The GMC Acadia offers the utility of a big SUV with the refinement and fuel-efficiency of a car. The Acadia is a crossover SUV, meaning it looks like a truck but it has unibody construction like a car.
Crossovers have been gaining in popularity because they make so much sense for so many families, but what sets the Acadia apart is its size: It's big, similar in size to the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe, inside and out.
Acadia can seat eight. And it can carry a lot of cargo. Yet it offers a fuel economy advantage of three-to-five miles per gallon over a Yukon, benefits of its lighter weight and more efficient engine.
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 5,200 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 288-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.
The 2009 Acadia gets a more powerful engine and some new equipment. The 3.6-liter V6 engine adds direct-injection, upping horsepower from 275 to 288 and torque from 251 to 270 pound-feet. New features include a standard Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, real-time traffic information for the available navigation system, available heated and cooled front seats, and a 115-volt power outlet that comes with the rear DVD entertainment system. A rear-view camera that projects its image on the rearview mirror is also new. Finally, towing capacity is upped from 4500 to 5200 pounds.
At 201 inches overall, the GMC Acadia is a foot longer than a Honda Pilot and almost 8 inches longer than a Ford Explorer. The GMC Acadia shares its basic mechanical components with the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and Saturn Outlook.
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 bright 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) headlights 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 the 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 come with the SLT2 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 tastes.
The interior of the SLT2 model that we drove had a handsome and upscale look. General Motors has acknowledged the interiors of many GM vehicles needed to be upgraded, and the Acadia engineers banished cheap-looking plastic and bargain-basement cloth. Their effort shows in the Acadia.
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 now projects its image on the navigation screen or the rearview mirror. The smaller image on the rearview mirror is right in your line of sight when looking at the rearview mirror to back up. However, in a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the small image hard to see. A larger image on the navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful.
The 2009 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 have standard 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.
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-footer 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 on the early model Acadia we tested, but we found it to be easy to use on the Acadia's Traverse and Outlook siblings. Give it a try yourself at the dealership. It shouldn't take too long to figure out.
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 children back there will be possible, but three adults probably won't fit. Two adults will fit, though, with good head room and adequate leg room. Just don't plan to keep them back there on long trips because the low seat bottoms lack thigh support.
Acadia triumphs in cargo capacity. It has 24.1 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 almost flat, and there is a cavernous 115.9 cubic feet of cargo volume. That compares to 87.6 cubic feet in the Pilot and 85.8 cubic feet in the Explorer.
The GMC Acadia is big and heavy, but the engineers have done a good job of concealing its size when it comes to driving.
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 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 be much more 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 feel is firm, and that makes it easy to modulate the brakes in heavy traffic, shaving off a lot of speed or just a little bit.
StabiliTrak, GM's 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. If the system detects a possible rollover, it reacts to prevent that aw well. 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.
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. For 2009, it also adds direct injection, which boosts both power and fuel economy. The V6 is now rated at 288 hp at 6300 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm (up from 275 hp and 251 pound-feet). That's considerably 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. Towing capacity is also increased from 4500 to 5200 pounds.
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.
On the road, the Acadia's powertrain is impressive. The six-speed automatic is quick to downshift while upshifts aren't jerky. We found the V6 to be more than up to the task without direct injection, and it is now slightly more responsive. Acceleration is more than adequate with one or two adults aboard, and the Acadia has no problem keeping up with traffic.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2009 Acadia all-wheel drive 16/23 mpg City/Highway. The two-wheel-drive Acadia is rated 17/24 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. With its pleasant road manners, considerable space and admirable fuel economy, the Acadia and its siblings are far better choices than traditional SUVs for anyone who doesn't need to tow a heavy trailer.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell reported from Chicago, with John Katz in Pennsylvania.