First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard, “I need a vehicle for my family but I don’t want a minivan,” well, I could probably run out and get myself a pretty snappy suit.

Invariably, I tell these people that minivans really are the smartest form of family transport, and invariably, they tell me to stuff it.

Having just spent a week in a 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD crossover, I now have another (vehicular) suggestion for those domestic types who refuse to listen to reason.

The Acadia, along with its Saturn Outlook and upcoming 2008 Buick Enclave stablemates, is a seven/eight passenger unibody crossover built on GM’s Lambda platform. It is available in front or all-wheel-drive and is powered by a transversely-mounted 275-hp 3.6-litre V6.

First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD. Click image to enlarge

Pricing starts with the $36,495 front-drive and fabric-seated SLE. My tester was the SLT AWD, which has a base price of $45,595, but was loaded up with options to the tune of $54,780.

Visually, the GMC Acadia leaves the soccer-mom stigma way behind. It’s a big handsome brute, and sits on the road with a chunky, authoritative presence – especially with the optional 19 inch wheels. The GMC “Professional Grade” look is all over this thing – everything from the grill to the taillights is in-your-face big and the liberal use of chrome adds to its visual impact.

I must confess, when approaching the Acadia in the GM lot, my initial thought was, “Oh great: another clunky, unwieldy truck masquerading as practical transportation.” Boy, was I wrong.

Open the door and you’re looking directly into the new world of GM. They’ve sweated the details and it shows. The interior looks contemporary and classy, sporting a fit and finish that is the equal of many more pricey vehicles.

First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD. Click image to enlarge

Immediate driving impressions are also promising. Steering is wonderfully direct and one feels a real connection to the road beneath. There’s nary a millimetre of slop in the underpinnings while negotiating corners, yet the ride is refined and quiet. Often with large four-wheel-drive vehicles, you can feel the weight of all those mechanical bits below decks, but the Acadia glides over the tarmac like a well-sorted sports sedan. On the highway it’s stable and hushed. GM’s suspension engineers deserve some extra paid vacation time for this one.

The St. Catharines-built 3.6-litre all-aluminum DOHC Vortec V6 works in concert with a decently smooth GM Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic transmission to haul around this 2,234 kg ute. With the plethora of V8 powered SUVs these days, the engine’s 275 horses and 251 lb.-ft. torque peak might look a little soft on paper, but in the real world it works just fine. Ninety percent of that torque value is available from 1600 to 5800 r.p.m., making for brisk, if not blistering acceleration.

General Motors is making lots of noise about the GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook’s fuel economy. I saw 13.5 L/100 over a week of mixed driving; not unreasonable for the vehicle of this size but certainly nothing to get too excited about. At least it takes regular grade gas.

First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD. Click image to enlarge

Did I mention the Acadia is big? Measuring 5108 mm (201.1 in.) from stem to stern and 1986 mm (78.2 in.) across, the Acadia casts a larger shadow than the Ford Freestyle, the Honda Pilot and the Mazda CX-9 – taller too. It pays off in interior space.

The airy cabin feels massive, with plenty of legroom for second row passengers, and the 60/40 third row bench is a cinch to access thanks to the clever ‘Smart Slide’ second row captain’s chairs that accordion forward with a touch of a lever. The Acadia can be optioned with a 60/40 second row bench, turning it into an eight-seater.

Behind the rear seat, which incidentally is quite habitable, is a class-leading 558 litres (19.7 cu. ft.) of cargo space – enough for a couple of suitcases or a big load of groceries. Fold the second and third row flat and you’re looking at a whopping 3313 litres (117 cu. ft.) – again, more than its competitors.

Despite its girth, the Acadia drives quite “small”, and its nimbleness tricks you into thinking it’s a couple of sizes smaller. That illusion was dashed for me while negotiating a particularly tight parking garage in downtown Toronto. I felt like a bull in a China shop. The optional rear park assist was a welcomed feature on that day.

Under normal conditions, the AWD Acadias operate with a front to rear torque split of 90/10. A computer-controlled clutch pack in the rear differential will send more juice to the rear wheels if needed. The rest of the traction issues are handled by the standard StabiliTrak electronic stability/traction control that incorporates a rollover mitigation program.

First Drive: 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD  gmc first drives
2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD. Click image to enlarge

Standard on the SLT models is leather with comfy heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, an excellent Bose 10-speaker 5.1 surround sound system with sub-woofer, driver information centre, auto-dimming interior mirror, universal home remote, tire pressure monitors, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and one year of On-Star.

Adding $3,995 to this tester’s bottom line was the Preferred Equipment Group (SLT2), bestowing such features as a power lift gate, cold weather package with remote start, three months of XM satellite radio, rear park assist, 19-inch wheels, auto dimming side mirrors, seat and mirror memory functions and a rear 110-volt outlet.

And it didn’t stop there: $475 head-up display, $1,255 Rear DVD Entertainment Package, $650 HID headlamps, $1,685 two-panel sunroof, $380 premium paint, $195 rear cargo audio controls (for the tail-gate party crowd), and the $550 Trailer Towing Package (wiring harness, hitch and heavy-duty cooling system).

The Acadia is a well-sorted and satisfying crossover, surprising in its utility and fine driving dynamics. And with close to a $20,000 price spread, you can tailor it anywhere from basic to luxury.

Now, if it were a tad smaller, a little lower to the ground and had sliding rear doors it’d be damn near perfect!


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About Peter

Peter Bleakney is a Toronto-based automotive journalist. He is also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).