By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Until just a couple of years ago, GMC only sold trucks — and truck-based SUVs.
They were slightly nicer, trim-wise, than a Chevy truck or SUV — but not as pricey as a Cadillac truck or SUV.
That worked ok until the mass popularity of trucks and truck-based SUVs began to tank — and the mass popularity of on-road-friendlier, car-based crossover SUVs began to take off.
What to do?
Join the Crossover Club — with models like the Acadia, GMC’s first model that’s not a truck or based on a truck and which comes with FWD or AWD but not RWD or 4WD.
WHAT IT IS
Though it has the hunky looks of a large, truck-based SUV, the eight-passenger Acadia is the first-ever GMC model to be built on a front-wheel-drive, integral frame/body passenger car chassis (with an all-wheel-drive system available optionally).
It is slightly larger — and can carry more people — than the similar in layout Acura MDX, Lexus RX, Mazda CX-9 and other medium-large, entry-luxury crossover SUVs.
It has two corporate twins — the Chevy Traverse (on the lower end) and the Buick Enclave (priced slightly higher).
The Acadia is marketed as more upscale than the Traverse — and sportier than the plush-minded Enclave.
Prices start at $32,605 for the base SL with front-wheel-drive and top out at $43,880 for an all-wheel-drive Denali.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012
Last year GMC added a new ultra-premium Denali trim with 20 inch wheels, dual sunroofs and numerous additional exterior/interior enhancements debuts to the lineup, along with a $45k sticker price. This year, the price of the Denali has been reduced by about $1,300.
All trims get a free six month trail subscription to GM’s OnStar Directions & Connections concierge service.
Carries more people than competitors such as Acura MDX and Lexus RX.
More upscale than the Mazda CX-9.
Super-sized cargo capacity (117 cubic feet).
Very solid max tow rating (5,200 lbs.).
Base and mid trims attractively priced, well-equipped.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Plus-size dimensions may be more than you need — or will fit in your garage.
One-size-fits-all 3.6 liter V-6 could use a power boost to haul this GMC’s heft (4,600 lbs.).
Hungry, hungry hippo appetite for gas.
GMC still hasn’t got the luxury-brand status of Acura or Lexus.
UNDER THE HOOD
The ’12 Acadia comes with pretty much the same 3.6 liter V-6 that made its debut back in 2008, when this model was first brought out. It now produces between 281 and 288 hp (depending on whether you order an Acadia with single or dual-outlet exhaust) vs. 275 hp back in ’08.
It’s teamed up with a six-speed automatic, the only transmission offered.
Zero to 60 takes about 8-8.2 seconds, depending on whether you’re driving a FWD or AWD version. That’s decent acceleration for a big bus like this — but with a caveat (more on this below).
Fuel economy, on the other hand, is 17 city/24 highway for the FWD model; 16 city, 23 highway for the AWD-equipped model — not much better than you’d get out of a similar-in-size, V-8 powered traditional SUV.
But the big upside is the Acadia’s maximum tow rating, which is is a very stout 5,200 lbs. — close to the capability of a truck-based V-8 SUV and much higher than the typical 3,500 lb. max in this segment. If you need to pull a boat or other large load, the Acadia is one of the very few crossovers that’s up to the job.
ON THE ROAD
The Acadia is big!
Curb weight empty is more than 4,600 lbs. — and it’s 200.7 inches (almost 17 feet) long, bumper to bumper. That’s about 10 inches longer (and 100 pounds heavier) than an Acura MDX and about 200 pounds heavier (and an inch longer) than the seven-passenger Mazda CX-9.
The weight does two things, one good — the other not so much.
On the good side, the Acadia feels as solid as a Rolls Royce Phantom on the highway cruising along at 80-ish. If a semi blasts past you doing 100, you won’t feel (or hear) much of anything. It would take a hurricane to push this thing off its chosen path.
And the ride is as plush as a ’78 Eldorado’s with the cruise control set and the old-style Freon AC blasting… .
On the not-so-good-side, the Acadia’s acceleration is merely ok with just the driver on board and once loaded up with a family of five or so, it’s no longer ok. It is borderline slow. You’ll be needing closer to 9 seconds ot make 60 under full throttle — not far behind a Prius hybrid — only you’ll be drinking gas at 2-3 times the rate. Loaded up and driven with a semi-heavy foot, the Acadia uses about as much gas as a mid-sized, V-8 powered SUV — but it doesn’t compensate for its appetite with decent thrust when you push down on the gas pedal. More power is definitely needed. The lighter, smaller MDX has a significant under-the-hood advantage (300 hp) and though the Mazda CX-9 has less power on paper (273 hp) its lower curb weight gives it a more athletic feel — both accelerating and cornering.
The same basic 3.6 V-6 that’s in the Acadia produces 300-plus hp in other GM models (Cadillac CTS, Chevy Camaro) and it really ought to be tweaked up to produce the same — or even better, more — power in the much heavier Acadia, which needs the extra juice even more.
