2017 GMC Acadia Denali Test Drive: All About the Journey, Not Just the Destination

I live in Texas, where huge pickups and SUVs are everywhere. Top of the line for either would have to be the GMC Denali, but you don’t have to be in a full-size Yukon or 4 door pickup to get the Denali package; you can also find it in the much more maneuverable, yet still roomy, 2017 GMC Acadia Denali.


The Acadia gives truck toughness with more refined features and an aerodynamic look.

I recently spent some time informally road-tripping from Boston, Massachusetts to Bangor, Maine in a 2017 GMC Acadia Denali. Unlike other auto events where we start our driving day with an hour of marketing information and then we get three to five hours behind the wheel, this event was almost entirely spent driving; it was as much about the journey as the destination, which is why this write-up will read as a cross between a travelogue and my usual first drive post.

Day one saw me flying into the Boston airport and being driven to a nearby hotel where I met up with my driving partner, Helena Stone, a few other auto writers, and a small crew from GMC. We were given a quick overview of the vehicles we would be driving, and then we were turned loose to simply enjoy the Acadia Denali experience.


This is about as close as we got to Boston. 😉

We were given a card that told us our first point of interest to navigate to, and with that Helena and I were off to Port Elizabeth, Maine, just outside of Portland, Maine. As we left Boston and eventually Massachusetts, we passed what had to be one of the largest pumpkins I’ve ever seen being hauled in the back of a pickup.


So many pumpkin pies …

There are a couple of things that I should mention right off the bat about the Acadia Denali; it’s a mid-size SUV crossover, so it is roomy and comfortable on the inside, but it’s not a huge vehicle to try to maneuver around in. The Denali package our vehicle had starts at $46,920; we were driving Acadias that were fully loaded with every bell and whistle, so I think the final price was probably closer to $53,000.

The Acadia Denali has real wood on the dash along with stitching and aluminum. Everything about the interior has a premium, and dare I say it — expensive — feel.

2017 All-New GMC Acadia Denali Interior

2017 All-New GMC Acadia Denali Interior

The driver’s seat was extremely comfortable; it was heated and vented, and the warmth really came in handy as it was chilly and wet for much of our trip. The heated steering wheel was also a nice feature, as I had forgotten to bring my gloves!

Inside the Acadia, there were USB ports in all three rows (it’s available in a 2,2,2  or 2,3,2 seating configuration), and there were generous storage cubby holes everywhere, including a pull-out drawer under the center console in the back, which was a handy place to stick a bag to catch trash.

The premium 8-speaker Bose stereo system had Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto), so plugging my iPhone into the front USB port immediately connected the car to my phone which made for easy navigation and music selection; everything was displayed on an 8″ diagonal touchscreen.

2017 All-New GMC Acadia Denali Infotainment

2017 All-New GMC Acadia Denali Infotainment

Our vehicle also had a built-in AT&T hotspot, and I was jealous to see that the car’s service consistently had more bars than my phone; it reminded me of the difference between old-school 5-watt bag phones and .5-watt cellphones.

We eventually made it to our first stop at Port Elizabeth, and while there we had time to check out the lighthouse  …


photo courtesy of GMC

… and I got to try my first lobster roll ever from the food truck on location.


Looks good, right? It was.

It’s worth noting that the Acadia gets much better mileage than a full-size SUV. It’s rated at 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway; I kept my eye on the instant miles per gallon reading while we were driving, and it seemed to consistently stay in the 22 – 23 mpg range.


The next destination card we were given sent us to the Press Hotel in Portland, Maine. If you’ve never been there, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The Press Hotel is located in the building that used to house “the offices and printing plant of the Portland Press Herald, the state’s largest newspaper,” and there is a definite theme throughout the hotel that harkens back to the building’s roots.


One of the coolest art installations I’ve ever seen; typewriters mounted on the wall!

That evening, Helena and I had a little time to walk around before dinner, and it was fun finding store named for me. 😉


The next morning, we loaded bags back into our car and headed for the next destination printed on a card, the wharf in Camden, Maine. On the way, the roads were slick as we were alternately drizzled and rained on. The Acadia felt very solid; it’s hard to explain, but the vehicle is light and nimble, yet it feels substantial and safe on the road.

The feature I probably liked the most was the “Safety Alert Seat”; it’s a safety option I can wholeheartedly recommend, as it got my attention when a car was in the lane next to me or a person was walking by our Acadia in a parking lot. Even when we had the stereo blasting or were distractedly talking, it was impossible to miss the vibrations under me. Other safety features included a forward camera, autobraking, 360º cameras with image stitching for a birds-eye view, and adaptive cruise control.

Perhaps the most impressive safety feature was Rear Seat Reminder. Basically, the second-row door would remember if you had opened it. After driving, when you turn off the engine, you’ll get a reminder to look in the back seat. Obviously, the hope here is to prevent accidentally leaving your child inside the car; if it saves one kid, then it is a feature worth adding.

This new feature is activated when a second-row door is opened and closed during or just before a trip. When Acadia is turned off, five audible chimes and a message in the driver information center remind you to check the second-row.

I also liked the dual SkyScape power sunroofs; having them gave the Acadia an open feel, making the inside of the vehicle seem even larger.


photo courtesy of GMC

Once we reached the Camden Harbor, we loaded into a lobster boat and took a short cruise.


We saw the two Camden lighthouses …

And we got to help bring in a lobster trap!


There’s a fish head in there for bait; it was nasty.

Inside we found two lobsters and a crab; that was another first for me. One lobster was too small to keep, so we threw it back; this one was a keeper. The female crab also went back into the bay.

Side note: In Camden, we learned that if a female lobster is caught with eggs on her tail, they will notch the second uropod (small tail fin) from the right. That way, if the lobster is caught later, the catcher will know that it is a reproducing female, and it will be released again. There is a tool that trappers use to measure lobsters that hooks in behind their eye and measures to the end of their carapace. If the lobster is too small it goes back, and if it is too large it also goes back.


Our next stop was the Camden Hills State Park for lunch. If you’ve never been to Camden, Maine and you have the chance to go, you should take it! The town is cute with lots of neat places to eat, shop, and plenty to see; the surrounding area is wooded and quite frankly gorgeous.


After lunch, we loaded into the Acadia again and headed to our next destination, Hadley Point Campground outside of Bar Harbor. This campground has spots for campers and tents, but they also have cabins you can rent. Helena and I were put in a cabin (with an excellent heater — yay!), and that’s about the closest I’ve come to camping since I was a teen; we called it glamping. 😉

It rained that whole night, and it was still raining heavily when Helena and I headed out at 5am to drive to the Bangor airport, about an hour and a half away. It was nice to be able to use the remote start to get the car warm as we loaded it in the cold rain. On the road, once again, I felt safe and stable in the Acadia, driving in what were really not ideal driving conditions. The High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps were bright enough so that I could confidently see on the dark highway, and

On the road, once again, I felt safe and stable in the Acadia; we were driving in what were really not ideal driving conditions. The High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps were bright enough so that I could confidently see on the dark highway, and I felt secure while driving.

My biggest takeaway from the experience, beyond some Maine-related souvenirs, was that the 2017 GMC Acadia, specifically the AWD Acadia Denali, is an SUV that any busy family would be proud to own. It rides up to 7 comfortably, and it handles like a much smaller vehicle than it feels like you’re riding in. It is means of transportation that makes getting there as enjoyable as being there.

You can learn more about the 2017 GMC Acadia Denali here.

Disclosure: GMC paid for my travel, room, and meals; there were no conditions or expectations made regarding what I chose to write about with regard to my experience.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.