Expert Reviews

2020 GMC Acadia First Drive Review

JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming – We’d rolled into Jackson – Wyoming’s answer to Aspen Colorado – in an enormous heavy-duty pickup, and despite being all hat and no cattle we’d felt right at home in this rustic western playground for the astronomically wealthy. Jumping into a mid-size crossover threw ice-cold water on our swagger, and pulled the plug on the thumping country rock soundtrack playing in my head.

Egos aside, the new 2020 GMC Acadia was a lot easier to wield through the congested streets than the mammoth workhorse we’d just left behind. Quieter too. And that sums up the popularity of crossovers in a nutshell: sacrifices made of image and excitement pay off in stress-free convenience.

GM’s mid-size Acadia received a complete do-over in 2017, going from old-school SUV to modern, compact three-row crossover, and gaining an abundance of connectivity and comfort technology along the way. For 2020, the Acadia – which slots above the compact Terrain and below the full-size Yukon – boasts revised styling, optional new turbocharged engine, standard nine-speed transmission, and a host of updated interior features. It also gains a new off-road-oriented AT4 trim level.

Rugged Truck Mug

Probably the first thing you’ll notice about the 2020 Acadia is its new face. The softly rounded and unassuming squint has been replaced by a glowering GMC pickup truck mug. It’s a far more aggressive look that suits the Acadia’s blocky proportions. The understated ovoid grille is now blunt and rectangular, and flanked by standard horizontal LED headlamps. Particularly toothsome on Denali trims, the grille is embellished with lashings of chrome which also outline the unique lower air intake, and continue onto the highly polished multi-spoke wheels. A redesigned diffuser-style rear bumper is topped with wider C-shaped taillights that help reduce its bulkiness with the illusion of more width.

GMC has been gradually rolling out the AT4 trim level across its truck and SUV portfolio. In the pickup truck lineup, AT4 replaces the All Terrain model – little more than an appearance package – with genuine off-road equipment, increased ride-height, and a signature blacked-out grille and wheel package with contrasting red tow hooks. New for Acadia this year, the AT4 is an upper trim model that slides in under the top-spec Denali trim, and above the SLE and SLT models. Aside from blacked chrome accents, unique black rims with all-terrain tires, and black, sporty interior with contrasting upholstery piping; AT4 models also come standard with the 3.6L V6 engine and a twin-clutch all-wheel drive system with torque-vectoring capability.

New Turbo, Nine-speed

The previous two engine choices – the base 2.5L four-cylinder with 193 hp, and the optional 3.6L V6 (standard on the AT4) producing 310 hp – return unchanged, but there’s now a standard new nine-speed automatic transmission across the model range instead of the outgoing six-speed.

Joining the powertrain lineup is a new twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that puts out 230 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The new turbo four uses cylinder deactivation to maximize fuel efficiency, shutting down two cylinders during light use. This engine is not available in the AT4 trim.

Refined Infotainment, Added Convenience

Changes for 2020 include a new, more refined infotainment system that requires fewer steps to access everyday functions, as well as some additional technologies. These include the ability to create up to four personal profiles within the infotainment system, customizing music preference, climate settings, and navigation – which can then be stored in the vehicle’s key fob, and transferred to other GM vehicles. The revised navigation system offers real-time updates and predictive routing provided by a subscription-based cloud service. Next-generation wireless smartphone charging in the centre console is available, and there are now five USB ports in the Acadia across all three rows.

As before, the Acadia starts in a five-passenger configuration, with room for seven if you add the optional third row – which drops to six if you choose captain’s chairs for the middle row. As with most such vehicles, the third row is handy in a pinch, but exceedingly cramped, and the flat seats offer little cushioning to offset the discomfort felt with having your knees up in your chest. The middle row has a “Smart Slide” function that allows you to easily slide and tilt it forward for third-row access. Release levers in the cargo hold let you drop both third and middle rows without having to move around the vehicle.

The interior is not as spacious as the Dodge Durango we recently tested, but it’s better than the five-seat Honda CR-V. Behind the third row is 362 litres of cargo space, which increases to 1,181 L with it folded down, and 2,237 L with both rows dropped.

New Options for Driver Assist Technology

Base trim SLE-1 and SLE-2 models come with front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, with AWD standard throughout the rest of the range. Standard features start with 17-inch wheels, 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, keyless entry, and automatic climate control with rear air.

Moving up through the trim levels adds such niceties as power tailgate, eight-way driver’s seat, 8-inch touchscreen and a host of driver-assist safety technology in mid-range SLT trims, trailering package, upgraded driver safety systems, and finally, heated steering wheel, power adjustable steering, ventilated front seats, and navigation.

For 2020, the Driver Alert package is now available standard across the Acadia lineup. It includes lane-change alert with side blind zone alert, cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist. The Driver Alert Package II is now available on SLT and AT4 trims and standard on Denali. It adds automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, front pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist with departure warning, front and rear park assist, and Safety Alert Seat. Denali models are available with optional 6-inch colour head-up display, and Rear Camera Mirror.

Acadia Denali: Refined Cruising

Our Denali trim tester adds open-pore wood accents and two-tone colour theme to the cabin, which is otherwise a bit nondescript. The push-button gear selector, or “Electronic Precision Shift”, takes a bit of getting used to, but it does clean up the console area and leaves more room for storage.

This Acadia is equipped with the slick new rear mirror that debuted with the Cadillac brand. It replaces the mirror with high-resolution video delivered by a rear-facing camera. This provides the driver with a clear view behind the vehicle at all times, unobstructed by passengers, cargo, or headrests. It easily reverts to a traditional mirror by flipping down the tab located behind it, much like we used to do before the invention of auto-dimming mirrors.

Dodging tourists and roadwork detours proved blissfully easy in the Acadia compared to the enormous heavy-duty brute we’d left behind. The top-spec Denali was equipped with optional standard adaptive suspension which adjusted every two milliseconds to absorb rough pavement, or provide stability when cornering. The rear suspension has apparently been revised for this year, and while it’s not a vehicle you’re compelled to flog on the twisty roads, the Acadia feels composed with limited body roll. The cabin is extremely quiet, and well-insulated from any road or wind noise.

Exiting the village, a smooth ribbon of highway divides the valley floor between the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges. The turbo four engine (standard on SLT and Denali) feels as smooth and strong as the more powerful V6 it replaces, some of which can be attributed to the weight savings of the smaller mill. But the turbo-four’s 258 lb-ft of torque is only slightly less than the V6’s 271 lb-ft, and its availability from 1,500 to 4,000 rpm delivers a quick response that makes it feel faster than it is.

Acadia AT4: An Imposing Presence, On-road and Off

Swapping out the Denali for a new AT4 didn’t really deliver much difference, performance-wise, though it certainly looks tough. The blacked-out grille is complemented with unique standard 17-inch or optional 20-inch black wheels with all-terrain tires. The wheel arches and lower body are clad in rugged black plastic, which not only adds machismo, but helps protect flanks and fenders from scratches. Unfortunately, we weren’t offered a chance to test the AT4’s twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system off the pavement. The system’s second clutch pack lets the rear differential decide how to divvy up the torque, sending power from side to side, or to the outside rear tire to aid in turning.

The new nine-speed transmission comes with standard auto-stop/start. It’s a smooth performer for the most part, but both my co-driver and I experienced an occasional odd “grabbiness” when downshifting that wasn’t noticeable in the Denali.

Built in Springhill, Tennessee, the 2020 Acadia will go on sale this fall. Canadian prices will be available closer to sale date.