2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Introduction
I know this guy who just swapped out an old minivan for a new crossover SUV. He said to me: “Chris, I’m just so happy that I don’t have to drive a vehicle with sliding side doors anymore.” While a psychotherapist might enjoy peeling back the layers of that particular onion, this is not an uncommon sentiment among American car buyers. And it is the reason that the 2013 GMC Acadia exists.
General Motors tried to sell minivans for a long time. First, there was the long-running Chevy Astro/GMC Safari twins, still popular on the used car market for tradespeople seeking a cheap and easy-to-fix work van. Then came the “Dustbuster” minivans, so-called because of their resemblance to hand-held vacuums in terms of their styling and plastic outer skins. Then came a global minivan that turned out to be too small and narrow for Americans and too big and bulky for Europeans. Then came vans with SUV-style noses grafted onto the front, which met with predictable criticism.
You can only take so many punches before you’re knocked out the ring. Logically, then, GM gave up on the minivan, replacing it with a family of full-size crossover SUVs that have proven to be far more successful. Here, we examine the GMC Acadia, but Buick also sells one called the Enclave while over at the Chevy dealer buyers can select the Traverse.
These are basically minivans without the sliding side doors or the short-nose profile, powered by a V-6 engine and tugged around by their front wheels. About as big inside as the automaker’s traditional full-size SUVs, this trio of crossovers offers more cargo space and greater third-row passenger space than their bigger, heavier, and more expensive brethren, and they’re also safer and more fuel-efficient.
So why would anyone get a Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon? Those brute-utes can tow about 3,000 more pounds of trailer.
Most people don’t need to tow more than the 5,200 lbs. that a GMC Acadia can handle, which is one reason this is a popular vehicle with American families who need the seating and space of a minivan but detest the image of those “mommy-mobiles.” Another reason the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia are popular is because they virtually own the full-size crossover SUV market. Nobody else builds one. But that doesn’t mean GM doesn’t need to make improvements to its big soft-roaders, and for 2013, all three get a mid-life makeover, with the GMC Acadia adding significant new levels of appeal compared to the previous model.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 GMC Acadia is sold in SLE, SLT, and Denali trim levels, each equipped with front-wheel drive as standard equipment. An all-wheel-drive system is optional for $2,000.
The Acadia SLE ($34,945, including destination of $895) includes just about everything you would expect, except for a height adjustable driver’s seat. Highlights include 8-passenger seating with premium fabric seats, simulated metallic interior trim, ambient cabin lighting, rear air conditioning, automatic headlights, dark-tinted rear privacy glass, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The Acadia SLE also includes a driver information center, a compass, an outside temperature display, and a color touchscreen display with a reversing camera, satellite radio, a USB port, and Bluetooth connectivity. OnStar telematics is also standard, and GMC provides a free six-month subscription to services including Automatic Crash Response, Crisis Assist, Roadside Assistance, and Stolen Vehicle Assistance.
A popular option for the Acadia SLE is the SLE-2 Package ($1,890), which adds an 8-way power driver’s seat, a 2-way power front passenger’s seat, second-row captain’s chairs, and a front center airbag system designed to protect front-seat occupants against injury in a collision occurring on the opposite side of the vehicle. The SLE-2 Package also contains a power liftgate, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, remote engine starting, and IntelliLink voice recognition and smartphone integration technology.
The Acadia SLT ($40,675) upgrades the SUV with triple-zone automatic climate control, leather seats, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, a premium audio system, rear audio controls and input jacks, and a universal garage door opener. The exterior is dressed up with 19-inch aluminum wheels and fog lights, and this model also has variable-effort power steering in place of the SLE’s constant-effort setup.
An SLT-2 Package ($1,420) is optional for the Acadia SLT, adding memory for the driver’s seat and mirror settings, an 8-way power front passenger’s seat, and a Side Blind Zone Alert system.
The luxury-themed Acadia Denali ($46,840) has a unique look thanks to its signature drilled metallic grille, body-color trim, extra chrome accents, HID headlights, and 20-inch wheels. Inside, the Denali gets a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel with Mahogany wood trim, perforated leather, ventilated front seats, illuminated doorsill plates, and premium floor mats. The Denali also has added acoustic insulation, as well as a heads-up display, a Dual SkyScape power sunroof, and audio controls inside of the cargo area for when the Acadia is used to provide entertainment during tailgate parties. Finally, this version of the SUV comes standard with a heavy-duty cooling system and trailering equipment.
With each model, buyers can upgrade with selected equipment from the next trim level. Highlights include a navigation system, a premium surround sound audio system, a rear-seat entertainment system, a heads-up display, ventilated front seats, and a Dual SkyScape power sunroof. Because all Acadia models except for the base SLE have second-row captain’s chairs, full 8-passenger seating is optional, along with trailering equipment, HID headlights, and a selection of larger wheels.
