Almost as a rule, the logbooks of Automobile Magazine long-term test cars are filled with extremes of opinion. One person can't stand Feature X? Flip forward a few pages - someone else loves it. Styling too dumpy for Staffer Y? Don't worry; Staffer Z thinks those curves are the bee's knees.
Leafing through the logbook for our Four Seasons <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2012/gmc/acadia/index.html">GMC Acadia</a>, however, we were reminded that there's an exception to every rule. Over the course of its twelve-month stay in Ann Arbor, our Acadia accumulated page after page of driver comments, and nearly all of them showed the folks at 120 East Liberty Street in agreement. Most entries echoed the same thought: the Acadia may not be perfect, but ultimately, it makes a whole lot of sense.
Conveniently, that seems to be how General Motors planned it. GM gave its minivan lineup the axe in late 2006, filling the newly created hole in its showrooms with a family of three (now four, counting the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2012/chevrolet/traverse/index.html">Chevrolet Traverse</a>) crossover vehicles. The thinking - that most people who drive minivans and full-size <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUVs</a> want all the utility they can get but none of the big-truck thirst or minivan stigma - is logical, and we were intrigued. As such, we welcomed a gold mist metallic Acadia into our Four Seasons fleet last spring.
Like the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/used_cars/11/saturn/outlook/index.html">Saturn Outlook</a>, the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2012/buick/enclave/index.html">Buick Enclave</a>, and the Traverse, the Acadia is built on GM's Lambda platform. The basic features - front-wheel drive; a transverse-mounted, 275-hp V-6; unibody construction; four-wheel independent suspension; and a six-speed automatic - are the stuff ordinary passenger sedans are made of. The ideas borrowed from the minivan and <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUV</a> world - standard third-row seating, optional second-row captain's chairs, optional all-wheel drive, and generous seats-down cargo capacity - help sweeten the pot and theoretically provide all of the big-hauler advantages with few of the negatives.
In the spirit of that two-worlds-collide philosophy, we equipped our all-wheel-drive <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/99/2012/gmc/acadia/slt_long_bed_regular_cab_pickup/2458/index.html">Acadia SLT</a> with a host of features from both camps. Adding a rear-seat entertainment system, nineteen-inch aluminum wheels, a twin-panel sunroof, a towing package, a touch-screen navigation system, a head-up display, cargo-area audio controls, and HID headlamps (whew!) to our order sheet brought the MSRP to a whopping $44,965. That's $6860 in options on top of the well-equipped SLT's $38,105 base price - not an unreasonable amount for that much equipment, but certainly not bargain-bin material, either.
We put the Acadia to work immediately, and just as quickly, we found ourselves impressed by the quality of its interior. The <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/gmc/index.html">GMC</a> cabin's mix of tight panel gaps and durable materials, not to mention its tasteful use of chrome, surprised more than a few testers. "The interior is a real cut above the Detroit norm," remarked one staff member. "From the driver's seat, you see nicely sculpted shapes and three different types of plastic finish. Best of all, there's none of that cheap, nasty, old-school GM feel." Others outside the magazine's offices were just as taken. "I had a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/used_cars/11/lexus/rx300/index.html">Lexus RX300</a> owner in the Acadia," said senior editor Joe Lorio, "and he was impressed with the interior. I am, too. It's attractive, comfortable, and well-executed."
Our SLT came standard with minivanlike seven-passenger seating (the optional second-row captain's chairs plus a third-row bench), and the spacious practicality of that layout was much appreciated. "Split second-row seats are far nicer than folding down a bench to get the kids into the third row," noted production manager Alan Luckwald. Copy editor Rusty Blackwell hauled four friends - three of whom were more than six feet tall - five hundred miles to Boyne Mountain for Saint Patrick's Day. "I heard no complaints about legroom," he wrote, making us wonder if his friends have telescopic limbs. (Or, for that matter, mute buttons. The Acadia is roomy inside, but not that roomy.)
Regardless, cramming that much seating capacity into a vehicle the size of the Acadia had to take a toll. As you'd expect, with a full complement of passengers, cargo room was scarce. "I've passed on driving the Acadia for long trips," said road test editor Marc Noordeloos, "solely because I can't fit the Noordeloos family and all our gear into the vehicle. The fifth person needs to sit in the third row, taking up valuable luggage space." And as Luckwald pointed out, "the Acadia may be every bit as spacious as a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2012/chevrolet/suburban/index.html">Chevrolet Suburban</a> for passenger use, but my luggage - a laptop, a small suitcase, a backpack, and a box of magazines - took up all of the room behind the third row."
