2018 GMC Acadia SLE-2 (USA)

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The Acadia nameplate was first seen in 2006, when GMC launched their version of what would turn out to be a family of 4 vehicles. Based on the Lambda platform, these were the first unibody GM crossover type models, replacing an array of older SUV-style models. All four had different styling, and were positioned to appeal with slightly different price points in a class which was just about to explode in popularity. The Buick Enclave sat at the top of the stack, very much the luxury version, and the Chevrolet Traverse was the cheapest and hence the value proposition. The Saturn Relay and GMC Acadia were somewhere in-between. All four were well received, proving to be a significant advance on models such as the Chevy Trailblazer and GMC Envoy which they replaced. The late Noughties were tough times for GM, though, and part of their survival plan saw the end of the Saturn brand, meaning that the Relay had a relatively short life. In a move which surprised everyone, though, when the Acadia received its mid-cycle refresh, as well as the technology updates which were expected, the GMC car adopted the Saturn Relay’s front end styling. GMC surprised everyone again with the launch at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, not with the fact that there was a new Acadia, as by this time the design was 10 years old, but in the fact that it was significantly smaller, as well as lighter than the model it would supplant. Yes, in time honoured GM tradition, the old model would remain as a fleet-only version for a further year, but the 2017 model year Acadia was re-positioned more as a direct competitor – still with 7 seats – to the likes of the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander than it had been before. The decision appeared to make a little more sense when the Acadia’s smaller brother, the Terrain, along with its Chevrolet Equinox alter ego also appeared half a size smaller than they had been, but the new 2018 Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse did not follow the same down-sizing route. The Acadia now shares more of the bits you can’t see with the Cadillac XT5 and the Chinese built Buick Envision. This new strategy is either GM being clever, filling in half sizes in their range, or running the risk of losing out to competition by being either too small or too large depending on your comparison point. I was always impressed by the first generation Lambda cars, having driven no fewer than 4 of them over the years, and now the next generation C1XX models are on rental fleet, albeit in limited numbers. When I arrived at Phoenix’ Sky Harbor airport late on a Tuesday evening – always a low point for car availability – a 2018 model year Acadia was about the only car available that I had not driven, so I grabbed the keys, keen to find out not just how good the Acadia is, but also how I would find it, having just spent a couple of days driving rival products, the Honda Pilot and the Dodge Durango.

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The Acadia is available with an optional 310 bhp 3.6 litre V6 engine, and I think it would be well worth considering. Sadly, it was not fitted to the test car, which had to make do with the 193 bhp 2.5 litre four cylinder unit. When pottering around, one-up, all is well, and you might even conclude that this is a smooth and refined engine, but underway and on hills or when baulked a little in traffic, you’ll probably come to a different view. The gearbox is very willing to change down a gear or two to get acceleration, and indeed, you will need it to do so, but that’s the point that you really are aware of the fact that this is quite a large and heavy vehicle and that 193 bhp is going to be a bit of a struggle. When the engine works harder, it gets quite raucous, and that is only in the middle of the rev range. Take it nearer to the red line, if your ears can stand it, and this is really quite loud. Once you’ve settled back to a steady speed, though, all is fine again, and with noise levels generally well suppressed, this can be quite a peaceful long-distance cruiser. That was indeed how I tested the Acadia, covering a lot of miles in one day in a quest to avoid some truly terrible weather that was forecast to afflict Arizona for the day. That means that I covered 480 miles, and although the fuel gauge moved off “Full” almost instantly and was quickly showing a quarter tank had been consumed, overall economy turned out to be pretty respectable. I put 20 gallons into the car during the day, and drove 481 miles, which means 24.05 mpg US or 28.73 mpg Imperial. The steady speed freeway cruising had a lot to do with this, for sure, as the trip computer was showing that the average over the preceding 5000 miles was just 20.8 mpg (US), and although I set off back to Phoenix unsure if there was going to be enough fuel on board, I arrived back with a range of over 100 miles still showing. I suspect that you would not achieve figures like these with the V6 Acadia no matter how gently you drove it.