My test vehicle was the Acadia SLT AWD, painted Quicksilver Metallic with a black leather interior, and wearing a price tag of $42,675.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Design
- New exterior styling
- Redesigned wheel choices
- Revised interior details
- New interior and exterior colors
If any of GM’s full-size crossovers needed a new look, it was the Acadia. For 2013, the GMC’s styling is more rugged and technical, displaying greater texture and detail than before, especially up front. In my opinion, the Acadia’s nose job transforms the SUV from zero to hero, making it the most appealing amongst its corporate siblings. New LED running lights, LED taillights, and wheel designs also debut for 2013, and the Acadia adopts a wrap-around rear window treatment.
Inside, the 2013 Acadia is upgraded with new soft-touch surface materials trimmed using exposed accent stitching, new ambient cabin lighting, and revised controls including a standard color touchscreen display in the center of the instrument panel. The plusher padded upper door panel surfaces are nice, because that’s where occupants might crook an elbow. However, money invested in the rest of these changes might have been better spent reducing gloss and glare levels. Matte-finish interior surfaces always deliver a more upscale look.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Available 8-way power front passenger’s seat
- Denali gains standard power tilt/telescopic steering wheel
During my time with the Acadia, everyone who got into the SUV remarked about how big it was, underscoring that fact that most family-size SUVs are smaller in size. However, size does not necessarily translate into comfort, which is the case with this GMC.
The driving position is good, thanks to the 8-way power driver’s seat and manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel in my SLT test vehicle. The steering wheel rim itself becomes uncomfortable to grip after a few hours of sitting behind it, but the softly padded center console armrest slides forward, which is greatly appreciated. Better yet, the Acadia SLT provides a separate backrest warmer, which is nothing short of awesome for people who suffer from chronic lower back pain.
In the SLT model, the front passenger’s seat provides 2-way power adjustment. Given how difficult it is to reach the reclining mechanism, I might ask why GMC doesn’t provide 4-way power adjustment at a minimum. At least the seat, which lacks a height adjuster, isn’t sitting really close to the floor.
The SmartSlide second-row captain’s chairs are not comfortable. They are undersized, they are mounted too close to the floor, and while they slide and recline in an effort to improve comfort, the adjustments do not succeed. Plus, the tracks fill up quickly with food crumbs, small toys, or whatever else gets dropped into them. And when both rows of seats are folded to take advantage of maximum cargo space, the resulting load floor is not flat and level due to the space in between the captain’s chairs.
The captain’s chairs are, however, excellent for big families who need to put children into a car seat in the second-row, but still require access to load passengers into the third-row. If that’s not your situation, strongly consider the available 8-passenger seating arrangement.
The third-row seat holds three children, or two adults. Three adults will not be happy, and two adults will not be happy for longer trips, even if the people in the second-row seats are willing to slide forward to help improve legroom.
Where the Acadia’s interior excels is with regard to cargo space. Behind the third-row seat, this SUV can hold up to 24.1 cu.-ft. of your stuff, and there’s a shallow well under the cargo floor that can be used to hide smaller belongings or to hold plastic grocery bags more securely.
Fold the 50/50-split third-row seats down, and the Acadia supplies 70.1 cu.-ft. of space. To put that into perspective, a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 provide about the same volume in terms of maximum cargo space with their back seats folded down.
The Acadia’s maximum cargo volume measures 115.9 cu.-ft., more than the traditional full-size GMC Yukon. In fact, all three of the Acadia’s cargo metrics beat the Yukon, and GMC humorously points out that this crossover can accommodate 48-inch sheets of drywall or plywood, as if any owners might actually do such a thing.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard color touchscreen radio
- Revised climate controls
Though not exactly state-of-the-art, the Acadia SLT’s standard touchscreen radio with IntelliLink is an improvement over the previous Acadia, if for no other reason than the on-screen buttons, the associated knobs, and the new touch capacitive buttons on the side of the screen are sized for use by adults rather than children.
The climate controls are upgraded in similar fashion this year, and while I feel they are still too closely cloistered, the new layout is easier to use. Remaining controls are generally located where the driver expects to find them, though some of GM’s cryptic symbols continue to create a guessing game for the driver, and many of the Acadia’s bits and pieces could use greater refinement considering the price charged for the SUV.
IntelliLink technology allows the driver to pair a smartphone to the system, providing voice-activated access to contact lists, music playlists, and more. The system also works for devices connected to the Acadia via the standard USB port.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Reversing camera is standard
- Available new front center airbag
- Available Side Blind Zone Alert system
- Available Rear Cross Traffic Alert system
Highlights from the Acadia’s standard safety features list include a brake pedal override system designed to prevent the SUV from accidentally accelerating as long as the brake pedal is pressed, and integral spotter mirrors that help the driver to see in the SUV’s blind spots. Side Blind Zone Alert technology is also offered for the Acadia, along with a Rear Cross-Traffic Alert system, but these features are included only in the SLT-2 Package or on the upscale Acadia Denali.
