gallon off the Environmental Protection Agency’s ratings for those vehicles of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

Still, if I am planning a long road trip with people and stuff, I put the GMC Acadia, the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse at the top of my list. They are comfortable, with maximum utility and acceptable road manners. They are safe.

About the Enclave and the Traverse: As its name implies, the Enclave is the super-tufted, clubby offering of the bunch. And the Traverse lives up to its moniker — it gets you across with minimum fuss at the lowest cost.

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