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Dispatches from Denali: Travel ‘Merican-Style in the GMC Acadia Denali

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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The front grille of the 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Road trip, anyone? This crossover is more than up to the task of hauling you and your family, so long as you don’t number more than seven. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The 2013 GMC Acadia Denali was my faithful steed on a trip to Music City, USA over the weekend, proving itself to be at once more trucky and more plush than a great many SUVs on the market today.

Road-tripping in America used to mean piling up the family and luggage in some sort of heavy, full-size American iron, sticking a well-worn Rand-McNally road atlas in the map pocket, and floating down the nation’s divided highways on soft, wallowy suspension to the soothing tune of a burbling– or perhaps fuel-slurping– engine. As I learned on my road trip, our 2013 GMC Acadia Denali tester can provide much of the good parts of that experience while improving on the parts we may remember not-so-fondly.

The front seats of the 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

These seats, while not as firm and supportive as some, are pleasantly plush and all-day comfortable nonetheless. It’s a good compromise between the overly-plush seats of American cars of the past and the sometimes too-hard (some call them “sporty”) seats of modern cars. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The Acadia Denali features leather seats with soft padding, in contrast to many of today’s vehicles that feature tightly fitted leather covers and comparatively hard surfaces. At the same time, the padded elements are not so soft as to induce tiredness or make the ride uncomfortable, as was sometimes the case when riding in overly plush American car interiors of the ’70s and ’80s. The front buckets are both heated and cooled, and they feature eight-way power adjustment including lumbar support. Headrests adjust fore and aft in addition to up and down– a nice touch now that so many headrests seem to jut too far forward to allow some drivers to sit comfortably for long distances.

Also helping keep everyone comfortable on long trips is the three-zone climate control that provides independent temperature and fan adjustment for driver, front passenger, and rear quarters. The overall climate control system is capable of being set just like your home thermostat– simply dial in a desired temperature and punch the “Auto” button on the HVAC panel, and the climate control system takes care of the rest by dialing in just the right amount of fan speed and temperature adjustment to keep things comfortable.

I’ve already told you how the Acadia Denali’s powertrain feels like it is tuned better than some other GM vehicles that get the same 3.6-liter V6/6-speed automatic transmission combo. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the engine is ever so slightly more audible than, for example, our 2013 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ tester was when under acceleration. I don’t mind that so much because it gives the Acadia Denali a slightly more truck-like character compared to the car-on-stilts character of the Equinox.

Another thing that gives the Acadia Denali a more trucky character than some other unibody crossover utility vehicles of its kind is its softer suspension tuning. The body rolls a bit more than the Equinox did, for example, under fast cornering loads, and the truck will provide slightly more of a “lurch” feeling if you hustle it when taking off from a stoplight. While it’s softer than some other crossovers’ suspension tuning, it never feels wallowy, with a nice progressive tightening feeling as the suspension loads under cornering or braking weight transfer. In this way, it feels like a best of both worlds scenario: Cushy for the 90% of the time you want a quiet, smooth ride, and able to hold the road pretty well for a vehicle of its considerable height and heft when faced with speedy maneuvers.

Tire and trim badging shot of the 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Thank those massive 20-inch tires for some of the grip and road-holding ability of the large seven-passenger GMC Acadia Denali. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Part of the thanks for that road-holding also goes, no doubt, to the fitted 20-inch rubber on its alloy wheels. Though the me that has never had to buy tires larger than 15 inches in diameter shudders at the prospect of dropping a couple grand on new tires for the Acadia, as would likely be required for passenger-rated tires of such a size, I was happy with their performance in wet conditions, loose surfaces, and during my very limited maneuvers at speed. They certainly didn’t have tires this big on the Family Truckster back in the day, but then, they didn’t have tires capable of both holding up to the weight of such a heavy seven-passenger SUV and holding a firm grip on the road in a variety of conditions.

One last thing you won’t miss from the old Family Truckster days: The always outdated paper map. The Acadia Denali’s GMC IntelliLink navigation feature will lead you most anywhere. If you have a smartphone capable of searching out the destination of your address, you’re all set to just plug in the address you looked up. If you’re like me and still own a dumb phone, as I’ve taken to calling them, you may have to do a bit more planning ahead and write down the addresses of your planned destinations beforehand. That’s what we did on our road trip to Nashville, and it worked extremely well, with only a couple of exceptions when we found streets unexpectedly blocked as a sporting event was ending downtown. In that case, even the nav unit’s ability to pick up on traffic congestion and road closures along the route didn’t save us from a couple blocks’ worth of detours. Thankfully, the system automatically recalculates the route if you should have to deviate from the planned course. In short order, it had us back on track.

The second-row climate and audio controls of the 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Here are the second-row climate and infotainment controls, which operate mostly independently from the main units up front. You’ll also notice hookups for a DVD player including a household 120V plug– GMC installed the inverter and plug so you wouldn’t have to buy one yourself. Good thing to do on a $52,000 SUV, don’t you think? (Lyndon Johnson photo)

All of these features, plus the Acadia’s ability to accept a DVD player to keep rear passengers entertained– and yes, it has a built-in inverter and 120V plug so you can use your household DVD player, if you like– make the 2013 GMC Acadia Denali a modern twist on the once-ubiquitous long-distance American hauler.

Disclosure: General Motors provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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