2012 GMC Acadia- It’s Not Easy Being Everyone’s Friend

Geography geeks out there will know that Acadia, which clings to Maine’s Atlantic coastline, is the easternmost national park in the United States. And not only that, the 1532 ft. tall summit of Mt. Cadillac, located within the park, is the first spot that sees the sun rise every morning in the country. Fascinating facts, right? Similarly, some car geeks out there will know that the GMC Acadia represented a new direction for GM’s truck brand when it was introduced in 2006. Think of it as a new dawn as well.

The GMC marque was created in 1912 and since then has exclusively sold trucks. Give GM credit for staying true to the same, proven formula for the past century and although most of GMC’s offerings have been nothing more than rebadged Chevrolets, they have resisted selling passenger cars. Even during tough economic times along with periods of spiked fuel prices, walk into a GMC dealer and you‘d only see pickup trucks, vans, and SUV‘s. The last decade has brought much change to the brand- firstly being consolidated into the same dealer network as Pontiac and Buick, then being only one of four brands to survive GM’s restructuring, and then selling a vehicle such as the Acadia.

Even though the Acadia may look like a typical SUV- it really was something new for GMC. It was the first unibody vehicle to wear the three-letter badge, as well as the first front wheel drive vehicle and crossover, to do so as well. Times certainly are a changing. The Acadia had the daunting task to replace several vehicles in the lineup: the outdated Safari minivan, archaic Envoy, and the Pontiac Montana SV6. No small feat, and a gamble that could have cost GMC its livelihood. With all that pressure, how does the Acadia stack up?

From the moment you first drive the Acadia it’s obvious that it’s eons more advanced than the old truck based Envoy and Jimmy. Unlike its brutish predecessors, the Acadia is not a chore to drive. The powertrain is an ideal match for this vehicle. The 3.6 liter V6 is pulled directly from the acclaimed Cadillac CTS and is responsive, smooth, and powerful. The highest output is an admirable 280 horsepower. Accelerating onto a freeway is not at all intimidating and the truck…er….SUV gets to 70mph with no trouble. Full throttle accelerations provide almost g-force inducing output and the engine never felt strained. With AWD- there was no torque steer, although front-wheel drive is standard. The Acadia is rated to tow an impressive and very truck-like 5,200 pounds

But this much power comes with a price, and fuel economy does suffer. The EPA rates the Acadia at 17mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.  At freeway speeds I averaged a decent 23mpg but in mixed city driving that plummeted to a dismal 17mpg average.

The six-speed automatic is perfectly teamed to the engine. Shifts are well-timed and silky smooth. Only when slowing down and suddenly pushing the accelerator hard does the transmission ever seem confused, otherwise it is very capable at sending the right amount of power to all four wheels. There is a manual mode, controlled by a switch on the side of the gear selector, that is very useful when on steep downhill grades. Otherwise, the transmission was so well sorted that it was easier to just let it do its job. This is a powertrain other manufacturers would kill for.

One big surprise for a taller vehicle was the Acadia’s handling. Granted, this is technically a crossover and not a true truck based SUV, but the center of gravity is still higher than most cars. What was really unexpected is how well the Acadia holds the road. Sure, it’ll never be a rally car, but considering that there’s 4600lbs. of metal being flung around the corners, the Acadia remained firmly planted on the road and continually felt secure. It never felt tipsy or clumsy. In fact, it’s one of the few SUV’s I’ve driven that inspired confidence around curves and was actually fun. For the first time, I really enjoyed scooting around the infamous Mulholland Dr. in an SUV. Go figure? One downside was that the steering felt non-communicative through turns and was very light, offering little feedback.

The supple ride was also another unforeseen characteristic of the Acadia. As mentioned, the vehicle never leaned in turns, and at the same time offered a stable ride that absorbed most of Southern California’s notorious potholes. It never felt harsh and was well tuned to handle most road imperfections. There was some noise that would kick up from the suspension – but in the scheme of things, that was just a misdemeanor.

Okay, so it’s fast, handles well, and behaves more like a car than an SUV. So far so good, but how does it go filling in the shoes of those [thankfully] defunct minivans?

As good as the Acadia is, this is the part when the kinks in the armor begin to shine through. Upfront the story is excellent- there’s loads of leg, knee, shoulder, and head room (or any other body parts you wish to add). It’s a relaxing and comfortable place to pass the hours. Both seats are power operated as well as heated. However, working back to the middle row is where things take a not-so-flowery turn. The two center-row seats have a number of manual adjustments and can slide back and forward as well as recline. But the seat bottom cushion is way too low, forcing the passengers to feel like they’re sitting on the floor with their knees to their chins. And the story only gets worse in the third row as passengers are forced to sit in the same position, but knee room is also hindered by the backs of the middle row seats. Due to a high roof line, headroom is sufficient throughout the entire cabin. In all fairness, most of the Acadia’s competitors have the same issues and the third row is typically best left for children. If you need more space, suck up your pride and get a legitimate minivan.

Otherwise, the Acadia can, and will, carry seven passengers in moderate comfort. The first two rows of seats are bucket, the rear being a bench for three, and are cloaked in a nice svelte leather. The front seats are pleasant to sit in, however do lack side bolstering and are rather flat. Entry and exit are easy, with four wide doors, and the middle row seats can be forgiven for some of their sins as they not only flip out-of-the-way, but also do a neat trick by collapsing into themselves like an accordion, providing a generous opening to the third row. Folding them up and placing them back to the original, upright position is a piece of cake. Second row passengers are also treated to separate ventilation controls and a radio with AUX for headphones.