An OnStar telematics system is standard, and includes a free six-month subscription to services. Automatic Crash Response is one of the system’s many features, and it springs into action after the airbags deploy, putting the Acadia’s occupants in touch with a response specialist who can make sure everyone is OK following a crash, and who can also speed rescuers to the Acadia’s exact location.
All Acadias except for the base SLE model are equipped with a new front-center airbag that protects the driver and front-seat passenger from injury when a crash occurs on the opposite side of the SUV from where they are sitting.
2013 GMC Acadia Crash-Test Ratings:
In the event that a collision does occur, know that the 4,656-lb. Acadia is well prepared to protect its occupants. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Acadia receives an overall rating of 5 stars, with 5-star performances in each individual crash assessment. Additionally, the Acadia’s rollover resistance rating is 4 stars.
Additionally, the 2013 Acadia is a “Top Safety Pick” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Note, however, that the Acadia has not been subjected to the new small overlap frontal-impact test.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Improved transmission shift quality
- Refined ride quality and handling capability
Every 2013 GMC Acadia is equipped with a direct-injected, 3.6-liter V-6 engine generating 288 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 rpm. According to GMC, 90 percent of peak torque is available from 2,500 rpm to 6,000 rpm, giving the crossover a more responsive feel when the driver presses the accelerator pedal. When properly equipped, the Acadia can tow up to 5,200 lbs.
A 6-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to the Acadia’s front wheels. This year, the shifter is improved to provide what GMC says is better shift quality. My test vehicle had the optional all-wheel-drive system, which automatically transfers power to the rear wheels when advantageous to improving traction. A hill start assist system is also standard equipment, holding the Acadia still for up to 1.5 seconds on grades greater than five percent, and the transmission includes powertrain grade braking to help maintain sensible speeds on downhill sections of road.
Regardless of whether or not the Acadia is equipped with AWD, the EPA says drivers can expect to get 19 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 18.7 mpg in a mix of driving that included heavy city traffic, freeway cruising, and suburban errand-running.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
The 3.6-liter V-6 provides plenty of power for a lightly loaded Acadia. When necessary, the engine revs willingly and the SUV gets up to speed with little effort. Otherwise, the transmission upshifts quickly in order to maximize fuel economy. On occasion, such as when stuck in thick traffic and traveling at variable speeds, the transmission sometimes seems to be a little bit confused about what gear to choose, but the majority of the time the Acadia’s powertrain is a model of perfection.
Though available with AWD, the Acadia is not really cut out for off-roading. A long wheelbase and significant girth mean this SUV is best used to battle blizzards rather than tackle trails. Still, thanks to 7.6 inches of ground clearance, it can deliver its occupants to unpaved destinations that a regular car, or minivan, can’t.
Built upon a stout structure, the Acadia feels solid, secure, and unflappable over bumps, cracks, and potholes. The suspension successfully minimizes the impact of such road imperfections without filtering them completely, and the Acadia retains a surprising degree of handling athleticism while delivering a supple ride quality. Whether bending the GMC into a freeway off-ramp, or diving into a sharp turn, the Acadia responds in a way that is unmatched by any other full-size SUV.
The brakes work well, too. They bite as soon as the driver starts pressing the brake pedal, and are easy to modulate under a variety of conditions. The variable-effort steering installed in my SLT test vehicle also contributes to making the Acadia drive smaller than it really is. That said, I sure wished for a smaller turning radius when making U-turns and negotiating tight parking spaces.
If there’s a flaw to the Acadia’s driving dynamics, it is related to the massive amount of glare thrown onto the windshield by the glossy black dashboard material. Depending on the angle of the sun, it is literally blinding.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 GMC Acadia is a fundamentally appealing family vehicle. It is extremely safe, looks terrific, and theoretically holds up to eight people. The engine provides an excellent blend of power and fuel economy, and though the Acadia is big, it drives like a smaller vehicle thanks to impressive ride, handling, and braking characteristics.
Where GMC needs to improve the Acadia is with regard to the interior. While the upgrades for 2013 help, nothing short of a complete gutting will resolve the seat comfort and materials quality issues I noted earlier. It’s too bad that the cabin comes across as half-baked, as that’s where the Acadia’s owners spend all of their time.
2013 GMC Acadia Crossover SUV Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Top-notch crash-test ratings
- Decent gas mileage
- Gigantic interior
- Handsome styling
- Impressive driving dynamics
- Cheap, glossy interior materials
- Uncomfortable seats
- Gigantic exterior
- Side Blind Zone Alert only on expensive models
- Rear Cross-Traffic Alert only on expensive models