Getting Real

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2011 GMC Acadia

Pride Week. I’m glad it arrived when it did.

Why? Did you see the video I posted a couple of weeks ago? The “It Gets Better” video from General Motors’ YouTube page has been resonating with me since then. Not because I’ve been driving, reviewing and writing about a row of GM products of late. It is more than that: The acknowledgment of the messages those professionals at GM gave to those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender – who truly love automobiles – some hope in the face of adversity.

For every person appearing in that video, there is always someone who will argue that people like myself do not matter. For the former New York Giants Super Bowl hero, the member of Congress in the north and east suburbs of the Twin Cities and the security person at Target Field, we are challenged with finding positive ways to overcome the negativity that pervades in every corner of our society. GM has done exactly that with their “It Gets Better” video.

There is one person in that video whom I recognized out of the various faces represented at GM. Before coming to the Renaissance Center, Joe LaMuraglia created the website GayWheels.com in 2005 – currently the foremost automotive site of any kind geared towards the GLBT motorist and consumer. His background prior to GayWheels.com had been extensive in the automotive industry and served as a platform to create such an authoritative site for our community. LaMuraglia now serves as the Manager of Communications for the GMC brand. If you watch the video closely, he is the one who hugs the emotional co-worker at the end.

I credit LaMuraglia for being one of the people in our community opening the doors for all of us to write openly about our experiences with the automobile. Therefore, I dedicate this Victory & Reseda review to LaMuraglia and his fellow co-workers at GM who participated in their “It Gets Better” video, as my community in the Twin Cities recovers from our Pride Week.

Thinking about GMC and its place as part of the remaining four brands of post-bankruptcy GM in North America, I found myself constantly questioning its existence – even though I happen to like its products for the most part. Since the 1940s, critics outside of GM saw GMC as a redundancy with Chevrolet’s truck and van products. It took some time to define GMC’s place in GM’s overall picture as it is only sold in a few markets globally. Once it was decided that GMC should pair up with Buick (and Pontiac), the definition was clear for the brand’s purpose: To be a step above a Chevy truck, van or SUV/crossover and not be redundant with the Buicks (and Pontiacs) it shares showroom space with.

I always thought that was the case for GMC. You drove a GMC because it was nicer than its Chevy equivalent. You get the same capability as its Chevy cousin, but a GMC is designed to keep you more comfortable while doing the job. This is why GMC rolled out its Denali trim for most of its products as a unique level of luxury that defines the brand.

On a personal level, GMC had been instrumental for one reason: Relocation. In 2000, a GMC Jimmy was rented out of National Car Rental from Washington’s National Airport to Madison carrying what’s left of my worldly goods to start my first life in the Midwest. Over the course of my time in Madison, U-Haul provided a GMC Savana on a couple of occasions to transfer my stuff from one home to another…and, eventually, into storage until the next intercity relocation.

Come to think of it, I never drove a GMC product outside of just moving my stuff around. That was until this past week when a big Carbon Black 2011 GMC Acadia SLT arrived at my doorstep.

To explain, the Acadia rides on the same platform as a couple of former subjects on this website: The Saturn Outlook and Chevrolet Traverse. Everything should be familiar – except for the badge, the grille and the interior. More on those later…

When the Acadia was conceived, it was introduced as part of GM’s Lambda platform effectively replacing its body-on-frame mid-sized SUVs. However, it also shares showroom space with another Lambda sibling – the Buick Enclave. Perhaps this review should focus not only on the differences between this blog’s previous review subjects (the long-gone Outlook and Chevy’s Traverse), but also of the differences it has with the Enclave. Moreover, viewing the Acadia as a viable choice in the mid-range seven-seat crossover market.

The answer to the difference between its current Lambda siblings is simple: It is the shortest in length of the three. The Enclave has an inch up on the Acadia, while the Traverse has five. Yet, one would argue that the Enclave appears to be longer, more luxurious and detailed finely than its other two brethren. Then, that would mean the Traverse would appear more utilitarian and plain for a consumer looking for style and substance in its class.

For being shorter than both current Lambdas, the Acadia rules the middle in design. It has a brawny look with aggressive “professional grade” elements that set it apart handsomely from anything in the GM lineup. You can instantly tell the Acadia not just by its badge, but also of its presence. If the Traverse is more of an enlarged Chevy wagon and the Enclave as glitzy as a Cadillac, then the Acadia is purposely designed to tackle the world and everything else in its way. That, to me, is a GMC. It's as real as it gets for any vehicle in GM's North American lineup.

There is a song for anyone seeing an Acadia roll up behind you: Kylie Minogue’s “Get Out of My Way!” Sorry, that was my little Pride Week indulgence…

Inside is a fully loaded SLT model with more than enough trimmings to the levels of being considered a Denali. The subtleness of the black leather interior translates into a grand amount of kit from satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar, a rear passenger video entertainment system, A sunroof with a second glass panel for a skylight above the third row of seats, power folding side mirrors and a heads-up instrumentation display.

