If you’re a male Mexican immigrant, the American dream isn’t citizenship, a house, or a nice gabachita: it’s a GMC Yukon. It tells the world You’ve Made It: You’ve got the money to drop upwards of $40,000 on an SUV—and not just any SUV. The Yukon ain’t conspicuous consumption: it’s the perfect michelada of class, size, utility, and power. Machismo at its best, on four wheels.
And that’s why in 2002, my dad traded in our Ford Explorer (a starter SUV) for a brand-new 2002 Yukon. He didn’t need to buy it at that point for his expressed purpose of ferrying us kids around—I was already puttering around in my Toyota Camry, and my other sister already had a car, leaving only my teenage siblings to fit into that beast along with my parents. But it was a point of pride for my dad to roll into quinceañeras and weddings in his Yukon, along all the other men of the ranchos (the cousins had big-ass trucks, but that’s another story).
We rolled our eyes at my dad’s empty Yukon—or at least I did until 2008, when I asked him if I could borrow it for an epic road trip to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and back. The trip was so much fun, that my wife and I have done it every year since—and every year we took the Yukon, so sturdy and gigantic and dependable it was.
But for this year, I wanted to try something different—or rather, I didn’t want to pay for new tires on my dad’s Yukon. A pal who knows people said they could connect me with GMC’s next-biggest SUV: an Acadia, which had just been turned into a crossover SUV, whatever the hell that means.
“It means it’s not a tank like a Yukon, but handles better like car,” my pal said.
“But is it big like a Yukon?” I asked. “I need as much space as possible for all the booze I’m bringing back.”
“Basically,” the pal responded.
What do friends know? My heart sank a bit when I finally got the Acadia Denali. It was big—but it wasn’t as big as my dad’s Yukon. Great, I thought: I won’t be able to bring back as much moonshine barrels this year as previous. My liver did not approve.
But then I got into the Acadia and drove.
And oh, did I drive it. Most car brands let critics drive their automobiles for a week—but only a couple of hundred of miles, and only within five-hour radiuses of a critic’s base. Most car reviews don’t take their subject through the Continental Divide, through the stark beauty of New Mexico’s Llano Estacado, into a rainstorm in the Texas Panhandle (ain’t no rain like Panhandle rain, I tell you what). Most car critics don’t burn 90 m.p.h through blistering Oklahoma heat, through the foreboding slopes of Missouri’s Interstate 44 (quick aside: Missouri drives are underrated for being batshit loco) and the straight shot that’s Interstate 64 through the southern tips of Illinois and Indiana right into Kentucky. Reviewers tend not to park in swampy hills in Pall Mall (pronounced “Pell Mahl”), Tennessee, or stop in rained-out clay lots near Danville, Kentucky, or cut through the Volunteer State on Tennessee State Route 30, where the road around Little Mountain is at an angle—and there’s no guard rail to protect you in case you swerve off the ledge.
More tests for the Acadia? Down I-25 to Hatch, New Mexico. Through the quick turns of I-10 between New Mexico and Arizona. Into the punishing isolation of Interstate 8 in Arizona, where the electronic oil gage just outside the Phoenix bypass was at 2 % and there wasn’t a gas station in sight. Up the mountains in the eastern edges of San Diego County, which go from sea level to 4,000 feet in the time it takes Howard Stern to berate Sal the Stockbrocker about his perverted ways. And into the urban jungle that’s Interstate 5.
4,500 rough, non-stop miles in two weeks. And the Acadia Denali not only handled them like a car, but rumbled through them like a Yukon—smooth and strong AF. It never gave a problem, it zipped like a hatchback, the built-in cameras that flashed on the dash gave you the sense you were in Grand Theft Auto, and it got 26 m.p.h on the highway, just like GMC said it would.
And it turned out the Acadia was only five inches shorter and less wide than the 2002 GMC (though less tall by nearly a foot). I fit in everything I needed just fine.
Critiques? Just a few, weird ones. There was a weird gap on the top left of the dash, near where the dash met the window, that messes up the symmetry of it and that I had no idea what it was until I pulled over outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas to make sure I closed the gas tank. As I drove over the ruts on the side of the freeway, a laser-bright red light flashed from that gap—it’s to ensure sleepy drivers don’t doze off to death. Although I understand its use, I’d move it to somewhere on the dashboard, to not distract from the car’s aesthetic.
I wanted to run the Acadia to its limits, and took a full gas tank from Fort Smith to just outside Amarillo, Texas—that’s 441 miles! And while the gas needle lit up that the car was low on fuel, I was going by the electronic gas monitor that said I had 45 miles left of gas. Then it said 46—then it freaked out and said I needed fuel ASAP. There’s a gas monitor that gives you an estimate of how far you can travel—at one point, it said 600 miles, which I don’t believe. Just further proof to not put all your trust in technology, fam.
And while there was a roof rack, it didn’t have stops like my dad’s Yukon that ensured the wind resistance that happens when you’re barreling down I-40 at two in the morning wouldn’t push any strapped-down camper bag on top to the back. The Acadia didn’t have those gaps, so the straps slid and pushed the camper bag into the built-in antennae at the back and blocked the Sirius XM from time to time—so did George Takei and Brad ever get with that bi Aussie?
But those were minor details. When I came back to the office, I asked OC Weekly owner Duncan McIntosh if his shiny GMC SUV was an Acadia. “It is,” he replied, before raving about its charms. And that’s the beauty of this car: it can please the yacht and paisa class alike.
The 2017 GMC Acadia Denanli ain’t cheap—$45K MSRP. But it’s worth it—and I didn’t even have to use most of its features, like the four-wheel drive or the adaptive cruise control or the sun roof or moon roof. And its GPS system worked perfectly in the hollers of Kentucky, where my smartphone couldn’t get any service whatsoever. I’m assuming GMC wants surburbanites to drive the Acadia, but raza: it’s great for dads and pochos alike.
And GMC? If you didn’t know how much Mexicans love their Yukons…well, now you know. Gotta hire better consultants, you know? Just cruise down Bristol for a second and you’ll find ’em—trust me…