2008 GMC Acadia AWD
– Spacious cabin all over
– Excellent ride quality
– Stable handling for its size
– Small cost-cutting issues
– Fuel economy not impressive
– Too big to handle sometimes
The General recognises that people are slowly shifting away from truck-based 4WDs and towards car-based crossovers, which offer better ride quality, safer handling and rumours of better fuel economy. A large segment of 4WD buyers do not take their vehicles off-road, and will not notice that the low-range gear is missing from their newest rides. GM is capitalising on this ignorant market segment by offering the brand new GMC Acadia, a true road-going 4WD with no pretensions of ruggedness.
The Acadia, the most docile vehicle in GMC’s tough line-up, is a handsome vehicle that hides its proportions well. It is an extended 4WD in the tradition of the Suburban, but designed to look like a standard-length midsizer. But make no mistake, it is very long. Details and build quality from that outside are nicely handled, with big rims and LED tail-lamps highlighting its mildly upscale attributes. Looking at the low front end, it becomes readily clear that the Acadia might have trouble with high footpath edges, let alone steep dunes.
The interior is beautifully done, with unique shapes and nice textures. It is a shame that knocking on the dashboard or upper door sills reveal hard plastics, though GMC makes up for it with soft door inserts and armrests that match the wonderful leather seats in quality. It becomes obvious that the big exterior gives the Acadia a massive interior. Legroom and headroom are excellent, with space to stretch out in the second-row, and even breathing space for average-sized adults in the third row. All seats are leather, with powered front ones, a three-seater bench or two optional captain’s chairs in the middle row, and a bench in the last row. Due to lazy design, the second-row captain’s chairs, as in our tester, don’t move out of the way for access to the third row since the mechanism to move the chairs front and back makes it harder to construct a chair that folds away. So those unfortunate enough to have to sit in the last row have to crawl in through the space between the chairs. We believe the standard second-row bench has easier access options. But at least all seats fold down to increase rear luggage space exponentially, originally being good enough only for groceries with all the seats in use.
The Acadia has a good feature set, with a good automatic a/c that even has an additional digital display alongside the rear a/c controls and vents. The CD stereo is largely good, if you like the lack of thumping bass. There was also a ceiling-mounted DVD player for rear passengers in our car. Other features on our top-spec Acadia included an electric tailgate, auto-dimming mirrors, sunroof and rear panoramic glass roof, parking sensors, remote entry and start function, front and side airbags, a Corvette-style heads-up display on the windshield, lots of storage spaces and innumerable cup-holders. No doubt, half of the features we mentioned here are optional, but at least all the usual basic power features are standard.
The interior did have issues in our tester though. The remote start button on the key fob didn’t work, even after we turned on the feature. The headlight knob was broken, but thankfully it was stuck in “auto” so the lights still turned on at night. There is too much chrome trim, blinding us when sunlight hit them directly. And the killer doors we found on the Chevy Tahoe are in this one too. If you fling the doors open too quickly, they bounce back hard enough to knock you out. Such flaws stink of cheapness, but at least the total number of features is generous.
The refined 3.6-litre V6 is a fine piece of work, smoothly delivering 275 hp at 6,600 rpm and 340 Nm of torque at 3,200 rpm. However, largely due to weight, response is poor at low revs, and the motor requires lower gears and higher revs to move quickly, at which point it feels more lively. We managed a 0-to-100 kph time of 8.9 seconds at best, with traction control turned off, although that hardly matters because the quick all-wheel-drive system kills all wheelspin anyway. The six-speed automatic gearbox is a smooth operator, although its simplistic tiptronic function involves buttons on the shift lever itself, and responses to manual inputs are delayed in the lower gears. We managed to burn petrol at a rate of 18.6 litres per 100 km, although we expected slightly better numbers.
Loafing around in town, the Acadia is not too hard to manoeuvre, as it is not as wide as the overblown Tahoe, but its length is a cause for concern. Slipping into 90-degree parking spots become an extended affair involving three-point turns, neck-wringing and total dependence on beeping parking sensors. Also, the driver’s seat does not move up high enough, so we could not take advantage of the commanding view that a tall 4WD is supposed to provide. The stylised side mirrors are also too small for such a large vehicle, while there is no view out the rear window to speak of.
But as big as it is, the Acadia handles as well as any crossover half its size. It has good grip up to a certain point, and its limits are similar to that of the smaller Nissan Murano or even the Toyota RAV-4. Body roll is moderate at most, and it feels stable and car-like in quick turns before understeer sets in. Credit goes to its wide 255/60 tyres wrapping the extravagantly-large 19-inch alloys, as well as the quick-responding all-wheel-drive system which makes the stability control system redundant. Steering feel is dead soft, but the Acadia is not meant for hard driving anyway. The large ABS-assisted four-wheel-disc brakes work well, and linear stopping power is easy to apply regardless of the soft pedal feel.
On-road handling is all the more impressive because the Acadia is one of the most comfortable crossovers we’ve ever driven. The suspension soaks up most bumps without feeling floaty or firm, and without the aid of expensive electronic nonsense. And the ride is among the quietest in the faux-4WD class of vehicles.
The Acadia, of course, is not at all suitable for even moderate off-road driving. The all-wheel-drive system, which is optional anyway, is excellent but the lack of low-range gearing is only part of the desert-unsuitability issue. The low front lip and lots of low-mounted parts under the Acadia give it only slightly better ground clearance than a normal car.
The GMC Acadia is a good family cruiser that differentiates itself from the sea of similar vehicles with at least six proper seating spaces, the ride comfort of a luxury car and the stable handling of a smaller crossover. We expected more in terms of fuel economy and cabin materials, especially given a price tag that almost rivals the larger Tahoe-Yukon twins. But as is, it offers more useable space than its bigger brother, and the fact that it gives up off-road prowess in the process won’t bother most consumers shopping in this category.
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