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  • Roger Witherspoon

The Little Big SUV Going Everywhere in the Acadia

By Roger Witherspoon


When it comes to choosing an SUV, there are some choices that you wish you did

not have to make.

If you are a soccer dad and, on occasion, are carrying a lot more than just your

own kids a vehicle comfortably seating seven – with accompanying luggage – would be a

good thing to have. But that means on most occasions you are driving a nearly empty, gas

guzzling, boxy truck. Or you can opt for a mid-sized SUV or crossover, which means you

have a vehicle which feels like a car but have to make two trips to the ballpark to carry all

the kids and their stuff.

Which is why GM came up with the Acadia, a stretch SUV with the chassis and

handling of a large sedan and a carrying capacity approaching that of the large rolling,

truck-based boxes. Outside, the Acadia has the low, long, curving shape that is typical of

crossover SUVs and ride like stretch sedans.

Susan Morales, the engineer in charge of GM’s midsized crossover SUVs, said

the all-wheel-drive Acadia shares a platform with the Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave.

“With the Acadia,” said Morales, “we wanted an SUV that was smaller than the full sized

trucks, and longer than the regular mid-sized vehicles with real third row seating for


To ensure the Acadia handles like a sedan, Morales augmented the SUV’s all

wheel drive system with both stability and rollover controls, and a “panic brake assist”

which automatically applies additional brake pressure in emergency stopping situations.

That design gives the Acadia and its three rows of seats – with a price tag of

$38,000 – an edge over its intended, well established, two-row competitors: the Honda

Pilot, Ford Edge, Lexus RS, Acura MDX, and Toyota Highlander. Morales’ Acadia is a

bit more than 200 inches in length, about 15 inches longer than the others in that

crossover class. The added length is used both to provide seating and ensuring that there

is actually a cargo area, rather than a third row taking up the space that should have been

used for cargo.

The Acadia, with a 275-horsepower V-6 engine, also has a bit more power than its

competition. The Ford Edge, for example, has a 265-horsepower engine and the Honda

Pilot’s power plant produces 244 horses – though both vehicles have V-6 engines. The

added power gives the larger Acadia the same performance capabilities on the road,

allowing you to run on highways at higher speeds without straining the engine.

There was thought given to comfort, too, and the Acadia’s seats are soft, padded

leather, and the front set can be heated. In terms of seating in the rest of the vehicle, the

Acadia’s second row comes in two flavors – a pair of Captain’s Chairs with space in

between for easy access, or a traditional bench seating three which can fold flat in a 60/40

split. With either option, the third row is actually designed with enough leg and head

room to hold adults up to six feet in height for the duration of a comfortable, cross

country trip.

Morales had long trips in mind when it came to laying out the interior. The

Acadia has about 25 storage places or varying sizes including cup and liter bottle holders.

The front armrest, for example, slides back and forth for use or access to a split-level

lower console. The top layer is about two inches deep, but removing that tray provides a

60-cubic inch storage bin. Right behind it is a second row console with two storage

compartments and cup holders. The entire assembly can fold flat into the floor, however,

when the space is needed for storage. The entire second row can fold flat or slide forward

to easier access to the third row or cargo area. There are also storage compartments under

the floor in the cargo area.

For entertainment, the Acadia came fully loaded. There is a Bose surround system

with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, the better to hear the sounds from the XM satellite

radio or the six-disc, in-dash CD and MP3 player. For the folks in the rear, there is a pull

down screen and a DVD player with wireless controls and headsets. It also has the

OnStar communications system which, for $299 annually, will provide live concierge

services and turn-by-turn navigation assistance. That can serve as a backup to the built-in,

DVD-based, easy to use, navigation system.

Whether or not the Acadia will manage to steal motorists from the more

established competition remains to be seen. But it will certainly give them a well

designed, comfortable run for their money.

2008 GMC Acadia AWD

MSRP: $38,015

EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 22 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity: 4,500 Pounds

Performance/ Safety:

3.6-Liter V-6 engine producing 275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed

automatic transmission; panic brake assist; electronic stability and traction control; all

wheel drive; back-up camera system; heated ice-defrosting rear view mirrors and heated

windshield washer fluid; remote vehicle start; fog lamps; 18-inch aluminum wheels; dual

frontal, head curtain side and side impact airbags; dual chrome tipped exhausts;

independent front & rear suspension.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/ XM satellite radio; 6-disc, in-dash CD and MP3 player; 10-speaker Bose 5.1

Surround Sound system; satellite based navigation system; DVD system with flip-down

screen; OnStar communications system; leather, tilt & telescoping steering wheel with

fingertip audio and cruise controls; Heads Up display; power sunroof; power and heated

front seats; 7-passenger seating – captains chairs 2

nd row and split bench 3rd row; 115-

volt power outlet; 3-zone climate controls; power liftgate.


Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, Acura MDX, Lexus RS, Toyota Highlander.


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