When suburbia was overrun by large, inefficient SUVs, along came the crossover to make the anti-minivan crowd happy.
General Motors' three-row crossover triplets -- the Chevy Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia -- hit all those shoppers' needs. They're the largest crossovers in terms of cargo and interior room while still feeling relatively nimble around parking lots and carpool lanes.
For 2013, all three have been updated.
The 2013 GMC Acadia's biggest change is on the outside, where a monstrous new grille will draw attention at soccer games, but there isn't much else that's new to make the Acadia stand out from the pack.
Luckily for GMC, the competition hasn't delivered a knockout punch of its own -- yet.
The thing to remember about the Acadia throughout this review is just how big it is. At 200.8 inches long, it's 3.7 inches longer than a Ford Explorer, 3.6 inches longer than a Nissan Pathfinder and 9.4 inches longer than a Honda Pilot. It also outweighs those three by 122 pounds, 471 pounds and 350 pounds, respectively.
That's why its V-6 needs to produce 288 horsepower to get it moving.
The Acadia doesn't feel fast when accelerating from a stop or at highway speeds. It does just enough to get the job done -- even with my family on board -- but nothing more. To be fair, there aren't many three-row crossovers that are exhilarating behind the wheel -- at least not without much more powerful engines under the hoods of more expensive nameplates. The Explorer's base V-6 produces 290 hp but doesn't feel noticeably quicker.
Around town, the Acadia remains unbelievably nimble for its size. Light steering and excellent visibility add to a feeling of effortlessness that will be a big selling point for errand-running families.
I also found it easy to park. The driver gets a good sense of where all four corners of the crossover are -- the lack of which was a fault I found in the Explorer and others in the class.
Pushing the Acadia to its limits while cornering isn't advisable. This is a large SUV, after all, and that's an area where the Ford has a slight edge. In this class, though, nothing handles like the Mazda CX-9.
The Acadia's ride is about average; one editor thought the optional 19-inch wheels didn't help matters. I had no complaints about road and wind noise.
Gas mileage for front-wheel-drive models is rated at 17/24 mpg city/highway, 19 mpg combined. All-wheel-drive models like the one I tested lose a single mpg on all three figures. These numbers are about average for the class, with only the Nissan Pathfinder offering significantly better returns of 22 mpg combined.
During my winter testing over a few hundred miles of driving, the trip computer showed better than 14 mpg only once. This was poor. Even in cold weather and on my mileage-killing commute and errand-running, test cars typically perform at their city mileage rating. I tested an even-thirstier four-wheel-drive Ford F-150 with a turbocharged V-6, rated 15/21/17 mpg, in identical conditions during even colder temperatures, and its computer showed mileage of 15 mpg.
The Acadia is in a tough spot when it comes to pleasing families who live in upscale digs. A starting price of $34,945, including an $895 destination charge, puts it at least $3,500 above most of the competition. Is its interior worthy of that extra dough? Not at all.
I don't want to be repetitive, but while the fit and finish and materials are good enough, shoppers might prefer the futuristic look of the Explorer or the elegant look of the Pathfinder versus the Acadia's no-frills layout.
The front seats have wide seat bottoms and, in my test car, the leather surfaces were quite comfortable. The Acadia's interior just doesn't feel premium. Even the gauges -- which seem untouched from the previous model -- look outdated and low-rent.
It also features an updated version of GM's MyLink multimedia system. The system itself is simple enough to use in terms of how menus progress and how various settings are laid out. The 6.5-inch screen is a bit small, though, and placed too low in your field of vision. Most competitors, like Nissan, have 8-inch screens.
What I and other editors thought was the worst failing was the integration of capacitive touch "buttons" surrounding the screen itself. These are actually just labeled areas on a flat piece of plastic that, when you touch them -- with ungloved fingers -- activate a specific digital command.
The Home button, which you'll use a lot, is hard to hit blindly. Even worse, though, the controls for the trip computer that displays between the gauges are in this same cluster and require an added glance to locate. All this fumbling is one of the reasons we've found executions of capacitive touch in many cars to add a significant level of distraction that isn't needed in modern vehicles, which are already extremely tech-laden.
Family-Friendliness & Cargo
You simply can't ignore the Acadia's spaciousness. If you're a family that uses all three rows routinely, the Acadia has 24.1 cubic feet of cargo room behind them. That tops the Explorer, at 21 cubic feet; the Pilot, 18 cubic feet; and the Pathfinder, 16 cubic feet. That gave me plenty of room for grocery runs, and it could easily accommodate soccer players and their gear for practice.
The Acadia bests the rest in terms of maximum cargo room, too, but passenger volume is just equal to the Explorer and a bit less than the Pilot and Pathfinder.
This is where families need to judge how often they use that third row and how much stuff they need to carry. Or, conversely, how comfortable they want their passengers to be.
Of course, going the minivan route is more practical than any three-row crossover; a Honda Odyssey, for example, packs 13 percent more passenger volume and 28 percent more cargo volume than the Acadia.
Minivans and some large crossovers, like the Pathfinder, also do a much better job with entry height. My 5-year-old son can climb into almost any car I bring home to test, but he couldn't manage the Acadia on his own. Both he and my 3½-year-old daughter were able to climb into the Pathfinder we tested a few months earlier with ease. Both actually raved about it.
Base SLE-1 Acadias come standard with a second-row bench seat, for a total seat count of eight. Two captain's chairs change that number to seven and are standard on the SLE-2 trim and upward. But the bench seat is a no-cost option in higher trims if you do need that extra spot.
Cars.com's certified child-seat technicians put the Acadia through a thorough check of how it handles a variety of car seats. The captain's chairs simplified third-row access. The sliding second-row seats also helped provide plenty of room for infant, convertible and booster seats. However, installing the infant seat in the second row was a struggle, and there were no Latch connectors in the third row.
Features & Pricing
If the Acadia's space isn't enough to wow you, its sticker price will likely make you pass on it entirely.
At a starting price of $34,945, you get a decent amount of content, including a backup camera, a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, a USB port, cruise control and parking sensors. But there you're dealing with cloth seats and a manual driver's seat.
That price is nearly $3,500 more than the base Chevy Traverse, which has less standard content, like parking sensors, but does have Bluetooth, cruise control and a backup camera.
The competition has even lower starting prices, with the Explorer, Pathfinder and Pilot all starting below $31,000, including destination, with similar equipment levels.
Acadia prices reach much higher -- nearly $45,000 -- as you move to the top trim level, the SLT-2.
But GMC has an even pricier model, called the Acadia Denali, that has more flash outside, including unique bumpers and wheels, as well as more features inside, starting at $46,840.
The 2013 Acadia is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, representing top scores in frontal, side and rear crash tests and a roof-strength test. The 2013 Acadia also earns a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Acadia in the Market
The Acadia is a solid crossover for those who need space and can't fathom minivan ownership. However, its price, hit-or-miss interior and flawed gadgetry open holes of doubt for shoppers in this crowded segment.
Can the styling alone draw shoppers? Yes, and they'll be treated to a good crossover. The thing is, you'll find just as good a vehicle in the Chevy Traverse for less money -- let alone the competition, which you can get for even less.