Car reviews - Holden - Acadia
Design, space, packaging, performance, efficiency, handling, ride, value, safety features, warranty
Room for improvement
No diesel, LHD-centric rear-seat entry/egress, silly tip-shift toggle on gear lever, some cheap cabin plastics
The large seven-seat SUV set has a new rising star in the capable Holden Acadia
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19 Oct 2018
HOLDEN may be conspicuously late to the large seven-seater SUV party, but the beleaguered brand has burst in with an appealing combination of design, space, packaging, specification, safety and pricing that should shake up the segment currently led by Toyota with the Kluger.
There are very few stones that have been left unturned in the General’s great big American hope. For its sake, let’s hope Australian crossover buyers agree.
One-and-a-half decades late to the party first thrown by the Toyota Kluger (2003) and the now-departed Ford Territory (2004-2016), Holden has hit the full-sized seven-seater SUV shindig with the Acadia.
Is this yet another imported model that the Lion badge will struggle to sell and then discard, as it’s done for decades with forgettable machinery such as the Scurry, Shuttle, Frontera, Epica, Piazza and Calibra? Not to mention Insignia, Malibu, Tigra, Zafira, Cascada, Viva and Suburban.
Like the latter, the Acadia is via North America, but is a GMC rather than Chevrolet product – GMC provided both the design and powertrain specification that Holden’s product planners desired – so introduces a whole new design and packaging proposition for the company in Australia and New Zealand.
First impressions are deceiving. In photos the newcomer looks a little like a wagon version of a full-sized US pick-up truck, but in the metal, the Acadia seems to shrink the closer you approach it. Yes, it has an appealingly bold and confident stance that is unashamedly Yankee, but it is no larger than the Toyota Kluger, and is actually shorter than the lithe Mazda CX-9.
If you like your seven-seat crossovers to look big, boxy and blokey, Holden will happily oblige. It’s quite handsome too, and from all angles. On looks alone, this ought to be a hit.
Four things strike you the moment you open one of the wide doors and step up inside. Firstly, the squarish proportions allow for deep windows and plenty of welcoming light to flood in.
Secondly, the dashboard architecture is pleasingly modern and presented, with huge vents, big easy buttons and loads of storage.
Thirdly, there’s also space galore to stretch out front and back, no matter how big you are. And finally, that hemmed-in feeling that almost all large seven-seater SUVs suffer from in the third row is minimised by lots of glass area instead of fat pillars.
A bit more scrutiny inside reveals other plus points too, like a great driving position, excellent instrumentation, the world’s clearest and crispest camera/multimedia screen, ample ventilation and mostly tactile materials.
The second row has all the amenities you’d want from a family-hauling bus (including air-con/heating controls and air outlets), and access to the third-row is largely unimpeded (though not up to the class best – due in part to the large and cushy seating that thankfully also offer more-than-adequate support).
Holden – via GMC – really has done its homework here, reflecting the dozen years of experience garnered over two generations of the series Stateside. Seven adults can be transported in comfort, style and refinement.
However, it is a shame that the centre seating is split so the single-seat flip/slide mechanism is on the road (right-hand) side while the double-seat is on the pavement (left-hand) side, meaning that if you have five people in the first two rows of an Acadia, two – and not one – have to get out to allow for third-row entry/egress.
Additionally, the fit and finish in these early pre-production trial cars is not brilliant, with some rough cabin plastics and poor carpet fitment, betraying the near-enough-is-good-enough reputation of American build quality. Hardy and durable is one thing, but shoddy is another. That said, not all examples sampled suffered from this.
On the road, though, all is forgiven, because the way the Acadia accelerates, handles and rides elevates it to the pointy end of the admittedly patchy seven-seat SUV brigade.
On paper, using an evolution of the 2004 VZ-era 3.6-litre petrol V6 might sound disappointing, as this was hardly the greatest engine we’ve experienced in a Holden. But in this application, driving either the front or four wheels via a nine-speed auto, the result is something quite revelatory.
For starters, the Acadia is much friskier off the line and stronger in response than we expected, especially for a circa-two-tonne seven-seat crossover.
Eager to the point of wheel chirping in the FWD models, and keen to just keep piling on speed, this is both quick and effortless, in that lazy torquey six-cylinder way that Aussies have grown to love over generations of Specials, Kingswoods and Commodores.
Clearly, some clever tuning of all those forward gear ratios has made a difference. Shame about that unergonomic tip-shift toggle perched incongruously atop of the lever knob. You need a double-jointed elbow just to operate it.
Never mind. Then there’s the newcomer’s steering. Some keener drivers might wish for more on-centre weight, but otherwise the Acadia seems to shrink around you, darting around corners and maintaining its composure at higher speeds with passenger-car agility – especially the LTZ-V with the Continuous Damping Control (CDC) adaptive dampers on 20-inch wheels.
Gravel road handling is exceptional too. We can see many rural buyers attracted to this aspect of the US Holden alone. Particularly the AWD version.
But the most impressive thing is the ride comfort and comparative quietness that we experienced during our two days behind the wheel of the Acadia, no matter what wheel or drive combination.
Whether the standard 18-inch 2WD or aforementioned LTZ-V on CDCs, bumps and irregularities were dealt with easily and without issue. Some road noise intrusion perhaps, yet even then, conversation between all three rows was no hardship.
It may seem a little unbelievable, but the great big seven-seater SUV from America seems to get better the more time spent with it.
There are few real foibles other than the fact that there’s no other powertrain choice than a V6 petrol, and it really does a great job transporting seven full-sized people (or fewer but with heaps more luggage) without sweat.
There’s even more than a bit for enthusiasts to relish from the dynamics. Who’d have thunk that!
This, then, is truly the Commodore of SUVs. And we were not expecting that.
That the Acadia has a bit of that VF plushness and, yes, swag – even if it’s with an American accent – we’re a bit shocked, but very delighted to report.
The seven-seater SUV party has just started swinging!
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