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The other driving characteristics are described in my test notes simply as “unmemorable”. Nothing stood out. That means that there were no irritations, just as much as anything else, so at the risk of damning with faint praise, I can attest that the Acadia is not a car you would actively avoid. The steering has some feel to it, but it lacks the sharpness and the precision that would make it a joy to find twisty bits of road. At least it is not over-assisted and vague as you can get in some cars where practicality usurped all the fun elements in the design spec. There’s plenty of grip when you do find those bendy roads, and the result of the slightly smaller body of this Acadia compared to the last one is that there is less body lean and anxiety about a high centre of gravity. The ride is good, with the GMC smoothing out the edges, bumps and undulations of the roads that I used to good effect. The test car rode on some high profile 235/65 R18 wheels. I had no opportunity to test the brakes in anything other than a gentle way – my scares came when the heavens opened to create rivers of water of biblical proportions on the I10 freeway in the middle of west Arizona nowhere. There is an electric parking brake with the button on the dash to the left of the wheel. The Acadia does not feel as big as it is when it comes to manoeuvering it and with a generous glass area and a good field of view from the mirrors, it was easy to place on the road, and to park up, the now obligated rear-view camera helping out.

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My abiding memory of the interior of the Acadia will be of the truly nasty “wood” that was used on the centre console, and as inlays in the dash and on the door casings. I’ve seen plenty of examples of “wood” done very badly, and this is right there with the first worst, with a horrid grain effect included, that will fool no-one that is anything other than cheap and tawdry plastic. That’s a pity as the rest of the design is actually decent enough. Some matt aluminium effect surrounds are used to provide colour contrast with the large amount of black that is used, and these look perfectly OK. Most of the upper surfaces are of nice enough quality mouldings that are soft(ish) to the touch, though there are some harder surfaces as well, lower down. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and was nice to hold. The dash uses lots of componentry from the GM parts bin, so all the elements here will be familiar to those who’ve driven other recent GM products. Four dials are presented in the cluster, with smaller fuel and water temperature gauges set upper between the rev counter and speedometer, leaving space in the lower central section for trip computer displays, with a simple set of menus cycled through using the buttons on the right hand spoke of the steering wheel. The left hand spoke operates the cruise control. Audio repeater functions are on buttons on the reverse side of the wheel spokes, operated by touch, and unlabelled (I did not realise they were even there to start with). There are two GM-standard column stalks with lights operated by twisting the end of the left hand stalk, and wipers on the right. I had occasion to test these when the clouds burst, and they do a good job of clearing the screen even on their very fastest setting. The centre of the dash contains an integrated display screen for the GMC IntelliLink infotainment system. Thankfully there are still knobs and buttons for volume and tuning, otherwise, you use the touch screen as the interface for access to the three radio modes (AM, FM and XM Satellite, the last of these very welcome when driving a long way where there are no FM signals worth listening to!) as well other car settings, bluetooth and GM On Star. Beneath this unit are the climate control knobs and buttons, retained even though there is a display screen associated with the system, with its own touch interface. Overall, it is a neat set-up, and easy to use.

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Seat trim is cloth in the as-tested version of the Acadia, but with SLE-2 trim, you do get electric adjustment, and there are heating elements for both the cushion and the back rest. Although getting the right driving position was easy, thanks for the range of adjustment and the fact that the wheel telescopes in/out and as well as up/down, after a few hours spend on the driver’s seat I was not that comfortable, as the cushion seemed rather flat and unsupportive. The middle row comprises two “captain’s chairs”, set apart from each other, each with a swivelling armrest on their side. Occupants here will have plenty of space, as the SUV styling means that headroom is generous, and there is also ample leg room even when the front seats are set well back. There are separate climate controls for those seated here, operated from the rear face of the centre console (though this can be over-riden by the driver!).

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The third row is only really intended for children. Getting in is no more difficult than it is with any other 7-seater, with the middle seats folding forward and out of the way, but once installed, there is not much width – certainly not for three people, and occupants here will have to adopt a “knees in your chin” posture, which is fine for a few miles, but no good for longer distances.

