Unlike the GMC Yukon and other truck-based SUVs, the Acadia is based on an all-new carlike platform. Because it doesn't use a truck's heavy-duty underpinnings, there's more room in the cabin for seating, particularly in the fold-flat third row and the second-row bench or captain's chairs. Indeed, with my test vehicle's captain's chairs, the Acadia had a touch of minivan to it. GM isn't planning on producing any new minivans, so the Acadia and its siblings — including the Saturn Outlook — are as close to one as you're going to get from the automaker. GM also knows that minivans — while functional — have an image problem, so a vehicle that gets similar gas mileage (an estimated 18/26 mpg, city/highway) while offering optional all-wheel drive (with slightly worse mileage figures of 17/24 mpg) could garner a big fanbase.
The Acadia has high-quality cabin materials for a vehicle priced just over $35,000, as tested. That includes large, comfortable leather seats for the driver and passenger. The seats are heated and can warm both the seat bottom and back or just the back. For some reason, GM is one of the few companies that offers this setup, which is a dream come true for those of us with stiff backs.
My wife, who isn't a fan of minivans or large SUVs, really liked the comfort and roominess of the Acadia. There are plenty of storage areas — including a large center bin that can swallow just about anything — clear gauges and easy-to-use buttons. However, some environmental buttons, like front and rear defrost, are a tad too small to use blindly.
The best features, though, and the ones that will sell the Acadia to families with kids, are the easy-to-configure second- and third-row seats. One of our editors, who has three kids, raved about the space the Acadia had for them, as well as how easy it was to access the third row and fold it flat into the floor. The second-row captain's chairs also fold flat and slide to create a larger cargo area for hauling long items. With the third row folded flat, four people could enjoy a long trip with plenty of room for luggage, golf clubs, camping gear, etc.
With all the interior has going for it, it's easy to forget how good-looking the Acadia is from the outside. The large grille and its giant GMC logo add a nice manly touch, while the stylized rear end hints that someone with fashion sense resides inside GM's design studio. Thinking this was a "man's" vehicle, I was surprised to hear my fashion-conscious wife call it "cute." How can it be both manly and cute? I'm not sure, but I think calling it "handsome" sums things up.
One reason the Acadia gets better gas mileage than traditional SUVs is its V-6 engine. Many full-size SUVs are offered with thirsty V-8s, but the Acadia only comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 275 horsepower, which is quite good for a six-cylinder. The engine is still charged with moving a considerable amount of metal around suburbia, but you barely notice the weight when traveling without a full load. The transmission was relatively smooth, and accelerating on the highway wasn't any more difficult than in a large SUV with a V-8.
What the Acadia does exceptionally well for such a large vehicle is corner. There is very little body roll, even when taking tight off-ramps at speed. This adds to the Acadia's reassuring nature as an SUV alternative. Large SUVs, with their higher centers of gravity, often feel tippy in similar situations.
The steering is intuitive and rather light, which allows the driver to feel more in command. Braking is solid; after slamming on the brake pedal a few times you can really tell this vehicle is not truck-based. The feedback comes in a more linear, carlike manner.
After a week of commuting and errand-running in the Acadia, I felt completely comfortable behind the wheel, as if I had been driving it for years. It didn't offer any driving thrills, but its reassuring atmosphere should be a stronger selling point in this class.
For most shoppers, the key feature will be the standard third-row seat. It has adequate room for children, but adults will not find it accommodating for more than a short trip. An optional second-row bench seat replaces the comfortable captain's chairs, which brings the price down by $495. If the kids are in the tween or older set, they'll probably prefer the space between the two captain's chairs, though.
Another must is the power liftgate, which unfortunately isn't available as an option on the base SLE; it can be had for $390 on the SLT 1 trim and is standard on the SLT 2. This is one of those modern-day conveniences that, once you've had it, you can't do without. Other options include a dual power sunroof ($1,300) and a rear DVD entertainment system ($1,295).
My front-wheel-drive SLT 1 tester was equipped with the DVD system, satellite radio, leather seats, a power liftgate and a head-up display; it came in under $36,000. I couldn't imagine adding anything else to that, and I didn't miss the sunroof. At that price, with those options, the Acadia offers a lot of value. All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels for $2,000.
The Acadia, like most new crossovers and SUVs, features a standard electronic stability system that includes rollover mitigation technology, often considered the most vital of today's safety features in SUVs. There are also front-seat mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags for all three rows.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Acadia its top rating, five stars, in frontal and side-impact crash tests, and a four-star rollover rating, which is above average for crossovers and SUVs. The total score is actually higher than the Volvo XC90's.
As of publication, the more stringent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had not tested the Acadia.
Acadia in the Market
The three-row crossover segment is getting increasingly crowded these days, as car shoppers shift from minivans and truck-based SUVs to car-based vehicles like the Acadia. It has a number of competitors — including the new Mazda CX-9, the Hyundai Veracruz and the upcoming, redesigned Toyota Highlander — that offer similar value, safety and performance. Among domestic manufacturers, however, there's only the GMC Acadia and its twin, the Outlook, fighting for shoppers' attention. Vehicles like the Ford Freestyle and Chrysler Pacifica, which came into the segment before their time, are now showing their age
The Acadia could easily win over buyers on looks alone, and it's no slouch in the value, safety and features departments, either. It might be exactly what GM wants it so desperately to be: a cool replacement for the minivan.
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