The Breakdown

The Acadia brings a more handsome exterior, new trims, tech, and features to 2020, but it's not a massive improvement over the previous model. It's good, but not great.
Overall
Pros
Comfortable interior / Bolder exterior than before / Improved technology / peppy engine / respectable handling
Cons
AT4 isn't as rugged as we'd hoped / Weird button shifter system / Numb steering / Tighter cargo area than competitors

The GMC Acadia enters into the crowded three-row crossover market at an odd point for me. GMC calls it a premium vehicle, but the crossover SUV isn’t all the much more luxurious than some of the higher trim levels of comparable three-row SUVs and crossovers from Kia, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Mazda, and essentially every other player in this segment.

That’s not to say the Acadia is a bad vehicle. It’s also not an “also-ran.” The model offers some good features, an enjoyable driving experience, and a comfortable interior. Is it the best in the segment? Probably not, but it’s worth considering if you want a mid-size SUV or crossover with a third row that can be used for kids, shorter adults, or only on occasion.

The vehicle has a place in the market, and that’s exactly why GMC invested some time and money into making this model a little more enticing to the masses.

My Time With the Vehicle

GMC invited me out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to drive the new 2020 GMC Sierra and Sierra HD. As an added bonus, I had a chance to spend some time in the revised Acadia. The only model I had a chance to test was the new AT4 trim level, which is the one that I was the most curious about anyway.

The AT4 trim level on any of GMC’s products represents a more rugged version of the vehicle, with what GMC calls an off-road-inspired design. While I will agree that it’s off-road-inspired, a true off-roader, the vehicle is not—I’ll get into that more a little later.

I didn’t have a full day to spend with the Acadia, so this review is a bit more of a first impressions look at the vehicle. With that said, I did drive it hard for the time I had it and I can say that I think I got a good feel for what the new Acadia and especially the AT4 trim level is all about.

What Is It?

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

At the highest level, the Acadia is a midsize three-row crossover that competes with the likes of the Kia Telluride, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, and any of the many other midsize three-row offerings out there.

Like with all GMC vehicles, the Acadia is positioned as more of a premium option. While it has a more upscale presence to it, much of the competition’s higher trim levels of its vehicles rival the Acadia in the luxury department, with the exception of the Denali version of the vehicle which outclasses the majority of its competitors.

The Trims and Powertrains

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

The model features four different trim levels: SLE, SLT, AT4, and Denali. The AT4 is the company’s new addition to the model and that is the version I drove on the event. As I said above, the AT4 is an off-road-inspired trim level. It looks a bit more rugged with blacked-out accents and a darker more masculine look, but it’s not much of a true off-roader.

The AT4 lacks underbody protection and the kinds of ground clearance you’d really want in an off-road machine. Can you off-road with it? Yes. It has a good twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system with several different drive modes and two or four-wheel operation. Anything too extreme, though, and you’re going to be stranded in your pretend off-roader and laughed at by guys in Jeep Wranglers, Toyota 4Runners, and off-road pickup trucks.

The AT4 comes with a 3.6-liter V6 as its standard option. The model I drove had this engine in it. It produces 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The other engine options for the Acadia—depending on the trim level you choose—are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (193 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque) or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (230 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque).

Is It Really More Rugged?

2020 GMC Acadia wheel

GMC says the Acadia AT4 is a more rugged version of the Acadia. I’m not sure why all automakers seem to think that slapping some black wheels and some black accents on a model suddenly make it rugged. If you like black accents and a bit darker colors overall, you’ll like the AT4 trim level. However, I’m not totally sold that it’s way more rugged than other trim levels. It looks good, but I don’t think it’s suddenly a badass.

GMC did do an update to the exterior of the vehicle for 2020. It made it a bit more boxy and muscular. The old version had softer edges and looked more like a crossover. The company brought styling elements from the Sierra to the Acadia. It looks more truck-like. This is what makes the SUV more rugged-looking than the previous model. It’s a trait that appears in any trim level. If you like a more truck look for your SUV, then the changes will be seen as an improvement.

An Updated Interior

2020 GMC Acadia AT4
Image provided by GMC

I’m kind of torn on the interior of the Acadia. GMC definitely made it look more modern and improved certain aspects, but I’m also not thrilled with some things. The transmission buttons for one look cheap and in an SUV that seems to be going for a more rugged look, it feels softer than it should.

GMC added the transmission buttons to free up more space in the center console, and it has achieved its goal. There’s ample room for all sorts of things. However, it’s kind of ugly. I’m not opposed to a button shifting system, especially when they truly do free up space in the cabin, but I think GMC could have spent some more money on the buttons. They look and feel cheap.

What didn’t feel cheap to me was the leather in the interior. The seats offered excellent support and the leather was thick and comfortable. GMC did a good job in most respects with the Acadia’s interior materials, but the more I looked around the cabin, the more I found areas where there was cheap plastic. In a vehicle sold as a premium offering, this cheap plastic has to go.

Added Technology Improves the Experience

2020 GMC Acadia AT4
Image provided by GMC

GMC update the infotainment system in the vehicle. It gets an 8-inch infotainment screen with apps, Sirius XM, phone connectivity, OnStar, and improved resolution and graphics. The infotainment system is well-thought-out and easy to use. It’s also smooth and quick to operate. I noticed no lagging or any real issues.

