Evidence shows that the three-row mid-size SUV segment is experiencing a renaissance thanks to families looking for better transportation together.
I have been wanting to drive this for quite some time.
The second-generation GMC Acadia is an interesting proposition. While sharing the same platform as the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, the Acadia shrunk in size for some odd reason. Maybe a few inches, but that translated into a smaller passenger area.
Sometimes when you shrink a vehicle, you lose some interest compared to its competitors. However, sales were up in 2023 compared to 2022 by 25 percent. Then again, almost every vehicle saw a nice increase in sales coming out of the COVID-19 Pandemic, thanks to better inventories across the board. Evidence shows that the three-row mid-size SUV segment is experiencing a renaissance thanks to families looking for better transportation together.
This is where the “rub” comes in. Market feedback showed that the GMC Acadia has not attracted those families. The reason? A smaller interior volume compared to most of its competitors.
All of which is why the GMC Acadia is an intriguing vehicle to review.
To fulfill my curiosity, I spent some time behind the wheel of a 2023 Acadia Denali…
Yes, a Denali.
Why an Acadia Denali?
The most desirable trim level available on any GMC model is the top shelf Denali. These luxurious models represent upwardly mobile ambitions. You expect everything in a Denali – no matter which Denali you choose.
The Acadia Denali is a true representation of this model. It separates any other trim level with its own splashes of chrome – mainly on its exclusive grille. The 20-inch alloy wheels are distinctive, as well.
The exterior shape of the Acadia is somewhat boxy. Yet, it has plenty of lines and curves that break it up to make it even more pleasing than first impressions would give it. It is a rather nice-looking vehicle – just as long as you do not acknowledge it as being smaller than the rest of its platform mates.
When you step inside, you are also treated to a very nice and highly functional interior. The instrument cluster is a mix of two analog dials and a customizable digital center screen. Combined with the head up display, you are well informed behind the wheel. The entire dashboard and center console layout are logical and easy to manage.
There is one minor detail to discuss. At the bottom of the center stack is a set of buttons controlling the transmission. I get that it is one way to save weight and mechanics to go with a shift-by-wire system with push-button controls. Yet, I just wish there was something more tactile and closer to the driver.
The eight-inch infotainment touchscreen is positioned a bit lower than I’d like. Yet, I found it useful with wireless smartphone mirroring and all of the playback options available. Those playback options – and the connectivity from your smartphone – are channeled through eight Bose speakers throughout the cabin.
The Acadia Denali seats six across three rows of leather seating. The front seats were comfortable and supportive, as were the second-row captain’s chairs. With an open space between the second-row seats, access to the third row is easy. However, leg room is limited – probably best for two children back there.
Cargo management starts with just 12.8 cubic feet behind the third row of seats. Folding those seats down opens up the space to 41.7 cubic feet. Ultimately, you do get 79.0 cubic feet of maximum cargo space to throw everything in your Acadia Denali.
Another reason to go to the top of the Acadia range is the Denali’s standard 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine. It also puts down 271 pound-feet of torque. This engine comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission and sends power to all four wheels.
Performance-wise, the Acadia Denali and its V6 does quite well. Passing power is nice, as is the cruising experience on. the highway. It does well around town by giving you the right performance when you need it. Since I did not measure fuel economy properly, the Moroney sticker states that the EPA has tested this driveline for a combined cycle average of 21 MPG.
The ride quality felt smooth with minimal drama from rougher surfaces. Handling is controlled through evasive maneuvers and cornering on twisty roads. Just simply fine overall – no concerns about roll and lean.
The Acadia’s size offers up a decent turning radius and solid control from the wheel. On-center feel was fine and kept the Acadia Denali within the lanes without any intervention. Response from the brake pedal was solid down to the wheels. The translated into solid stops in normal and panic situations.
While the Denali sits on top of the GMC Acadia lineup, you do have a few other choices. That includes the AT4 with the V6 engine, offering a ruggedized experience in contrast to the luxury of the Denali. My 2023 Denali tester came with a sticker price of $55,835. All Acadias start at $38,195.
It is worth noting that this is the end of the line for this generation. A new 2024 Acadia is coming soon this year promising more space, as it now matches the size of its Chevrolet and Buick siblings.
With a new model coming, that means you can get a deal on a 2023 Acadia. Including this Denali. If you do get a good deal, you can certainly enjoy the luxury this Acadia Denali has to offer.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Walser Buick-GMC, Roseville, Minnesota
All photos by Randy Stern