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The tailgate in this version is electrically assisted, and that is useful, as it is large and heavy. With all three rows of seat erect, the boot space is pretty small. It was not large enough to accommodate my suitcase, so I had to lower a seat to get it in. There is a useful well under the boot floor, which would take quite a few odds and ends. Creating more luggage space is easy, with the seats just folding forward, by pulling the appropriate strap, and the resulting load area is flat. Even with the middle row still in place, the luggage area is sizeable and with these chairs also folded down, there is a vast acreage available. There are roof rails as well, in case you want to load the Acadia up still further. Inside the cabin, the bins on all four doors are complemented by a modest glove box, a deep recess in front of the gearlever and a deep cubby under the central armrest. Those in the second row get map pockets on the front seat backs and a useful pull-out drawer in the base of the centre console unit.

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There are several available Acadia trims. The base trim may be fine for many buyers because it comes with a decent assortment of tech features. However, it lacks the upscale feel and high-tech features of higher trims. The SLT trims are probably best for most buyers. They offer almost all the features you can get in an Acadia, including many active safety features, but they still cost a few thousand less than the top-level Denali trim. Entry point is the Acadia SL, which has a base price of $29,000. It’s the only trim not available with the V6 engine or all-wheel drive, and it has no notable available features. Sitting above this is the SLE, of which there are two versions, the SLE-1, which has a starting price of $32,600, and the SLE-2, which starts at $35,200. Either SLE trim lets you upgrade to all-wheel drive for $2,000. The SLE-1 comes with satellite radio in addition to all of the base model’s features. You can get the V6 engine in this trim, but you also have to add AWD; you’ll spend $3,095 for both. The SLE trim also offers the All Terrain package, which replaces the third-row seat with a cargo management system. It also includes some styling upgrades and a suspension tuned for off-roading. The SLE-2 is available in FWD and AWD with either engine. It comes standard with a power liftgate, heated front seats, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. Adding the V6 costs $1,095. For $790, you can get the Driver Alert I package, which adds rear parking sensors, a rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. There are two Acadia SLT trims as well, with the SLT-1 starting at $38,500 and the SLT-2 starting at $41,900. The SLT-1 comes standard with a power-adjustable passenger seat, leather upholstery, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, the features from the Driver Alert I package, and an upgraded IntelliLink system with an 8-inch touch screen. You can add the V6 engine for $1,095. You can also add AWD (only if you’ve upgraded to the V6) for $2,400. Like the SLE, the SLT is also available with the All Terrain package. The SLT-2 is only offered with the V6 engine. It comes standard with heated second-row seats, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, lane keep assist, a safety alert driver’s seat, blind spot monitoring, and low-speed forward automatic braking. AWD costs an extra $2,400. Top of the range is the Acadia Denali, with a starting price of $45,100. It comes standard with the V6 engine, navigation, a hands-free power liftgate, ventilated front seats, and an automatic heated steering wheel. AWD costs $2,000. The Technology package ($1,395) adds adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, and a surround-view camera.

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The Acadia is not a bad car. Far from it, as it has no major weaknesses, that slightly raucous 4 cylinder engine aside. But there’s nothing really that stands out, which is why most of the US press rate it towards the bottom of what is now a very competitive class. That seems a little unfair, but I can understand why it is the case. In making it half a size smaller than it was, it now sits in a difficult position where many similarly priced rivals offer more space, and that includes Chevrolet’s own Traverse, which has space for 8 and more luggage, as well as the likes of the Toyota Highlander and Dodge Durango, which are nicely finished and both of which have standard V6 engines, something that the Acadia is really going to need especially if you fill it with people. And if you really wanted a smaller SUV, then there is loads of choice, with cars like the Ford Edge, Kia Sorento and Nissan Murano all impressing in their different ways, though these are 5-seater cars. Having driven the Honda Pilot, though, and been very impressed by its innate competence, I reckon that is probably the pick of the mid-size crossovers right now, and if you want something a little larger (it’s the same rental car grouping) then the Dodge Durango would get the nod over the Acadia as well.

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