For the updates, GMC added the ability to program in personal profiles. This comes in handy if you have multiple people driving the vehicle. Also, there’s a new navigation interface that GM says is supossed to be better than before. I thought it was fine, but not a massive improvement over the outgoing model. One nice thing about the GPS system is that it’s a connected system, meaning it gets updated in real-time.

Other good technology features include USB-C ports, wireless charging, a high-definition rear camera, and the rear-view mirror camera. All of these additions are nice and help keep the Acadia on par with the competition.

How Big Is It?

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

The 2020 GMC Acadia measures 193.6 inches long, 75.4 inches wide, and 66 inches high. When you look at other vehicles like the Kia Telluride, Toyota Highlander, or the Nissan Pathfinder, you’ll see that this model falls on the shorter side. It’s not a huge vehicle. The Telluride and Pathfinder are notably longer by several inches. The Highlander is close in size overall.

Inside, the Acadia features 41 inches of legroom up front, 39.7 inches of legroom in the second row, and 29.7 inches in the third row. The Acadia gets beat by the competitors mentioned above in the front seats. When you look at the second row, the Acadia beats the Highlander but not the Telluride and Pathfinder. In the third row, the vehicle beats the Pathfinder and Highlander but gets beat by the Telluride.

What does this mean? It means GMC did a good job of packaging the Acadia, offering good legroom in all rows of seating in a vehicle with a smaller overall exterior.

When you look at cargo space, you’ll see the Acadia offers 12.8 cubic feet of cargo with all seats in place, 41.7 cubic feet with the third row folded, and up to 79 cubic feet with the third and second-row seats folded. The Acadia gets beat by the Telluride, Highlander, and Pathfinder in this regard. What’s that tell you? GMC prioritized seating space and comfort over cargo space. Not a bad tradeoff.

Does It Work?

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

 

The Acadia fulfills its mission. The AT4 version, however, I found to be a bit of a joke. It’s an appearance package and not what it will be marketed as. I’ll touch on why in a bit but first let’s discuss the Acadia as a whole

I found it to be peppy and agile on the road. Mind you, it’s not sporty. This isn’t the kind of vehicle that will inspire you to take on The Tail of the Dragon at high speeds, but it’s more than adequate for getting around and cruising the highway. I found the engine was plenty powerful enough. The steering is numb and lifeless, but precise. It drives well for a vehicle in this segment and feels a bit more lively than some of its competitors like the Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander. It’s not hardcore in any sense of the word, though. It’s more of a masculine looking family crossover than anything. 

2020 GMC Acadia AT4
Image provided by GMC

The interior works well ergonomically and the seats are comfortable even in the third row. Not everyone is going to fit back there, but if you do fit, you’ll find the seat to be supportive enough. The technology is good, too. GM has a quality infotainment system. It’s well-laid-out and easy to use. It’s also one of the more advanced in terms of features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Navigation with voice commands.

My issue with the AT4 stems from the fact that GMC calls it off-road inspired. That’s going to give the impression that it is an off-road vehicle. It isn’t a hardcore off-roader. The vehicle has a good twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system that will make short work of snow, mud, and dirt roads. However, there’s no real underbody protection and the ground clearance is just okay. This keeps it from being a true off-road machine. If GMC had added some ride height and additional protection under the AT4, I’d be in love with this vehicle. The company didn’t, and I’m not. If feels like a lie, and that annoys me.

Does It Justify Its Price?

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

The GMC Acadia will start around $29,800 for the base model. That’s a fair price for a three-row crossover SUV that’s leaning towards the premium market. I was not provided with pricing for the AT4 model that I drove.

Those numbers will come out at a later date, but when they do, you can bet the price will go up by somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000. At least, that’s my guess. The Denali version will be even more. In that trim, you’re probably looking around $50k, which is a lot of money to spend on an Acadia.

However, when you look at other comparable vehicles, the Acadia isn’t wildly priced. The Kia Telluride starts over $31,000. So does the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander, at least the 2019 models do and I’d expect the 2020 ones to as well. As you add things to these vehicles, the price can easily climb to near that $50k mark I mentioned for the Acadia Denali. So, GMC is not out of line to charge what it does for the Acadia.

If you want a three-row crossover SUV with some minor off-road capability, then the Acadia’s price is justified. However, if you just need three rows, I’d suggest at least considering a minivan. You’ll get more interior space, more cargo space, and the Toyota can even be had with all-wheel-drive, a must for some folks.

What’s the Verdict?

2020 GMC Acadia AT4

The Acadia itself is a good three-row crossover SUV. The model is a quality midsizer with the ability to move plenty of people in comfort and style. It’s not the biggest three-row out there, but it’s not trying to be. It hits a sweet spot, and I think is a vehicle that will do well for GMC.

With all that said, I’m a little bummed about the AT4 model. It would have been nice to see GMC really make this into a rugged off-roader. As it stands now it’s not. Beyond its good all-wheel-drive system, the vehicle isn’t any more capable than most crossovers out there, and that’s a bummer. Should the Acadia be on your list if you want a midsize crossover SUV? Yes, but only get the AT4 if you like the darker aesthetics. Don’t pretend it’s a tough off-road machine. It isn’t.

Specifications

  • Base Price: $29,800 (base model)
  • Price as Tested: Pricing information not available for all trim levels.
  • Drive Type: AWD
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Power Output: 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque
  • EPA: 18 mpg city / 25 mpg highway
  • Optional Equipment: List not provided at the time of the drive.