We've found the Acadia delivers what most people like about full-size SUVs. For starters, it's big and roomy. The driver sits high off the ground and benefits from that commanding view down the road that many like. Features like rear-seat DVD entertainment make it a good choice for families.
The only places where the Acadia falls short of truck-based SUVs is in heavy-duty towing or for slogging through military-grade muck. Properly equipped, the GMC Acadia can tow 4,500 pound, while a Yukon is rated to pull 7,500 pounds or more. Based on the Silverado pickup, the Yukon can handle rugged terrain. The Acadia offers all-wheel drive for capability in stormy or snowy weather and it's fine for unpaved roads. That's plenty of capability for most people.
The Acadia offers superb road manners, whether on country roads, rough city streets or pock-marked freeways. It absorbs rough pavement in a soothing manner and takes corners reassuringly for such a large vehicle. It handles better and is smoother than a Yukon and other truck-based SUVs. GMC's 275-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is smooth and sophisticated and supplies good acceleration performance. Its six-speed automatic transmission is responsive, smooth and efficient, further aiding fuel economy.
Three rows of seats provide room for seven or eight, though it's more comfortable with six. Two adults and two or three children plus their belongings can be carried with ease. Acadia comes loaded with safety equipment, including curtain air bags that provide head protection and side-impact airbags that provide torso protection; electronic stability control and other active safety features can help the driver avoid accidents.
For 2008, Acadia comes standard with Brake Assist, which helps the driver apply full braking performance in a panic stop. A rearview camera now comes with the optional navigation system, and we recommend it highly to help the driver avoid a tragic accident when backing up. Improvements to the all-wheel-drive and traction-control systems enhance and refine their performance for 2008. XM Satellite Radio comes standard on the 2008 Acadia. A second-row center console has been added to seven-seat models, there are new metallic colors, and other equipment added for 2008.
GMC Acadia SLE ($29,735); SLT ($34,270); SLE AWD ($31,765); SLT AWD ($36,300);
The exterior design team for the GMC Acadia managed to give a relatively large vehicle a look that has moved away from bulky without sacrificing a kind of active grace. Happily GMC has avoided the threatening-SUV school of design that has been so popular.
The rounded front end features a bight grille surround framing a prominent GMC emblem. Distinctively curved headlight clusters give the Acadia a slightly startled expression. Projector beams are standard; high-intensity discharge (HID) head lights are optional. Small round fog lights nestle below. The front bumper is massive, but this is camouflaged somewhat by its black color and by a bright strip at the top.
Most noticeable from the side are rounded fender flares and a horizontal character line that sets out to connect them but disappears into the doors instead. Tasteful bright trim and polished aluminum roof rails add visual interest. The shape of the Acadia is aerodynamically efficient (for an SUV), with a drag coefficient of 0.344. Heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors are standard on all models. Body-color outside mirrors with integrated turn signals are standard on SLT; power-folding mirrors with integrated turn signals and auto-dimming come with the SLT-2 package.
The rear view is generic SUV/crossover accented by interesting two-tone taillight clusters and quad exhaust tips.
Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are standard, and 19-inch wheels are available. The Acadia has the visual mass to support the big rollers, but the bright 19-inchers are too dazzling for our taste.
They did not lose track of basic functionality, however. The heating and cooling controls are easy to find and use. The instruments are legible, not lost in some fussy attempt at a complex design.
Big cupholders and a deep bin between the front seats are a plus, but the pockets on the inside door panels are too narrow for any meaningful storage.
The front seats are wide and comfortable. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, making it easy for drivers tall and short to get comfortable. As with any SUV, the driver sits high, with a good view down the road. But visibility to the rear isn't great, requiring care when backing up. We recommend opting for ultrasonic rear park assist, which can detect objects out of the driver's line of sight. We further recommend getting the rearview camera, which comes with the navigation system.
The 2008 Acadia SLE comes standard with eight-passenger seating; a 60/40 split bench in the second row accommodates three people. The up-level SLT models come standard with second-row captain's chairs; they cut passenger capacity to seven but are more comfortable. Either model can be ordered with the other seating arrangement, however, for extra cost on the SLE or a credit on the SLT. If you carry a lot of cargo, it's worth assessing these two second-row configurations in that regard, as well.
GM says the second row has 36.9 inches of leg room, which is equal to the Explorer and a little short of the Pilot's 37.4. To provide a little more flexibility the Acadia's second row slides fore and aft a total of four inches. According to GM, that 36.9 inches is measured with the seat roughly in the middle of that range. We found that with the second row in the rearmost position a six-foot adult can be comfortable in the driver's seat while another six-foot adult can be seated directly behind without being cramped.
Getting to the third row involves using what GM calls its Smart Slide feature. A handle moves the second row up and out of the way. It didn't work particularly well for us, but that may have been because we tried it on a very early model. It would be a good thing to check at the dealership.
