Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New Denali model joins line of big crossover SUVs.
The GMC Acadia can seat seven or eight and haul a big pile of cargo. Acadia has been updated for the 2013 model year.
For 2013, the front and rear styling has been refreshed, the entertainment systems update and fitted with color touch-screens, mechanicals retuned for smoother operation, an airbag between the front seats added to all but base models, rear park assist and camera are now standard, and a blind-spot warning system appears on top-line versions.
Inside and out, the Acadia is similar in size to the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe. It's more refined, offers sharper handling, and gets slightly better fuel mileage than a full-size SUV, however. A crossover, it's constructed more like a car than a truck, so it's a little lighter and has a more rigid body than a truck does.
Every Acadia comes with a modern 3.6-liter V6 engine of 288 horsepower, 6-speed automatic transmission, and front- or all-wheel drive.
The 2013 Acadia ranges from the rental-grade SLE1 to the luxurious Denali. The entry SL trim has been dropped. The GMC Acadia shares its basic structure with the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. Acadia shoppers on tight budget should look to the Chevrolet Traverse. And if a Denali isn't fancy enough or you prefer even quieter and softer, check out the Buick Enclave.
Acadia delivers what most people want from a full-size SUV. The driver sits high off the ground and has a commanding view of the road. The Acadia can carry a lot of cargo. We found it seats six adults comfortably. Rear-seat DVD entertainment is available.
The only places where the Acadia falls short of truck-based SUVs are in heavy-duty towing or slogging through muck or over rugged terrain. Properly equipped, the GMC Acadia can tow 5,200 pounds, while a Yukon is rated to pull 3,000 pounds more. The Yukon is derived from the Sierra full-size pickup, so it has ground clearance, low-range 4WD and the chassis to regularly handle terrain unsuitable for the Acadia. But you may not need that capability. Acadia offers all-wheel drive for stormy or snowy weather, and it's fine for unpaved roads. That's plenty for most people.
On the road, the Acadia handles better and is smoother than a Yukon and other truck-based SUVs. It offers excellent driving manners, whether on country roads, rough city streets or pock-marked freeways. It smoothes bumpy pavement and takes corners in a reassuring manner for a large vehicle.
The 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is responsive and efficient and supplies good acceleration. Its 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth and efficient, further aiding fuel economy.
Acadia comes with required 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 help the driver avoid accidents.
The GMC Acadia shares platforms with the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse. It was launched as a 2007 model; the 3.6-liter V6 was revised for 2009. For 2011, the Denali luxury model was added.
The 2013 GMC Acadia comes in SLE, SLT, and Denali trim levels, all with the 3.6-liter V6. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive optional ($2,000).
Acadia SLE1 ($34,050) come with cloth upholstery, air conditioning with rear controls, rear park assist, rearview camera, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power outside mirrors, power windows, programmable door locks with remote keyless entry, four-way manually adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, three-passenger 60/40 split second-row bench seat, three-passenger 60/40 split third-row bench seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB audio with XM Satellite Radio (3 month trial), Bluetooth, OnStar Directions & Connections (6 months), automatic headlamps, daytime running lights, rear spoiler, roof rails and P255/65R18 tires on aluminum wheels. Acadia SLE2 ($37,940) adds a power liftgate, power front seats, front center airbag, IntelliLink infotainment, auto-dimming inside mirror, remote start and more option availability.
Acadia SLT1 ($39,780) upgrades to leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control with rear controls, aluminum cabin trim, fog lights, heated front seats, heated power mirrors, Bose 10-speaker sound system, universal garage-door opener, variable effort power steering, P265/60HR19 tires on alloy wheels and more options, including navigation. Acadia SLT2 ($41,200) further adds driver memory system, blind spot warning, and more passenger seat adjustments. It also offers options exclusive in the sub-Denali line including heated/cooled front seats and a Technology package (head-up display, HID headlamps and cargo area audio controls).
Acadia Denali ($45,945) features special trim, with a monochromatic exterior, unique front and rear fascias, chrome honeycomb grille, HID headlamps, and 20-inch black-and-chrome wheels. The cabin has mahogany interior trim, perforated heated/cooled leather seats, power tilt/telescoping column, dual sunroof, head-up display, illuminated sill plates, and Bose 10-speaker sound system, among other things. Options include a DVD rear entertainment system, chrome-clad alloy wheels, roof rack cross bars, Bose surround sound system, navigation, Cocoa Dune leather and some miscellany like all-weather floor mats.
Safety features on all Acadia models include dual frontal airbags, side-curtain airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger, OnStar, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation. A front center airbag between the front seats is standard on all but SLE1. 2013 Acadia models come with OnStar, which uses a global positioning system and a powerful cellular signal to put the driver in touch with the OnStar center, which can tell where the vehicle is located and send help or provide other assistance. Should the airbags deploy, the system will automatically notify the OnStar center that an accident has occurred and where the vehicle is located so it can then send help. OnStar service is free for the first year but after that requires a subscription fee.
The GMC Acadia shares its size and overall features with the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. Measuring 201 inches, an Acadia is a few inches longer than a Ford Explorer and about the same size as the GMC Yukon or a van.
