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2019 GMC Acadia Test Drive Review
The GMC Acadia isn’t as large or spacious as some rivals, but it stands out with an upscale interior and solid driving dynamics.
Shoppers have many options when they want a family vehicle, but most look to the 3-row midsize SUV, rather than the minivan, as the de facto family hauler. But not all 3-row SUVs are created equal, and that’s a good thing because families have different needs.
Old-school, full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe might be overkill for getting the kids to soccer practice, but they're ideal when it comes to towing a boat or camper trailer while on a road trip. On the other end of the spectrum, a compact SUV such as the Volkswagen Tiguan is far more practical for cities and has an optional third row. For many families, that third row won’t always be occupied, so it shouldn't detract from other areas of the vehicle, cut into cargo space, or break the bank.
General Motors enjoys the luxury of multiple, somewhat overlapping brands and utilizes this overlap to offer two kinds of 3-row SUVs. The Chevrolet Traverse is one example; it feels like a stretched-out midsize SUV, almost like a downsized Tahoe.
The 2019 GMC Acadia rides on the same platform as the Traverse but feels like a completely different vehicle. It has a shorter wheelbase and a more upscale cabin, resulting in a midsize SUV that feels less like a family hauler and more like something special and unique.
But 3-row midsize SUVs compete in an extremely crowded segment against some of the most popular vehicles on the market, including the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, and Subaru Ascent, just to name a few. So how does the Acadia stack up when it comes to balancing 3-row seating capacity and overall usability? Read on to find out and learn which trim of the Acadia CarGurus recommends.
Look and Feel
The GMC Acadia is a handsome SUV. The shorter wheelbase provides it with a more athletic stance, and the upright grille gives it an upscale appearance. Interestingly, while it's not really billed as an upscale SUV, it is as nice as, if not nicer than, the more expensive Buick Envision. Previously, I lumped the Acadia in with the Envision as an aspirational vehicle for current Chevrolet Equinox owners looking to move upmarket. That’s not really fair to the Acadia, which most certainly has broader appeal than those other two GM vehicles. Another interesting consideration: Though considered a midsize, it feels closer in size to compact competitors, kind of like a Nissan Rogue.
Trims for the Acadia are SL, SLE-1, SLE-2, SLT-1, SLT-2, and the range-topping Denali. The base SL trim comes standard with 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, 7-passenger seating, remote keyless entry, 3-zone climate control, and heated power side mirrors.
The SLE-1 trim adds the Acadia’s “C-shaped” signature LED headlights, carpeted floor mats, and Sirius XM satellite radio. Most notably, it makes a host of options packages available.
The SLE-2 trim adds 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, a power liftgate, fog lights, silver-colored roof rails, an 8-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, and remote engine start. Like the SLE-1, a lot of the SLE-2's appeal is tied to the options packages... which means spending more money.
The SLT-1 trim adds a Bose 8-speaker premium stereo system, 18-inch painted aluminum wheels, a number of driver-assistance features, heated and auto-dimming side mirrors, a 120-volt power outlet, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and lumbar adjustment to the two front seats. We drove an SLT-1 All-Wheel Drive (AWD) trim with the Black Edition appearance package, which adds 20-inch aluminum wheels with black accents, a black grille, black roof rails, and black GMC lettering. It gives the Acadia a more menacing look and is more in tune with current buyer tastes than the chrome-drenched Denali trim.
CarGurus recommends our SLT-1 AWD test model. The SL trim is okay at covering the basics, and the SLE trims’ “option package availability” philosophy left us frustrated. The SLT makes much of this content standard.
Moving up from the SLT-1, you'll find the SLT-2, which adds 20-inch bright aluminum wheels, a more extensive list of driver-assistance features, heated rear seats, and front-seat memory settings.
The range-topping Denali trim brings the chrome and luxury features to the table. It adds a hands-free power tailgate, unique 20-inch bright aluminum wheels, brightwork roof rails, HID headlights, and a unique Denali grille design. It also adds an automatic heated, leather-wrapped, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and leather-appointed seating.
Two engines are offered in the Acadia: an inline 4-cylinder and a V6. The V6 is not available in the base SL or SLE-1 trim. It's offered as an option in the SLE-2 and SLE-1 with front-wheel drive (FWD), while the SLT-1 AWD, SLT-2, and Denali trims all come standard with the V6.
The base 4-cylinder engine makes 193 horsepower and is fine enough, but the V6 is really where it’s at. This 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 310 hp and delivers fantastic acceleration, unexpectedly chirping the tires from a quick takeoff.
Power gets sent through a 6-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or available AWD; the 4-cylinder is FWD-only, while the V6 is available with FWD or AWD.
The AWD system features GMC‘s Active Twin Clutch system. Operated via a dial in the center console, it lets you switch between FWD, AWD, Sport mode, and All-Terrain mode. This certainly does not instantly turn the Acadia into a rock-crawling machine, but it will let you take that mountain road to a ski lodge or trek onto the beach. When properly equipped, the V6 Acadia can tow up to 4,000 pounds.