As in most vehicles, the Acadia's third row is best suited for small children. But here is the fine print when GMC says the Acadia is a seven- or eight-passenger vehicle: GM assumes three people are sitting in the third row, which has about nine inches less hip room than the second row. Putting three people back there will be a tight fit even for small children.
Acadia triumphs in cargo capacity. It has almost 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row; that's more than the trunk space of a mid-size sedan and compares to less than 16 cubic feet for the Pilot and less than 14 cubic feet for a seven-passenger Explorer. (However, automakers often make these calculations filling the space to the roof, blocking the rearward view, something you can't do in a sedan trunk.) A small plastic-lined bin below the floor of the Acadia's cargo compartment is perfect for carrying messy stuff.
More cargo capacity is revealed by folding down the back seats. The third row folds down easily, and a strap is used to pull it back up. It is not an upper-body workout but does require effort. With the third row folded down the Acadia's cargo-carrying advantage continues with nearly 69 cubic feet of space; that compares to about 44 cubic feet for the Explorer and almost 48 cubic feet for the Pilot. One nice feature is that lowering the second or third rows on the Acadia does not require removing the head restraints. When the second and third rows are folded the cargo area is al
The steering isn't so heavy that any serious effort is required, even in a parking lot, but it offers enough weight that it doesn't feel disconnected, either. It quickly gives the driver a feeling of confidence about where the vehicle is heading and how it will respond. The Acadia turns into corners responsively and feels locked down and stable on the freeway. Drive it harder and there is no denying it's a big, heavy vehicle. An Acadia AWD SLT-2 weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. That's about 750 pounds lighter than a Yukon or Tahoe, but it's about 500 pounds heavier than a Honda Pilot.
The Acadia uses an independent suspension in the front and rear, just like most modern cars; and this provides a well-rounded blend of ride and handling. Bumps, tar strips and potholes are felt but only distantly, without the slam-bam jarring that is part of life in a truck-based SUV. If you're used to driving a traditional SUV, the Acadia will feel smooth and refined. The Acadia feels strong and rigid and it doesn't quiver on bumps. Unwanted body motions are nicely controlled, so there isn't a sloppy feeling.
The brake pedal feels firm, and that makes it easy to modulate the brakes in heavy traffic, shaving off a lot of speed or just a little bit. New for 2008 is Brake Assist: When panic braking is detected, the system automatically applies additional brake pressure to more quickly engage the ABS. This can reduce the overall stopping distance.
StabiliTrak, GM's superb electronic stability control system comes standard and can help the driver maintain control. The system uses sensors to tell if the front or rear of the vehicle is sliding and corrects for the skid. The Acadia is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter adding stability in foul weather.
The all-wheel drive system is permanently engaged and does not require the driver to do anything but drive. A computer sends the power to where it can do the most good. GM calls it Intelligent AWD, which essentially means that it communicates with the StabiliTrak system, adding front-to-rear torque distribution to the array of tools StabiliTrak can use to keep the vehicle on the road. The Acadia's Intelligent AWD has been re-tuned for 2008 to provide more rear torque bias in certain conditions.
Also refined for 2008 is Acadia's traction control system. It now enables less engine torque during turns, and the transmission's shift schedule now adapts when the traction control is engaged. GMC says this adds up to smoother control on varied surfaces, and enhanced cooperation with the Intelligent AWD.
Those who wonder whether a V6 is enough engine to handle such a big vehicle have a valid concern, but the Acadia's V6 is a relatively new engine with variable-valve timing designed to make it more powerful, efficient and flexible. The V6 is rated at 275 hp at 6600 rpm and 251 pound-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. That is more than the Pilot's 244 hp and approaches the 292 hp of the Explorer's V8, while the Explorer's V6 is rated at 210 hp.
In addition, the Acadia benefits from a six-speed automatic transmission. The Pilot and V6 Explorer use five-speed automatics, though the V8 Explorer gets a six-speed. The additional gear means smart engineers can make the vehicle respond more quickly to the gas pedal while also providing better fuel economy than in a vehicle with fewer gears.
We found the Acadia's powertrain impressive. The six-speed automatic was quick to downshift while upshifts weren't jerky. Acceleration was more than adequate with one or two adults aboard.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2008 Acadia all-wheel drive 16/22 mpg City/Highway. The two-wheel-drive Acadia is rated 16/24 mpg. That compares to 15/20 mpg for the Honda Pilot 4WD.
The GMC Acadia offers the people and cargo hauling capability of a full-size SUV with significantly improved fuel efficiency and comfort. Acadia can carry six to eight people in comfort. On the road, it's smooth and handles well.
Christopher Jensen filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from New Hampshire. John Katz provided styling commentary from Pennsylvania.