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 uses 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, both inside and out.
The Acadia can seat seven or 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, a benefit of its lighter weight and more efficient powertrain. We've think the Acadia delivers what most people want from a full-size SUV. For starters, it's big and roomy inside. The driver sits high off the ground and has a commanding view of the road. There are three rows of seating, and rear-seat DVD entertainment is available.
The only places where the Acadia falls short of truck-based SUVs are in heavy-duty towing or for slogging through military-grade muck. Properly equipped, the GMC Acadia can tow 5,200 pounds, while a Yukon is rated to pull 7,500 pounds or more. Based on the Sierra full-size pickup, the Yukon can handle rugged terrain that the Acadia cannot. The Acadia offers all-wheel drive for capability in stormy or snowy weather and it's fine for unpaved roads, but it's not meant for true off-road use. That's plenty for most people.
On the road, the Acadia offers superb driving 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 responsive and sophisticated and supplies good acceleration performance. Its six-speed automatic transmission is 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. The Acadia comes loaded with comprehensive safety equipment, including side-curtain airbags that provide head protection, side-impact airbags for torso protection and StabiliTrak electronic stability control and other active safety features that can help the driver avoid accidents.
For 2010, the changes are few. There are available 20-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, USB connectivity in the center console, a Yukon Denali-style roof rack and an available Cashmere interior.
At 201.1 inches overall, the GMC Acadia is a lot longer than a Ford Explorer. The Acadia shares its basic mechanical components with the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse.
The exterior design team for the Acadia managed to give a relatively large vehicle a look that has moved away from bulky without sacrificing a kind of active grace. 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 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. Power-adjustable outside mirrors are standard on all models. Body-color outside mirrors with integrated turn signals are standard on SLT, with a power-folding function available as an option.
From the rear, the Acadia looks like a generic crossover SUV, accented by interesting two-tone taillight clusters and quad exhaust tips.
The 18-inch wheels and tires that come standard are a good choice for the Acadia, offering the best ride quality, but it's also available with 19-inch and 20-inch wheels. The Acadia has the visual mass to support the big-diameter wheels, but the bright 20-inchers are too dazzling for our tastes.
The Acadia SLT has a handsome and upscale look. The designers of the Acadia stayed away from cheap-looking plastic and bargain-basement cloth, but did not lose track of basic functionality. 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 welcome, 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 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 on the rearview mirror hard to see. A larger image on a navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful.
Eight-passenger seating comes standard, with a 60/40 split bench in the second row that can accommodate three people. The up-level models have second-row captain's chairs, which cut passenger capacity to seven but are more comfortable. Either model can be ordered with the other seating arrangement. This is an important choice that deserves careful consideration: Models with second-row captain's chairs are less functional for hauling cargo.
The specifications list second-row legroom as 36.9 inches. To provide a little more flexibility, the Acadia's second row slides fore and aft a total of four inches. According to GM, those 36.9 inches are 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 an early model Acadia we tested, but we found it to be easy to use on other GM models. 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 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.
Cargo capacity is generous, with 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That's more than the trunk space of a mid-size sedan and measurably more than what's offered by the Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer. 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. 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. In all cargo dimensions, the Acadia offers ample and generous capacity and outstrips many competitors, including the Pilot and 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 SLT with AWD 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 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 on slippery surfaces. 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 help prevent that as well.
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 manages front-to-rear torque distribution to enhance stability and control.
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, and it is powerful, efficient and flexible. It is rated at 288 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. That's considerably more than most other V6 engines and roughly comparable to some V8 powerplants. The towing capacity is 5,200 pounds.
In addition, the Acadia benefits from a six-speed automatic transmission, which means the vehicle responds 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; 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 2010 Acadia all-wheel drive is 16/23 mpg City/Highway. The front-wheel-drive Acadia is rated 17/24 mpg.
The GMC Acadia offers the people and cargo hauling capability of a full-size SUV with significantly better fuel efficiency and comfort. The Acadia can carry up 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 is a far better choice 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.