Speaking of Suburbans, comparisons with Chevy's king hauler came fast and easy. Given that the Acadia was designed specifically to lure people out of thirsty, unnecessarily large SUVs, it seemed appropriate to evaluate the two approaches side-by-side. Executive editor Joe DeMatio was one of the first to chime in. "The Acadia is a lovely vehicle," he wrote, "and in most cases, it would handily fill the needs of the average Suburban owner." He wasn't alone in that opinion, and most of us agreed that the Acadia was also far nicer to drive than the live-axle, body-on-frame Chevy. "The Acadia trumps the Suburban dynamically," wrote West Coast editor Jason Cammisa. "It handles better and rides smoother. It also gets better fuel mileage and costs less."
In spite of the Acadia's 'burban-trumping dynamics, some weren't so convinced. Notoriously cantankerous technical editor Don Sherman was one of the loudest dissenters. "Big, soft, slow, heavy," he scrawled into the logbook. "This thing reminds me of a large refrigerator/freezer." "I don't like the frequent downshifts or the lack of torque," added another staffer. "Everyone complaining about the lack of power needs to calm down," retorted Cammisa. "Why would a behemoth like this need to dust sport coupes at stoplights? The 3.6-liter V-6 is smooth, quiet, and refined, and the six-speed automatic's downshifts are imperceptible. Who cares if the engine needs to rev a bit?"
GM equipped the Acadia with a V-6 instead of a V-8 on grounds of packaging and fuel economy, and as Cammisa pointed out, our observed fuel mileage eclipsed that of our similarly equipped 2007 Four Seasons Suburban. Don't get too excited, however - that isn't saying much. Like most full-size <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUVs</a>, the Suburban is thirstier than a freshman at a frat party; we observed an average of just 14 mpg during our 2006-07 Four Seasons test. At an average 18 mpg, the 5060-pound Acadia boasted a notable improvement over the Chevy, but poor fuel economy would nevertheless become our biggest complaint. Sticking to 70 mph or less on the highway usually improved economy by up to fifteen percent, but in a land where traffic moves at 80 mph, such tactics weren't often practical. (The <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2012/chevrolet/traverse/index.html">Chevrolet Traverse</a> is scheduled to receive GM's new, more efficient, direct-injection V-6, and we assume that powerplant will soon be seen in the rest of GM's Lambda-platform vehicles.)
Surprisingly, fuel mileage didn't suffer much during towing, despite the V-6's relatively low torque rating. Staff averages - while hauling everything from 4500 pounds of <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/porsche/index.html">Porsche</a> track car and trailer to 2000 pounds of pop-up camper - ranged from 10 to 16 mpg. Towing performance, however, was another matter. "Our pop-up camper really made itself felt," wrote Lorio, "and the transmission spent a lot of time in fifth and even fourth gear." Others, like Cammisa, had no issues with the Acadia's restless hauling demeanor. "Sure, the engine had to work hard - to maintain my speedy pace, it occasionally downshifted to fourth, and sometimes third, gear - but I couldn't feel the transmission, nor could I hear the engine over the shockingly good stereo." Regardless, everyone agreed that the Acadia was eminently capable and that it offered a lot of towing ability (4500 pounds, max) given its layout and versatility.
Was the Acadia reliable? Yes and no.
While our trucklet never left anyone stranded or failed to complete its appointed rounds, by the end of its stay, it had developed some issues. Problems ranged from small items like loose seat rails, a rattling dash, and a broken rear sunroof shade to larger ones like weak, bouncy rear dampers and tired, occasionally noisy front dampers. The car momentarily refused to start for one driver, only to burst into life like normal just five minutes later.
For a vehicle as promising as the Acadia, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise satisfying test.
Still, in spite of those issues, we remain impressed. The Acadia's practicality and inherently useful, clever layout can't be denied. Individual staff members had some complaints, but in general, everyone came away with positive feelings. "GM did its homework," said Noordeloos, "and in spite of some detail issues, that effort produced an excellent vehicle for the modern American family." Cammisa echoed the sentiment: "If General Motors could make its entire lineup this focused and well-thought-out, the rest of the world might regard American cars a little more highly."
Indeed. The Acadia, along with the think-outside-the-box concept it represents, has fundamental merit, and it shows that GM is finally thinking on its feet. Will it be enough to drag people away from full-size SUVs? Only time and fuel prices will tell.