Driven: 2014 GMC Acadia Denali

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It’s hard to believe, but the Lambda platform architecture that underpins the GMC Acadia Denali tester seen here is now more than seven years old. As part of the product onslaught that kicked off GM’s current renaissance era, the Lambda (also recognizable as the Chevy Traverse, Buick Enclave and now-defunct Saturn Outlook) was ushered in just before two other heavy-hitters of the General’s new quality image: the 2008 Chevy Malibu and 2008 Cadillac CTS.

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With just a single refresh in 2013 under its belt, the Lambda – and the Acadia in particular – continues to be a resounding sales success for post-bankruptcy GM; just this past November, Acadia sales were up over 100% compared to the same month a year ago, at 7,566 trucks. The entire Lambda family moved over 19,000 units in November – more than any other midsized SUV, unless you count the component-sharing Grand Cherokee and Durango as a single platform, in which case they just barely squeak by. Nevertheless, almost 20,000 monthly units is a big sales win in any segment, let alone one where sticker prices regularly crest $40 grand.

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A $40k sticker was a distant memory for our loaded-up Denali tester, which rang in at a puckering $50,335. That brings the GMC perilously close to playing in the luxury brands’ territory, namely the recently revamped Acura MDX (which will also seat seven) as well as fully loaded examples of the rest of the domestic competition, including the aforementioned Durango, the Ford Explorer, and numerous Japanese and Korean pretenders to the throne. The Acadia had better be pretty good to fend off so much pressure from all sides…

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Luckily, it is pretty good. To say that it doesn’t feel its age (platform-wise) would be to understate the point – the Acadia’s chassis still feels fresh and solid despite its Lambda bones having been introduced to the public back in 2006. Road imperfections are shrugged off without float or bob from the suspension, important in a vehicle that runs on a car-based platform and has a curb weight that knocks on the door of 4,700 pounds. Isolation and noise suppression are also commendable.

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However, a more torque-rich powerplant (a la forced induction) or a transmission with more than six gears in its box would go a long way to making this updated Denali feel “all of a piece”. The Acadia’s 3.6-liter churns out 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet channeled through just the front wheels in our example, though the combination occasionally feels strained when push comes to shove. In certain circumstances, hints of torque steer filter through the steering wheel – all the more reason to check the “AWD” option box.

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Inside, the Denali acts its price, with nice materials and fit and finish, plus a slew of creature comfort updates all brought in with the 2013 refresh. The touchscreen system mimics those found in other Chevy/Buick/GMC products but seems a bit more intuitive here and easier to use, though first taps on the screen sometimes fail to register – a trait I also noticed with the 2014 Sierra and Impala testers I had a while back. The stereo’s typical American-car powerful, too – a nice reminder of the way the Big Three used to make `em in the pre-globalization era. Room is, of course, quite good all-around for both passengers and luggage. Third row passengers will need to be of the petite or child variety, though in this segment that’s no sin.

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The Acadia in Denali trim remains an obvious segment shopping list candidate, and also shows how solid a job GM did in its first real three-row crossover attempt. It’s a reassuring reminder that the General still knows how to create a class contender, made all the more so by the Lambda platform’s continued sales success relatively late in its lifecycle.

2014 GMC Acadia Denali FWD

Base price: $47,600

Price as tested: $50,335

Options on test car: Navigation and rear seat entertainment ($2,240), Crystal Red paint ($495)

Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission – 288 hp / 270 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 18.8 mpg

GMC provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

 

                              

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John Kucek

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