First Glance: Professional grade?
For while the Acadia doesn't have the truck-based machismo of the Yukon, it can be argued that it exploits the car-based CUV format better than most other vehicles. This is a big vehicle, a proper seven-seater (with available seating for eight) that maintains more-than-adequate luggage space behind the third row seats. Its modestly-sized V6 engine delivers more-than-adequate acceleration and its fuel economy is more than adequate -- best in class, matter of fact. With a $425 trailering package it can tow up to 4,500 lbs, more than adequate for a small boat or a couple of jet skis. Aside from its lack of off-road ability -- something few SUV owners exploit -- everything about this vehicle is more than adequate. And isn't that what we expect from professional-grade hardware?
In the Driver's Seat: Top-notch safety, excellent use of space
GM engineers moved the rear wheels back so that the fender arches don't interfere with rear seat access. The 2nd-row seats (a three-place bench or two "captain's chairs" with a center console) are a bit small and lacking in thigh support, but after a nearly hour-long ride they turned out to be surprisingly comfortable. The seats slide forward via a trick system GM calls "SmartSlide", in which the seat bottom flips upward and the seat back moves forward, all with the tug of a single lever.
The 3rd row seat offers the sort of room found in full-size SUVs -- still best suited for kids but a damn sight better than most mid-size SUVs. Both 2nd and 3rd-row seats get individual A/C outlets and reading lamps, a nice touch. The downside: Only the outer positions of both 2nd and 3rd row seats get headrests, and they're non-adjustable, limiting whiplash protection for taller adults. Both rows of seats fold flat, but even with the seats up there's 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 3rd row, comparable to the trunk space in many mid-size sedans. A compact rear suspension minimizes intrusions into the cargo bay.
On the Road: Acadia drives like a car, belies its weight
The Acadia's road manners are beyond reproach. First-time SUV drivers will find car-like familiarity; the Acadia's ride is steady and well controlled its steering is as precise and accurate as a mid-size car. Those used to SUVs will no doubt be impressed that something this big can respond so well to driver inputs. One of the Acadias I drove had a $350 head-up display that projects vehicle speed and other info onto the windshield so you need not take your eyes of the road. It's an excellent safety feature, not to mention a great conversation piece.
At the press presentation, GM had an Acura MDX and a Honda Pilot available for us to drive as a comparison. (Now that took cojones!) I thought the Acadia was much nicer to drive than the MDX, which was noisy and tended to wander back and forth on the road. The Pilot felt just as steady and secure in a straight line, but wasn't as quiet as the Acadia. And neither offered as much passenger and cargo space.
Journey's End: One of the best new CUVs on the market
There's one drawback to the Acadia: It ain't cheap. Just under $30,000 buys you a basic front-wheel-drive Acadia SLE that feels, well, pretty basic. I also drove a top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Acadia SLT, with standard features such as Bose stereo with 6-disc changer, heated leather seats, three-zone automatic climate control, and body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signals. It has a base price in excess of $37,000. With optional goodies like XM radio, navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, 19" wheels, and optional high-end paint colors, the bill for a top-of-the-range Acadia can easily top $47,000.
Still, the Acadia earns its lofty price. There are no optional safety features on the Acadia; all safety equipment comes standard, as do SUV must-haves like rear A/C and three rows of seats. Combined with the Acadia's big doors, easy second- and third-row access, generous cargo space and car-like driving experience, I'd say it's a winner -- and a welcome addition to the SUV/CUV market. Mr. Lutz, if this is the best GM can do, then I congratulate you. It's pretty darn good.