On the surface, the 2021 GMC Acadia’s handsome exterior design and spacious three-row interior makes it a perfect family SUV, but other SUVs in this price range offer a more elevated experience. Buyers will choose from a standard four-cylinder, a turbocharged four-cylinder, or a smooth V-6, but none of these powertrains deliver particularly exciting performance or class-leading fuel economy. A user-friendly infotainment interface provides competitive connectivity features, and the GMC’s cabin offers highly sought-after second-row captain’s chairs. Still, its interior materials don’t live up to the Acadia’s asking price, even on the top-spec Denali trim, but thoughtful storage cubbies provide ample space for entire families to stash their road-trip goodies.
What’s New for 2021?
GMC has made a few packaging changes to the Acadia for 2021. The Pro Safety Plus package, which includes several driver-assistance features, is now standard on SLT, AT4, and Denali. An Elevation Edition package is now available on the SLE and SLT and includes 20-inch wheels and black exterior accents. A heated steering wheel joins the Premium package for SLT and AT4 trims. Those same trims can now be had with the Technology package, which includes a head-up display and a 360-degree camera system. Second-row captain’s chairs are standard on all but the base SL and three new colors—Cayenne Red Tintcoat, Hunter metallic, and Midnight Blue metallic—join the palette.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Acadia’s base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 193 horsepower and the optional 3.6-liter V-6 makes 310 horsepower. A nine-speed automatic and front-wheel drive are standard with either engine and all-wheel drive is optional. The 2.5-liter is good for maximizing fuel efficiency, but not much else—it has a measly 1000-pound towing capacity whereas the V-6 can tow up to 4000 pounds. A turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 230 horsepower is also available, but only on the SLT and Denali trims. While you’ll never forget that you’re driving an SUV, the Acadia is competent and reasonably composed. The Acadia feels ponderous during high-speed cornering, but when driven in a less aggressive manner (as most people drive most of the time), the ride is forgiving and stable. An adaptive suspension—standard on the Denali and optional on SLT-2 trims with all-wheel drive—adjusts the dampers every two milliseconds to help smooth out the ride over bumps or to tighten things up if the driver starts feeling frisky.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the front-drive version with the base 2.5-liter engine will earn 21 mpg city and 27 highway. The V-6 with front-wheel drive has estimates of 19 mpg city and 27 highway. The turbocharged engine with front-wheel drive is the thriftiest combination, with ratings of 22 mpg city and 29 highway. However, we haven’t tested any Acadia with the nine-speed automatic transmission on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Acadia’s compact exterior may help it fit into garages and parking spaces, but it imposes consequences on interior spaciousness. The interior design is pleasing to the eye, and most controls are intuitive and within reach of the driver. A black-and-white gauge cluster with red needles provides information at a glance; Denali models feature a reconfigurable center screen that provides a plethora of additional vehicle information depending on the driver’s settings. The tilting-and-telescoping steering column could use more range to give very tall or very short drivers a comfortable position, but it still works for most people. The leather-wrapped steering wheel features aluminum trim that is convincingly upscale. Unfortunately, some of the interior materials have a cheap look and feel. With the third row in use, we were only able to fit two carry-on suitcases in the Acadia, but with the second- and third-row seats stowed, we were able to fit 28. The Dodge Durango held four cases behind its third row and 30 with the rear rows of seats folded, so it might be a better choice if you’ll be frequently hauling people and cargo at the same time.
Infotainment and Connectivity
When it comes to technology, the Acadia offers plenty for the whole family. From an abundance of USB ports to a Wi-Fi hotspot, passengers can easily stay connected. The touchscreen infotainment system is intuitive and responsive; charging more than one device that requires a 12-volt outlet may prove a challenge, as only one of those outlets is provided.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Acadia earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the last version that was evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wasn’t named a Top Safety Pick. Its driver-assistance technologies add an additional level of protection, but they’re either expensive options or they force the buyer to choose one of the costly top trims. Key safety features include:
- Available automated emergency braking
- Available lane-keeping assist
- Available blind-spot monitoring