Acadia is a big vehicle that uses short overhangs to look more like a Grand Cherokee than the large size it is. The front end is a rounded version of GMC trucks' block, with a new three-bar grille and prominent GMC emblem. Distinctively angled headlight clusters give the Acadia a slightly startled expression. Projector beams are standard, while high-intensity discharge headlights are optional. Small round fog lights nestle below. The front bumper is massive, but the size is lost by splitting the bumper heights between grilles and lights.
From the side, the rounded fender flares are prominent, and a horizontal character line sets out to connect them but disappears into the doors instead. The shape of the Acadia is aerodynamically efficient for an SUV, with a drag coefficient of 0.344, but remember that is multiplied by frontal area (of which it has plenty) for total aerodynamic drag. Power-adjustable outside mirrors are standard on all models, some with integrated turn signals and heated elements.
From the rear, the Acadia's new taillights look more like a generic crossover, but pulling the side glass to the hatch glass keeps a dark band around the rear, making the roof appear cantilevered over it. Some models sport overt tailpipes, others hide them.
The standard 18-inch wheels and tires 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 Denali has its own look, with more body-color trim and the Bentley-esque mesh grille inserts. Denali comes only with 20-inch wheels.
Acadia has three rows of seats and can seat seven or eight, though it's squeezed past six. To get eight, GM assumes three people are sitting in the third row, but there is scant hip room or legroom. Three children might squeak, but three adults won't fit; for that, you need a van.
The Acadia SLT cabin has a handsome and upscale look, with leather upholstery standard. The designers of the Acadia stayed away from cheap-looking plastic and bargain-basement cloth. Yet they 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 most crossovers, the driver sits high, with a good view down the road. Pillars could be smaller, but top-line models do have side blind-zone and rear cross traffic alert.
But visibility to the rear isn't great, so park assist and a rearview camera have become standard. With new color touch-screen audio and optional navigation screens the rearview image varies among models; a smaller screen will require more frequent camera lens cleaning. Outside mirrors have wide-angle elements built-in, but not on Acadias with the blind spot warning system.
Eight-passenger seating comes in the base model, with a 60/40 split bench in the second row that can accommodate three people (for 2-3-3 seating). The up-level Acadia models have second-row captain's chairs, which cut passenger capacity to seven (in a 2-2-3 arrangement) 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. So, as a people hauler, the seven-passenger is nicer, as a cargo hauler, the eight-passenger is much better.
Second-row legroom is 36.9 inches, with the sliding seat in the middle of its four-inch range. With the seat all the way back, giving nearly 39 inches of legroom, a six-foot-tall person 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. As in most vehicles, the Acadia's third row is best suited for small children. 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.
Generous exterior dimensions yield generous cargo capacity, with 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That's three more than the same space in a Ford Explorer, and below headrest level what you might get in a mid-size sedan (hatchbacks and crossover cargo areas are measured differently than sedan trunks). A small plastic-lined bin below the floor of the Acadia's cargo compartment is perfect for carrying messy stuff.
For more cargo space, nearly 69 cubic feet, the third row folds down easily, and a strap is used to pull it back up, requiring some effort. It's nice that lowering the second or third rows does not require removing the head restraints. When both the second and third rows are folded, the cargo area is almost flat, and there is a cavernous 116 cubic feet of cargo volume.
Against the bogey Ford Explorer (3.5 inches shorter) and Honda Pilot (9.4 inches shorter) the Acadia's cabin measurements are average. The only dimensions that vary more than a fraction of an inch are the Pilot's third row has 1.1-inch less legroom and the Explorer has less third-row hip-room, the main reason it has just two seatbelts back there. For cargo area the largest Acadia offers the most space, but none of them will carry luggage for six behind the third row, and attention should be paid to weight when carrying lots of people.
The GMC Acadia is big and heavy, but it feels smaller on the road. The steering doesn't require much effort, not even in a parking lot, but it still offers good feel, giving 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 stable on the freeway.
It only feels its weight when it's driven hard. It's nearly 5000 pounds with all-wheel drive, about 500 pounds lighter than a Yukon or Tahoe, but hundreds heavier than a Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer.
The Acadia uses independent suspension in the front and rear, 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 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, but remember this stops like a van or truck, not like a car so use your high seating position wisely.
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.
The GM 3.6-liter V6 has proven itself to be powerful, efficient and flexible, and it's enough engine in the Acadia. Acceleration is more than adequate, with help from a 6-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and responds better given 2013's recalibration. With variable valve timing, the V6 makes 288 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. That's similar to Explorer's V6, but both the Explorer and Acadia can't match the torque of their V8 cousins that rate 1-2 EPA mpg less.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive, 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive.
Towing capacity is 5,200 pounds with two passengers and no cargo.
The GMC Acadia offers the people and cargo hauling capability of a full-size SUV with more comfort and better fuel mileage. It can squeeze in eight people, or carry six in comfort. The ride is smooth and it handles well. With its pleasant manners, considerable space and good fuel economy, the Acadia is a good choice for moving people and cargo.
G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles; NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this review.
GMC Acadia SLE1 ($34,050); SLE2 ($37,940); SLT1 ($39,780); SLT2 ($41,200); Denali ($45,945).
Options As Tested
Trailering equipment and P255/55HR20 tires on chrome-clad alloy wheels.
GMC Acadia SLT AWD ($43,170).
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