AT THE CURB
Unlike a truck-based SUV, the Acadia’s interior isn’t crimped up by a huge driveshaft tunnel rising up like a mountain range between the seats, eating up much of the available real estate. You’ll also notice there’s no truck-style solid rear axle; no two-speed transfer case or 4WD Low range — and so, not much in the way of off-road ability.
But that’s ok — because the Acadia’s not meant to tackle rutted backwoods fire roads or ford mighty rivers. There are Land Rovers (and Yukons) for that. And of course, the price for that kind of capability is usually a huge on the outside vehicle that doesn’t offer all that much usable space on the inside — mainly because of the way a truck-based SUV is laid out, including that space-hogging driveshaft tunnel.
So, instead of off-road capability many people don’t really need, the Acadia offers superior room inside as well as everyday usability to buyers — especially those with large families — caught between the Oprah-like handling and civility-compromised nature of a traditional truck-based large SUV — and the horrible prospect of driving a … minivan.
The Acadia comes with a standard third row and room for 7-8 people, depending on the configuration. That’s as much or more interior space/people-carrying capacity as a full-size SUV like GMC’s own Yukon — but it’s much more accessible space, thanks to wide-opening rear doors and GMC’s clever “Smart Slide” system that lets passengers get into and out of the third row without major gymnastics. That third row’s a real third row, too — not a press kit shuck-and-jive that’s really there for looks (and advertising purposes) only. The Acadia seats 7-8 people comfortably and is every bit the equal, road trip-wise, of a full-size minivan like the Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Town & Country — but without the diaper-duty stigmata.
Buyers can choose second-row captain’s chairs or a second-row bench (and three across seating). There’s almost 20 cubic feet of additional storage space behind the third row, too. With the second and third rows out/folded down, the Acadia is fully capable of carting home a load of 2x4s — even a dozen bags of cement mix.
Its 117 cubic feet of cargo space is absolutely massive.
The CX-9 has just 101 cubic feet and the MDX only 84 cubic feet.
Maximum towing capacity is also a clear selling point at 5,200 lbs.
If you cross-shop specs, you’ll discover the Acadia’s actually not too far off the pace of what a mid-sized, truck-based V-8 powered SUV can haul. But no mid-sized SUV can carry eight people. In fact, few full-size SUVs can outdo the Acadia when it comes to people — or cargo — carrying.
For example, the enormous (on the outside) Yukon isn’t significantly bigger on the inside than the Acadia. It can theoretically seat up to nine people, but unlike the Acadia, its third row is difficult to access, uncomfortable to use (for adults) and doesn’t fold flat. In the real world, the Yukon’s comfortable for 5-6 adults — and maybe a kid or two. No more. Pile your Brady Bunch in both vehicles and see for yourself. It’s a dead heat, usable space-wise. And you’ll likely agree the second and third row accommodations in the Acadia are more pleasant once you’re seated — and much less hassle to get into and out of, too.
Acadia wins easily on total interior cargo volume, too. The Yukon maxes out at 108.9 cubic feet.
And as far as gas mileage goes, there’s a similar gap — in Acadia’s favor.
While the Acadia’s numbers don’t seem all that much better than a big SUV’s, keep in mind its super-sized interior and super-sized cargo capacity. To get appreciably more of either, you’d need a super-sized SUV — something even larger than the standard-issue GMC Yukon, like a Caddy Escalade ESV or maybe a long-wheelbase Lincoln Navigator. And then you’d also get the super-sized (single digit) fuel bills that would come with it. That’s acceptable if you must have a truck-based 4WD system — and the off-road capability and big towing numbers that come with a truck-based chassis and heavy-duty underpinnings. But if all you really want is the roominess of a large SUV and don’t really care about lugging around a 9,000-lb. trailer or climbing backwoods trails, why accept the downsides?
Base SL models come with 18-inch rims, front and rear AC, stability control, full-row curtain air bags and GM’s OnStar concierge system with a six-month free trial subscription. SLEs add remote engine start/keyless ignition, power liftgate, leather trim, rear parking sensors and a back-up camera with LCD display in the rearview mirror.
The top-of-the-line Denali trim comes with just about everything you could imagine, literally — including a huge SkyScape panorama-style (two section) sunroof, jet fighter-style Heads-Up Display (HUD), perforated, heated and ventilated leather seats, illuminated running boards and — of course — massive 20 inch chromed-out wheels with equally massive (and equally expensive to replace) tires.
FYI: Looks are one thing, but test-drive a Denali with those 20 inchers back to back against an SL or SLE with the more real-world ready 18 or 19 inch wheels before you come to a decision. There is a noticeable loss in the plushness of the Acadia’s ride quality with the oversized wheels. GMC should make it possible to “delete option” the stupid 20 inch wheels for those who don’t want to muck up this vehicle’s superb driving feel/ride quality for the sake of emulating the aesthetics of thug rap star vehicles.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Other than needing a bit more power to match its curb weight (and luxury-brand aspirations) the Acadia’s a really nice roller and a great big-family alternative to a traditional V-8 powered full-size SUV.