GM's truck division crosses over
We learned a few facts that surprised us while driving the all-new 2007 GMC Acadia. First, GMC is The General's second best-selling division behind Chevrolet. In fact, GMC's sales are up more than 80 percent since 1991, and it's had record sales in 11 of the last 13 years. The division has also found great success in its "Denali" branding, with those premium versions making up nearly half of all sales for every model line that offers them. GM representatives expect similar success from the upcoming Sierra Denali line.
So why would a division with this much success at selling pure "trucks" want to dip its tow ratings in the crossover pool? Because CUVs (crossover-utility vehicles) represent the fastest-growing segment in the automotive market, with crossover sales officially passing SUV sales this year. GM's new Lambda unibody platform, which underpins not only the GMC Acadia but also the new Saturn Outlook and the upcoming Buick Enclave, is meant to capture buyers seeking refuge from minivans, station wagons and truck-based SUVs. And while it has crossover brethren riding on the same platform, GMC wants the Acadia to uphold the brand's "truck" image.
Capable engine — confused transmission
That image starts with a torquey, variable-valve 3.6-liter V6 engine that's standard across its two Acadia trim levels — SLE and SLT. Power is a healthy 275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, with that torque peak occurring at a readily accessible 3,200 rpm. It doesn't exactly make the 4,900-pound vehicle feel sprightly, and high-rpm refinement isn't quite class-leading, but this engine does motivate the Acadia with authority — assuming the transmission cooperates.
Unfortunately, as with the Saturn Outlook we drove recently, the Acadia's 6T70 six-speed automatic can be slow to downshift. This is the same automatic used in Ford's Edge (as part of a Ford-GM joint development project), and in each of these applications we wanted more responsive downshifts, as well as more gear lever positions to choose from. (You only get "D" and "L.") The conservative programming of the transmission likely bumps fuel mileage on the EPA's test loop, and the Acadia's rather impressive 17/24 mileage rating in all-wheel-drive form (18/26 in front-wheel drive) suggests the tranny's programming is effective for that purpose.
We tried using the "L" shift-lever position, in conjunction with the "+/-" button on the side of the shift lever, to improve drivetrain performance. Under these circumstances the Acadia felt capable and willing, but reaching down to the shift lever shouldn't be required for each gear swap. Steering-wheel-mounted buttons or paddles would go a long way here.
GMC goes "carlike"
The Acadia's transmission issues are relatively minor, as most buyers will likely set it in "D" and forget it. Ride and handling characteristics are another matter entirely, with the promise of "carlike" driving dynamics being a crucial component in the SUV-to-crossover trend. The Acadia answers with a four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering system. You'd probably think it's impossible to hide this vehicle's nearly 5,000-pound curb weight — but GM has come remarkably close.
Maneuvering the Acadia, whether through tight traffic or over twisting mountain passes, was far easier than expected for an eight-passenger vehicle. Credit the Acadia's wide 67-inch wheel track and long 118.9-inch wheelbase, measurements that easily beat competitors like the Acura MDX and Mazda CX-9, contributing to both stability and interior space.
Ride quality, however, was stiffer than in the Outlook, and frankly too "professional grade" for this car's target audience. We chalk most of this up to our test vehicle's optional $1,300 19-inch wheels (18s are standard), and suggest potential buyers be wary of opting for maximum bling in their Acadia if they'd rather not be on a first-name basis with road imperfections.
Features and functionality
Skipping the 19s also means more money for the Acadia's truly functional options, including intelligent all-wheel drive ($2,000), rear-seat DVD entertainment and upgraded Bose audio system ($1,795), GPS navigation ($2,145) and dual sunroofs ($1,300). Even more money can be saved by specifying a second-row 60/40-split bench seat versus the standard-equipment captain's chairs.
Saving $500 while simultaneously increasing the Acadia's passenger capacity may sound like a recipe for clumsy entry/exit procedures and cramped passenger legs. It's not. The second-row seats slide 4 inches fore and aft, and they completely flip up and out of the way for easy third-row access. A bit more thigh support in the second- and third-row seats wouldn't hurt, but leg-, head- and hip room are bountiful, giving the Acadia real-world functionality for growing, or even fully grown, families.
The functionality theme continues on the cargo-hauling side, with 19.7 cubic feet of luggage space available behind the third-row seats. This compares to 15 cubic feet in the MDX and 17.2 in the CX-9. GMC reps also proudly noted the Acadia's flat and low load floor when compared to the Acura and Dodge Durango. And, in keeping with GMC's heritage, the Acadia can tow up to 4,500 pounds with the optional trailer package ($425).
Kid-safe and competitive
Safety is another area of concern for many crossover customers, and GMC obviously understood this when it equipped the Acadia with stability control, six airbags (including head airbags for all three rows), four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), plus a tire-pressure monitoring system — all standard equipment. No official crash tests have been performed as of this writing, but GM representatives expect the Acadia to receive a five-star rating in front- and side-impact testing.
The Acadia's list of advantages when placed alongside the competition is nearly as impressive as its interior space. As noted, the GMC provides more interior space than the new-for-2007 Acura MDX and Mazda CX-9. It also offers more horsepower, better fuel mileage and greater seating capacity (with every seat being fully functional). The MDX beats it slightly on horsepower, but costs thousands more. The CX-9 is similarly priced, but it's smaller, down on power and missing a few of the Acadia's premium options, such as the dual sunroofs and head-up display.
Pricing for the Acadia starts right at $30,000 for a base SLE with front-wheel drive. Load up an SLT2 AWD model and you can easily cross $45,000. In the ever-exploding world of crossover sales, the 2007 GMC Acadia represents a compelling combination of functionality, luxury and value. If GMC is trying to ensure a continued run of sales records, the Acadia is a move in the right direction.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.