You might call it the Year of the Denali at General Motors Co.’s GMC division: the GM unit with a reputation for hard-working trucks is adding the top-of-the-line, high-scaling Denali trim to its Sierra heavy duty pickup and Acadia crossover models for the 2011 model year.

Since its introduction as an 2007 model GMC’s first-ever crossover, the Acadia, has been a successful and popular choice for buyers who want crossover styling with utility, as well as seating for seven or even eight passengers.

Although little about the Acadia has ever been downmarket, adding the new Denali trim level makes it an intriguing choice at $45,220 in the market for crossovers with three rows of seating, positioning it as an upscale option to family crossovers such as the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. In many senses, these three-row crossovers have emerged as minivans for people who don’t want minivans.

The Acadia Denali is a magnificent-looking “truck,” particularly from the front, where the Denali-specific chrome grille, monochromatic lower area below the grille mesh with the techy-looking high-intensity-discharge headlights to impart a sharply avant-garde look. While other Acadias use contrasting lower-body pieces, the Denali’s body-colored trim and fender flares — not to mention its giant, 20-inch chrome alloy wheels — further integrate the unique bodywork of the Denali.

Everywhere we went, onlookers stared with appreciation. The Acadia Denali is “bling” with class. Opting for the Denali brings plenty of unique interior fittings, too. You can get Acadias with leather, of course, but the Denali trim delivers an especially lustrous perforated leather for the seats and a steering wheel that combines leather with mahogany inserts. The front seats are heated and cooled.

Other Denali-specific goodies we found worthwhile include the head-up display that softly but distinctly projects speed and your choice of secondary information onto the windshield in front of the driver. The windshield itself is specially laminated to cut wind noise and there are exclusive sound-deadening features elsewhere, too, all of which makes the 2011 Acadia Denali a stunningly tranquil tool for high-speed cruising.

The Acadia Denali gets the same direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic transmission that propel the rest of the Acadia lineup, and although this V-6’s 288 horsepower is energetic enough to assure the Acadia never feels underpowered, it would have been a nice touch to find a way to give up a few more ponies for those who plump the extra money for the Denali.

We think it would be better to simply make the Denali an “everything’s included” trim, because our tester still had plenty of pricey options, including an excellent DVD-based navigation/audio unit ($1,890) and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. We slobbered over the lustrous finish of the Acadia Denali’s White Diamond Tricote paint, but it, too, was $795 extra. And for such a grand price, we wondered why the split/rear-bench seat didn’t fold electrically, a feature sometimes seen at less-expensive price points.

The 2011 GMC Acadia Denali does have a certain aspect that’s worth considering: although it’s as-tested price of slightly more than $50,000 isn’t exactly everyday money, the Acadia Denali still costs thousands — maybe tens of thousands — less than luxury crossovers from names such as BMW and Lexus, and those models typically offer seating for just five.

GMC’s Acadia Denali is a fairly unique animal, then, one that blends the utility and all-weather capability of a full-size crossover with the appointments and features you’d expect only from a luxury brand. –– Bill Visnic, Motor Matters

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