At 201.1 inches overall, the GMC Acadia is a lot longer than a Ford Explorer. The Acadia shares its basic mechanical components with the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse.
The exterior design team for the Acadia managed to give a relatively large vehicle a look that has moved away from bulky without sacrificing a kind of active grace. The rounded front end features a bright grille surround framing a prominent GMC emblem. Distinctively curved headlight clusters give the Acadia a slightly startled expression. Projector beams are standard; high-intensity discharge headlights are optional. Small round fog lights nestle below. The front bumper is massive, but this is camouflaged somewhat by its black color and by a bright strip at the top.
Most noticeable from the side are the rounded fender flares and a horizontal character line that sets out to connect them but disappears into the doors instead. Tasteful bright trim and polished aluminum roof rails add visual interest. The shape of the Acadia is aerodynamically efficient (for an SUV), with a drag coefficient of 0.344. Power-adjustable outside mirrors are standard on all models. Body-color outside mirrors with integrated turn signals are standard on SLT, with a power-folding function available as an option.
From the rear, the Acadia looks like a generic crossover SUV, accented by interesting two-tone taillight clusters and quad exhaust tips.
The 18-inch wheels and tires that come standard are a good choice for the Acadia, offering the best ride quality, but it's also available with 19-inch and 20-inch wheels. The Acadia has the visual mass to support the big-diameter wheels, but the bright 20-inchers are too dazzling for our tastes.
The Acadia SLT has a handsome and upscale look. The designers of the Acadia stayed away from cheap-looking plastic and bargain-basement cloth, but did not lose track of basic functionality. The heating and cooling controls are easy to find and use. The instruments are legible, not lost in some fussy attempt at a complex design. Big cupholders and a deep bin between the front seats are welcome, but the pockets on the inside door panels are too narrow for any meaningful storage.
The front seats are wide and comfortable. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, making it easy for drivers tall and short to get comfortable. As with any SUV, the driver sits high, with a good view down the road. But visibility to the rear isn't great, requiring care when backing up. We recommend opting for ultrasonic rear park assist, which can detect objects out of the driver's line of sight. We further recommend getting the rearview camera, which projects its image on the navigation screen or the rearview mirror. The smaller image on the rearview mirror is right in your line of sight when looking at the rearview mirror to back up. However, in a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the small image on the rearview mirror hard to see. A larger image on a navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful.
Eight-passenger seating comes standard, with a 60/40 split bench in the second row that can accommodate three people. The up-level models have second-row captain's chairs, which cut passenger capacity to seven but are more comfortable. Either model can be ordered with the other seating arrangement. This is an important choice that deserves careful consideration: Models with second-row captain's chairs are less functional for hauling cargo.
The specifications list second-row legroom as 36.9 inches. To provide a little more flexibility, the Acadia's second row slides fore and aft a total of four inches. According to GM, those 36.9 inches are measured with the seat roughly in the middle of that range. We found that with the second row in the rearmost position a six-foot adult can be comfortable in the driver's seat while another six-footer can be seated directly behind without being cramped.
Getting to the third row involves using what GM calls its Smart Slide feature. A handle moves the second row up and out of the way. It didn't work particularly well for us on an early model Acadia we tested, but we found it to be easy to use on other GM models. Give it a try yourself at the dealership; it shouldn't take too long to figure out.
As in most vehicles, the Acadia's third row is best suited for small children. But here is the fine print when GMC says the Acadia is a seven- or eight-passenger vehicle: GM assumes three people are sitting in the third row, which has about nine inches less hip room than the second row. Putting three children back there will be possible, but three adults won't fit. Two adults will fit, though, with good head room and adequate leg room. Just don't plan to keep them back there on long trips because the low seat bottoms lack thigh support.
Cargo capacity is generous, with 24.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That's more than the trunk space of a mid-size sedan and measurably more than what's offered by the Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer. A small plastic-lined bin below the floor of the Acadia's cargo compartment is perfect for carrying messy stuff.
More cargo capacity is revealed by folding down the back seats. The third row folds down easily, and a strap is used to pull it back up. It is not an upper-body workout but does require effort. With the third row folded down the Acadia's cargo-carrying advantage continues with nearly 69 cubic feet of space. One nice feature is that lowering the second or third rows on the Acadia does not require removing the head restraints. When the second and third rows are folded the cargo area is almost flat, and there is a cavernous 115.9 cubic feet of cargo volume. In all cargo dimensions, the Acadia offers ample and generous capacity and outstrips many competitors, including the Pilot and the Explorer.