MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. -- In bumper-to-bumper traffic crowded with tourist vehicles on Manitou Avenue in the Colorado resort of Manitou Spring, we're riding high in the leather-bound driver's bucket of a luxurious CUV (crossover utility vehicle) -- the 2011 Acadia in new deluxe Denali trim from the GMC Truck Division of General Motors.
Denali -- a name drawn from native Alaska Athabascan people to describe "the High One" of Mt. McKinley, tallest peak on the North America continent -- is the pinnacle edition of the full-size and five-door Acadia CUV in a leather-lined issue loaded with luxury content and rolling on six-spoke 20-inch wheels flashing black chrome spoke inserts posed against bright chrome.
The Denali designation for GMC vehicles traces back to 1998 on a tricked-up version of the full-size Yukon SUV, but this new trim variation for the 2011 Acadia stands out with a sophisticated monochromatic color scheme in new tints like Quicksilver Metallic, Carbon Black, Red Jewel Tintcoat and White Diamond Tricoat.
Focal point is the bold front-end carved in elegant lines of a sculpted block with a sharp rake to the windshield and down-sloping hood, with muscular shoulders and a fat-lipped prow.
It's accented by a chrome honeycomb grille and flanked by sparkling lenses of vast corner headlamp clusters studded with xenon high intensity discharge (HID) lamps.
From the side view Acadia carries round-arch fender flares over the front and rear wheels, muted roof pillars which blend with the tinted window glass and polished aluminum rails on the roof.
The Denali trim applies unique body-colored fascias front and rear, side cladding and low rocker moldings, illuminated sill plates and two vast SkyScape roof windows -- the panel in front opens with power controls while the panel at the rear is fixed.
Acadia is a big wagon -- it stretches almost 17 feet long by 6.5 feet wide and comes with a full-size passenger compartment stocking seats for six to eight passengers and a wagonload of fancy features.
It has an integral body-frame structure which compares to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than a conventional SUV's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame truck platform.
A long wheelbase of 118.9 inches and a wheel track of 67.1 inches wide forge a long and broad platform that reduces the center of gravity for the vehicle and sets up a sure-footed ride quality.
And Acadia packs independent suspension components. The equipment includes a coil-over-strut design up front with direct-acting stabilizer bar, while the rear linked H-arm arrangement uses twin-tube shocks mounted on an isolated sub-frame to glide over bumps in the pavement.
As a result, Acadia brings the easy-to-drive manners and smooth ride of a large luxury sedan.
Acadia also derives nimble steering attributes from a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, and the brakes add a disc at every wheel with electronic linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS).
Further, every trim version of Acadia stocks StabiliTrak, GM's seamless yaw controller.
The StabiliTrak electronic stability control system also ties to GM's rollover sensing system, dubbed rollover mitigation technology (RMT). It can deploy side-impact air bags and curtain air bags if on-board sensors detect a potential vehicular roll event.
Acadia offers the choice of FWD traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
The smart AWD equipment uses a computer and wheel sensors to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery pavement.
All versions of Acadia employ a V6 engine which displaces 3.6 liters and contains dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), direct injection (DI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT).
The V6 produces 288 hp at 6300 rpm plus torque of 270 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.
Sole transmission is GM's fuel-saving Hydra-Matic 6T75 six-speed automatic.
With the 6T75 six-speed automatic in play, Acadia earns EPA fuel economy scores up to 24 mpg for highway cruising in the FWD edition, or 23 mpg with the AWD equipment.
Climb into Acadia and you'll notice another benefit of the car-like structure: The designers managed to drop the cabin floor but still retained a reasonable chassis height for ground clearance.
As a result, you don't have to hike up to climb aboard, but simply slip in sideways like you would enter a sedan.
Acadia's passenger compartment has room for three rows of seats and a rear bay for cargo.
On the first row two wide bucket seats flank a floor console.
On the second row the standard configuration is a sliding bench to accommodate three passengers, although top trim versions also offer two captain's chairs which slide to and fro.
On the third row, a folding bench split 60/40 can squeeze up to three additional riders aboard. Individual sections of the bench have bolsters for added comfort.
Access to the back bench is aided by extra width of the two rear portals plus second-row seats which move out of the way easily, thanks to a one-tap lever labeled Smart Slide.
Big Acadia brings big room for cargo.
With the back bench in place, a flat-floored cargo bay has 24.1 cubic feet of stow room. With the back bench folded down, the bay expands to 68.7 cubic feet, but with both second and third tiers of seats down, the bay stretches to 115.9 cubic feet.
GMC trims the 2011 Acadia as a base-grade SL, upgraded SLE, lux-trim SLT-1 and SLT-2, and over-the-top Denali.
The cabin in Acadia Denali edition features woodgrain trim lining the instrument panel and center stack, perforated leather covering driver and passenger seats with heating/cooling elements, driver seat with eight-way power controls plus memory, a head-up instrument display, premium acoustics (laminated glass and liquid applied sound deadeners), tri-zone automatic climate controls, a rearview camera system, Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, premium audio gear with a 10-speaker Bose sound system, XM satellite radio service and OnStar telecommunications.
The MSRP for GMC's 2011 Acadia Denali begins at 43,230.