So, we’ve covered more unique driving situations, but in regular daily driving, the Acadia will be great for the average commuter. It doesn’t go too overboard on steering or cornering feedback, but it’s not too soft either. It’s a powerful and well-balanced machine with the ability to get dirty when needed.
The best fuel-economy figures come from the base SL Acadia with the 4-cylinder engine and FWD. That configuration returns 21 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined. Our SLT-1 AWD with the V6 should return 17/25/20, and in a week of combined city and highway driving, we observed fuel economy of 19.8 mpg.
Form and Function
The Acadia provides a solid amount of space for the driver and front passenger. It also has deep trays for wallets, phones, keys, and other small items. The center console bins are deep, and the in-door bins are functional. The rear doors also feature similarly usable trays and cupholders.
The SL, SLE-1, and SLE-2 feature 7-passenger seating with a middle bench seat. Our SLT-1 AWD swaps out the standard second-row bench for captain’s chairs, dropping total seating capacity from 7 passengers to 6. Despite not being very thick, the second-row seats are pretty comfortable. They provide decent head- and legroom, and they fold forward to provide access to the third row. Unfortunately, the third-row seats are not that roomy and suitable only for kids. If you're going to access the third row, do so from the passenger side. Both second-row seats slide and tilt to provide access to the rear seats, but the driver’s side seat doesn't move as much, and it’s a squeeze to get back there.
The Acadia offers 12.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and that number grows to 41.7 cubic feet with the third row folded. Dropping the second- and third-row seats provides up to 79 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s very small for the midsize SUV class and barely more than the biggest compact crossovers. The compact VW Tiguan, for example, has 75 cubic feet of available cargo space.
On the plus side, our test model came with rubberized floor mats throughout. That means you can toss all your muddy gear inside guilt-free! This makes the Acadia a great platform for kayaking, mountain biking, or whatever muddy sport you enjoy.
The base SL trim comes standard with a 7-inch touchscreen that runs GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment system. IntelliLink’s layout and large icons look similar to your smartphone’s, which should flatten the learning curve. This system comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also comes standard with Bluetooth connectivity, five USB ports, and a WiFi hotspot that requires a subscription.
Our SLT-1 trim upgrades the screen from the 7-inch unit to a larger 8-inch one. Moving up to the Denali adds standard navigation to the mix.
For the driver, moving up to the SLT-1 or SLT-2 trim adds a 4.2-inch color information display within the gauge cluster. This allows for many additional functions, controlled via the directional pad on the steering wheel. If you select the Denali trim, you get a larger 8-inch display. It basically turns it into a semi-digital instrument panel, with the tachometer, engine temp, and fuel level as the only analog displays. The center display can feature an analog speedometer, but it can just as easily minimize that information and replace it with other relevant information and status updates.
The Acadia is also available with a color head-up display that provides information such as vehicle speed, engine rpm, your current radio station, and safety alert notifications.
The Acadia comes standard with the typical array of front- and side-impact airbags, a reversing camera, and traction control. The Driver Alert Package 1 came standard on our SLT-1 and is available as an option on the SLE-2 trim. It adds a blind-spot warning system, lane-change alert, and rear park assist.
The SLT-2 trim adds the Driver Alert Package 2. This includes additional driver-assistance features, such as low-speed forward automatic braking, lane-departure warning, pedestrian detection, forward-collision alert, and adaptive headlights and high beams. This is in addition to rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors.
While these packages represent comprehensive driver-assistance features, much of the tech found in these upgrade packages comes as standard equipment on the base trims of cars like Toyota RAV4.
Base MSRP for the 2019 GMC Acadia is $29,000, before tax, title, and destination fees. The SLE-1 trim starts at $32,800, while the SLE-2 starts at $35,200. All trims have a $1,195 destination fee.
Moving up to the SLT-1 will cost $38,000 while adding AWD will bring the price to $41,100. Adding the Black Edition package, as well as dual moonroofs, rubberized floor mats, a few other options, and the destination fee brought the as-tested price of our car to $45,970. The SLT-2 trim starts at $41,900, while the range-ripping Denali trim starts at $45,500.
These are definitely higher prices than some similarly equipped rivals, but not all of them. A Mazda CX-9 certainly isn’t cheap, and it focuses more on upscale amenities instead of cargo space and third-row legroom. In that sense, it’s one of the closest rivals to the Acadia.
But looking to the broader market of Highlanders and Pilots, the Acadia isn’t the best or cheapest way to get a 3-row SUV. If you choose a lower trim, it's one of the more affordable 3-row options, and no matter which trim you select, the Acadia puts emphasis on daily use and drivability over the few times you might use the third row. And if you use three rows of seating every day, you should buy a minivan.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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