What's New for 2011
The 2011 GMC Acadia now is available in the premium Denali trim level, which features unique styling elements and a plusher cabin. Additionally, the OnStar telematics system now includes a standard six-month subscription to Directions and Connections.
In the wake of rising fuel prices and buyers' more realistic assessments of their needs, a traditional truck-based SUV isn't the popular family vehicle it once was. While most of the shoppers who used to flock to these large, thirsty beasts would likely be well served by minivans, many are instead opting for another choice that's just as suitable: large crossovers like the 2011 GMC Acadia.
The Acadia is one of GM's "Lambda" platform triplets (the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse are the others). Like its cousins, the Acadia uses carlike unibody architecture that makes it lighter and more space-efficient than heavier, body-on-frame truck-based SUVs. As such, the Acadia offers more passenger and cargo space while also providing better handling, a more pleasant driving experience, superior crashworthiness and higher fuel economy.
Available with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Acadia is powered by a strong V6 engine. Families that take road trips will appreciate the Acadia's smooth, quiet ride. Those in the habit of transporting very large items will be grateful for the crossover's generous amount of cargo room, because maximum cargo space stands at 117 cubic feet. The Acadia's resume is rounded out by its top safety scores and ability to seat up to eight passengers.
This spacious and handsome cabin has a few weak points, however. Some of the materials are subpar and the third row, though fairly accommodating, isn't as comfortable as that in the Ford Flex. Outward visibility (admittedly a weak point in most large crossovers) falls short relative to that of other models in this segment. Lastly, driving enthusiasts might find the Acadia's handling a bit ponderous compared to lighter, more nimble rivals such as the Mazda CX-9.
Even so, these are but minor quibbles when viewed against the 2011 GMC Acadia's many strengths. The crossover faces some worthy rivals like the aforementioned Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9, as well as the new and technology-packed Ford Explorer and the more luxurious Hyundai Veracruz. We'd suggest trying them all out to see which best suits your needs. In the end, though, we suspect that the Acadia will be the best pick for many shoppers, on the strength of its impressive combination of comfort, features, cargo space and performance.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 GMC Acadia is a large crossover SUV offered in five trims: base SL, SLE, SLT-1, SLT-2 and Denali. Seven-passenger seating is the default configuration, while eight-passenger seating (substituting a fold-flat second-row bench for the standard fold-flat captain's chairs) is optional on all but the SL.
The SL comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, OnStar telematics (with a six-month subscription to Directions and Connections) and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo system with satellite radio. The SLE adds foglamps, a power liftgate, remote engine start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats (eight-way driver/two-way passenger), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and a back-up camera with a small rearview-mirror-integrated display.
The SLT-1 ups the ante with 19-inch wheels, heated mirrors, a variable-assist steering system, tri-zone automatic climate control, rear audio controls and headphone jacks, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a 10-speaker Bose stereo with a USB audio jack. The SLT-2 adds power-folding heated mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, additional power adjustments for the front passenger seat, driver memory functions and a Towing Preparation package.
The plush Denali trim level adds unique body treatment (including grille, front/rear fascias, side moldings and wheel flares), 20-inch chrome wheels with black chrome accents, xenon headlights, additional sound insulation, illuminated sill plates, the "SkyScape" power front/fixed rear dual sunroofs, a head-up display, perforated leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats and a leather/wood steering wheel.
Many of the additional features on the upper trims can be added to the lower trims as options. Other optional highlights, depending on the trim level, include a navigation system, a rear entertainment system, a 115-volt power outlet, a surround-sound version of the Bose stereo, a second-row center console and the SkyScape sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
There is only one engine/transmission combination available for the GMC Acadia -- a 3.6-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic with manual shift control. The V6 produces 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the front-wheel-drive Acadia are 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. All-wheel-drive Acadia models are very close at 16/23/19 mpg. Properly equipped, the Acadia can tow up to 5,200 pounds.
Antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows are all standard on the 2011 GMC Acadia, as is one year of GM's OnStar service, including turn-by-turn navigation and hands-free phone connectivity. In Edmunds brake testing, an Acadia came to a stop in 135 feet -- the Flex and CX-9 perform better.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Acadia earned a top five-star rating for overall performance, with four out of five stars being given for front-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection.
The Acadia also aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, where it earned the highest rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the Acadia's roomy cabin is an attractive layout in a two-tone color scheme with brushed aluminum and chrome trim (the Denali also includes wood grain accents). The instrument panel consists of dual gauges; featuring bright white numbers on a black background, these gauges are simple and easy to read. Minor complaints include a few lower-grade interior plastics and audio and climate controls that consist of too many small and similar-looking buttons.
Depending on the configuration chosen, the Acadia seats either seven passengers (with second-row captain's chairs) or eight passengers (with a split-folding second-row bench seat) in three rows. The first- and second-row seats are quite comfortable and supportive, and the split-folding third-row seat — which is often a kids-only zone in traditional SUVs — can accommodate adults in reasonable comfort. Maximum cargo capacity is a generous 117 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded down. Even with all three rows of seating in use, there's a useful 24 cubic feet of luggage space.
Like the other large General Motors crossovers, the 2011 GMC Acadia hits a happy medium between secure handling and a comfortable ride. However, you'll never forget that it's a big and heavy vehicle (nearly 5,000 pounds with all-wheel drive), and it feels more cumbersome to drive than other large crossovers on the market. Opting for the larger 19- or 20-inch wheels can also degrade the Acadia's ride quality. We have no complaints about the 3.6-liter V6, as it provides willing acceleration in almost all situations.