All five back seats fold flat to add more versatility to the already generous cargo area. Once folded, the back could be used as a bed or can accommodate large items with no trouble. The opening is commodious and the liftgate swings up high and doesn’t impede loading. Opening and closing it can be done manually, or by the power buttons located on the remote keyless fob or by a button on the inside of the hatch.

When situated in the elevated driving position, the driver faces an expanse of minescule, look-a-like buttons for the radio, automatic climate control, and other vehicle systems. It seems a little overwhelming at first, but makes sense after a while and most switches are intuitive. The HVAC controls are mounted a little low, but otherwise are easy to operate and set to the desired settings. Three air vents rest above the dash and may look a little overdone at first, but the middle one blows directly into the back seats (they also have their own roof mounted air vents). Overall, it’s quick and easy to cool the cavernous interior on a hot day. The radio is the standard GM unit, found in many other models, which means its user-friendly controls with turn knobs for volume and tuning. Sound quality is excellent through the Bose audio system.

The USB inlet is strangely located on the side of the storage bin near the base of the windshield. It’s a very long reach (I had a hard time even with my orangutan arms) and is impossible to see from the driver seat. This location is not apparent and requires blindly trying to force the USB cable into the slot. Closing the compartment is impossible with the cord hanging out, causing the lid to remain open within the driver’s view.  It’s distracting and a glaring design oversight.  Aside from those antics, that storage compartment is handy for sunglasses and is lined in a soft velour. Other storage compartments abound throughout the interior.

With the exception of the USB outlet, the car’s ergonomics are solid and easy to adjust to. The deeply set gauges are clear and easy to read. All of them, along with most buttons in the cabin, are backlit in a read hue (ala Pontiac) and to me personally, it isn’t the easiest color to read at a glance. The Acadia is the first car I’ve seen in a long time with a gauge for battery output. In an age when even temperature gauges are being deleted from many cars, it was refreshing to see a full instrument panel like back in the old days, even if knowing the amp readings serve little purpose.

The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but the rim is very thin and there are no grips. Also, it feels very course to have in your hands. Actually, even with the upscale chrome and satin nickel surfaces, interior workmanship remains one of the Acadia’s biggest faults. The quality of the plastics in the entire cabin overall are low- feeling cheap and brittle. Some of them, especially around the console, have sharp edges and don’t have even cuts. Without exaggerating, they could pierce roaming fingers. Lastly, not all pieces fit together well and some seem loose and flimsy. These were once common issues on most GM products and the new restyled 2013 Acadia promises to address these quality concerns. Lets hope so as it’s unacceptable at this price point.

Visibility is decent all around with a clear view of the road through the large windshield and relatively thin, and non obtrusive, roof pillars. Even though the rear windows are large, it’s a long way back behind the third row seat and parallel parking can be daunting in this large vehicle. Luckily, there is a sensor that lets out an audible alert if an object is directly behind the car, along with another very neat trick- a back-up camera that is integrated in the rear view mirror that appears anytime the car is in reverse. Because the Acadia is large and maneuverability can be tough- this came in very handy. I’m often against this added technology, especially in smaller cars, but it’s necessary in something as large as the Acadia and was extremely helpful.  More traditionally, the side mirrors are large and well-shaped- providing a clear view around the car.

Even though the Acadia has remained essentially unchanged for six model years, it still looks fresh. It’s a purposeful shape and there’s restrained, tasteful touches of chrome throughout. I found the detailed projector headlamps and prominent GMC grille quite attractive, although the back is a little nondescript. The five spoke 19’’ aluminum wheels had an industrial appearance and complemented the overall look of the car. The style can be a little misleading- visually  the raked windshield and rear spoiler make the large 200.1 inch long body seem smaller than it is. But unlike many crossovers, the Acadia proudly sports the classic two-box, flat-sided SUV shape. Overall, it’s an attractive vehicle, even if somewhat forgettable.

Prices on the Acadia start at $32,685 in the SL trim. Choose the up level SLT trim like my tester and added features include the rear view camera, remote start, dual power heated front seats, leather surfaces, Bose system, and 7-passenger seating, along with the optional AWD and $395 Crystal Red exterior paint,  skyrocketing the MSRP to $42,130. It’s quite a lot, but is competitive to a higher-trimmed Dodge Durango or Ford Explorer, as well as the smaller Lexus RX.

My tester had exactly 30k miles and there were several minor flaws. A couple of squeaks lurked in the interior, and the steering wheel did rub against the plastics on the column. Any turns in the car would be accompanied with a light scraping sound. It wasn’t loud, but would be noticeable with the radio off and could be frustrating for an owner.

The Acadia tries to fill a gap in GMC’s portfolio and be a minivan and SUV all in one. But like many large crossovers, it doesn’t do the people hauling tasks as well as a van, and has the worst attributes of an SUV; namely bad fuel economy and being difficult to park. But it can be fun to drive and is very capable at hauling and towing- characteristics that usually don‘t go together. So it reaches its goals some ways and falls flat in others. It obvious that GM sweated some of the details in this car, but cut corners elsewhere. Overall, the Acadia is trying to be too hard to be something that it’s not, but if you accept it as an SUV, it’s not disappointing. Overall- 3.5/5.0 boomerangs

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