After a 15-year embrace, Americas love affair with the sport-utility vehicle appears to be fading. In place of the bulky road warriors, we are starting to see a growing fleet of family vehicles that have come to be known as crossovers.
They look much like the traditional SUVs, but there is a significant difference. They are built on car-based, unibody platforms instead of using the rugged, but more primitive body-on-frame construction that is the basis of the pickup truck.
Crossovers can do most of what an SUV can do (look tough and haul lots of stuff), but they cant do what most owners seldom did with them (tow big boats and muscle their way deep into the outback).
As transportation for a growing family, there are distinct advantages to these crossovers. They are more comfortable than an SUV, they handle more like an automobile, they are less expensive comparably equipped, and, importantly, they go significantly farther (but not all that far) on a gallon of gasoline.
I recently put a handsome, all-new GMC Acadia through its paces during a week of vacation travel and found it easily up to the task of carting two adults, three children and all of the required luggage.
The Acadia is the middle child among three siblings built on General Motors Lambda platform. The least expensive vehicle is the Saturn Outlook and a slightly more expensive and luxurious option is the Buick Enclave. According to industry reports, a Chevrolet version of the crossover will also be introduced.
All of them share the same mechanical components, carry essentially the same weight and have room for up to eight passengers in a pinch.
As you might have already guessed, the Acadia is no small vehicle. From stem to stern it is nearly 17 feet long. It stands as tall as a six-foot man and it measures six feet, six inches across its mid-section.
These measurements are all close to the dimensions of GMCs traditional full-size SUV, the Yukon, but the Acadia beats it in several important areas of functionality. It weighs about 700 pounds less. It will hold more cargo. Its third-row seating is easier to access and more comfortable for up to three passengers. Its second- and third-row seats can be folded flat, eliminating the necessity of removing them to maximize cargo space.
And while it doesnt have quite the rugged athleticism of the Yukon, it does have 7.4 inches of ground clearance and it can, when properly equipped, tow up to 4,500 pounds, 1,000 more than the Honda Pilot targeted by General Motors as it developed the new vehicles.
The Acadia, like its brethren, is powered by an aluminum 3.6-liter V-6 engine which features four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. It produces 275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. It is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Considering that it weighs nearly 2 tons, the Acadia is not what you would call fast. Unburdened by a cabin full of passengers and luggage, it reportedly will move from zero to 60 mph in eight seconds. However, it is adequately powered for normal situations, and it can easily conquer mountainous terrain if the driver slips the transmission into manual mode and holds the proper gear when the going gets hilly.
The Acadia is also not what you would call agile, but it is easily controlled and offers an unexpectedly smooth ride (compared to an SUV), thanks to the carefully tuned all-wheel independent suspensions.
The responsive and communicative rack-and-pinion steering and powerful antilock disc brakes contribute to the car-like driving experience.
One thing drivers wont like is the lack of rearward vision. Its basically impossible to see whats directly behind the vehicle unless a person buys the optional rear view camera that projects images on the screen of the optional navigation system. That important safety feature adds $2,340 to the price of the vehicle.
Also, kids love the optional rear-seat entertainment system, but the driver wont like the way the pull-down screen blocks the sight line from the rear-view mirror.
All-wheel-drive versions are available for an extra $2,000, but the Acadia I drove got along nicely with the slightly more efficient front-wheel-drive setup. The EPA rates front-wheel-drive vehicles at 18 miles per gallon of regular unleaded fuel in the city and 25 on the highway. The AWD vehicles are rated at 17/24. For the record, the Acadia I drove averaged between 15 and 30 miles per gallon.
While the difference in fuel mileage isnt great, it occurred to me that most people really dont need all-wheel drive unless they live in areas prone to severe snow storms. With a curb weight of over 4,700 pounds, generous ground clearance and standard stability and traction control, the FWD Acadia should be up to the challenges of most winter weather. For many people, theres no good reason to spend the extra money or burn the extra fuel.
In outfitting the Acadia, buyers have the option of a second-row bench or two captains chairs. My daughter, who has been wheeling her three kids around in full-size traditional SUVs for years, prefers the captains chairs because it gives them easier access to the third row and gives her easier access to them.
However, for someone like me who has a big dog and little need for passengers in the third row, the bench seems like a better choice. Fold that third row forward and the cargo area grows from 19.7 to 69 cubic feet. And. for those occasional trips to the home improvement center, the second row can be folded to expose117 cubic feet of space.
A neat feature on both second-row configurations is what GM calls Smart Slide. With a tug on a lever, the second-row seat cushion flips up and the seatback moves forward to open up space for access to the third row. It also allows the second-row seats to move forward or backward to optimize the comfort of passengers in those rows.
In addition to the brakes, stability control and traction control, safety features include front and side airbags for front seat passengers, side-curtain airbags and one free year of the OnStar emergency communication system.
Base price of the new front-wheel-drive Acadia is a reasonable $29,990. But the price will jump quickly for those who choose the more luxurious models.
The top-of-the-line Acadia SLT-2 with front-wheel drive starts at $35,520. That includes three-zone climate control, leather on the first and second-row seats, heated and power-adjustable front seats, rear-seat audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls and a premium six-speaker audio system.
If you add the optional navigation system with back-up camera, 19-inch bright aluminum wheels, rear entertainment system and a couple of smaller items, the price jumps to $42,385. And, dont forget, all-wheel-drive will add another $2,000.
Whichever way they choose to go, buyers will be getting a vehicle suited to the needs and tastes of young families and theyll be getting it for a lot less money than a comparably equipped traditional SUV.
Its no surprise, then, that General Motors recently added a third shift at its Michigan assembly plant to keep up with the demand.
Standard Equipment SLE (partial list)
275 horsepower 3.6 liter V6 Engine
6 speed shiftable automatic transmission
18 inch painted alloy wheels with P255/65R18 all-season tires
4 wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front, rear and third row head airbags
Front fog/driving lights
7 person total seating capacity
Second row captain's chairs
Remote power door locks
Heated power mirrors
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Front and rear air conditioning
AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo and 6 speakers
OnStar w/Turn-by-Turn Navigation telecommunications service
The SLT-1 Model Adds... (partial list)
Turn signal mirrors
6-way power driver seat
2-way power passenger seat
Universal remote garage door transmitter
Four zone automatic climate control
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo and 10 speakers