Having rarely driven anything with a heads-up display, I like the fact that you get your key information right on your windshield without distraction. GM made sure to make their display large enough to read, but not obtrusive to any objects in its small field of vision. It is also “height” adjustable and you can change the functions you want to see in front of you. Otherwise, you get a nice instrument panel set up with GMC’s (read: Pontiac) red lighting on the switches and instrumentation.

The front seats are firm, but comfortable. The leather makes them more supportive and taut. This Acadia has three rows of seats, with adjustable second row buckets. The second row chairs are not bad in terms of comfort, but the third row just seems pretty temporary for at least some mid-range trips. One would have to be careful not to get their heel (or anything else) stuck in the rails that are part of the adjustable second row buckets.

Under the hood is the familiar High Feature 3.6litre V6 with 288 horsepower on tap. All one has to do is to put their foot down part of the way on the throttle before the Acadia throws itself onto the road. It’s a loose cannon, to say the least. A six-speed automatic is connected to the HFV6 with its smooth gear changes creating a fluid wallop onto the tarmac. This particular Acadia only came with front wheel drive.

As with every Lambda crossover, I expected to have a solid ride with no wavering on the road. Yet, there were some things I noticed even more than my two previous Lambdas as was evidenced in the Acadia. I noticed some body roll in the corners. It is not an alarming result, but one may have to be careful when you have more than one person in the vehicle even when you corner into a flat curve. Otherwise, the Acadia is pretty solid and neutral within normal handling behaviors. You can thank the wide 19-inch tires for a huge part towards the handling and the ride’s overall solidity. The steering was quite sharp with a small turning circle for a vehicle of its size. Braking was also quite decent.

Where the Acadia and its Lambda siblings drew the biggest complaint was in fuel consumption. Given that the average of the other two Lambdas (the Outlook and Traverse) had been in the 16-17 MPG range, I wasn’t surprised that the front-drive Acadia mustered only 17.4 MPG. One would hope for at least 19MPG…but I consider the consumption figure’s main drawback was in the mass and bulk of the Lambda crossover architecture – a curb weight of 4,700 pounds.

Let’s be honest, the Acadia is quite a bulky vehicle. If you like that sort of thing and would carry three rows of passengers more often, I’d put this on your shopping list. When you start comparing the Acadia with its direct competition, you have to truly scrutinize whether the GMC is the better choice overall.

One thing to keep in mind with the Acadia is the bottom line. My example began at $39,000 and ended up at about $46,500. I’ve seen Acadia Denalis and Buick Enclave CXLs at around that much money! Come to think of it, if you wanted the top shelf model of the Dodge Durango or the Ford Explorer, you’d expect to pay that much for three rows of seating, a slew of infotainment options and all the bells and whistles before checking off the proverbial kitchen sink.

On the other hand, there’s some consideration for the sales ticker. Of the three Lambda models, only the Acadia had a sales increase in May of this year based on a month-to-month annual comparison. In fact, GMC sold 280 Acadias short of the Traverse’s May, 2011 ticker. If you the combine all the Lambdas together, GM still outsold Ford’s seven-passenger offerings combined – the Explorer and the Flex – by around 2,500 units.

However, there are a lot of us, especially GLBT folk, who do not need a seven-passenger crossover/SUV. We prefer to seat four – five in a pinch. We want to haul around pets, shopping items, IKEA goodies and other things we might need to use in our daily lives. Heck, even one that would bring enough items for a booth at the Pride festival.

So, what’s wrong with the GMC Terrain? Yes, it is on the same platform as the Chevrolet Equinox. However, the Terrain weighs 900 pounds less, the optional V6 takes both E85 and regular petrol, and is priced $11,000 less – even if the kitchen sink is not available on the smaller crossover/SUV. Though the “Professional Grade” styling may polarize some people, I simply do not see why you’d need anything more than the Terrain – unless you absolutely have to. Keep in mind that the Terrain is the second-best selling model in the GMC lineup – a position formerly held by the Acadia.

The reality is that GMC sells more than its Buick stablemate because it serves a purpose for the company to augment each other at their dealerships. This works practically well. But, the choice is yours when it comes to a seven-passenger, high-powered crossover that drinks plenty of petrol while keeping you comfortable on the highway. You can either go glam (Enclave) or get real (Acadia). LaMuraglia would suggest you choose properly – the Acadia. Me? I would agree given my choice of GM’s Lambda architecture crossovers. But, just like anything – even people that caught your eye during Pride – there’s plenty of choices out there. Just have to find the right one for you.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by General Motors.

All photos by Randy Stern

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