Car reviews - Holden - Acadia - LTZ-V FWD
Loads of useful tech, smoothness and silence, flexibility of child-restraint placement, ride and dynamics
Room for improvement
Suspect build quality, awful driving position, poorly designed third-row access
Holden's Acadia a huge leap over ageing Captiva but misses our large-SUV shortlist
10 Apr 2019
ALMOST half a million SUVs were sold in Australia last year, with the large, usually seven-seat variety accounting for more than 115,000 of the total. These vehicles are riding high, in more ways than one.
Holden limped along in this segment with its ancient Captiva, which managed to outsell superior rivals such as the Kia Sorento and Nissan Pathfinder in 2018 while being twice as popular as its other large SUV contender, the oft-overlooked Trailblazer that is based on the popular Colorado ute.
But now the thoroughly modern Acadia has arrived on the scene, poised to provide Holden a product that can compete on equal footing with segment stalwarts such as the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9.
We spent a week living with the technology-packed Acadia LTZ-V and found a lot to admire, although the interior could do with some design and quality improvements.
Price and equipment
The Acadia range opens at $42,990 driveaway for the front-drive LT FWD and tops out at $67,990 driveaway for the all-wheel-drive LTZ-V AWD. Our test vehicle was a pair of driven wheels short of flagship status, being the front-drive $63,990 LTZ-V.
Our LTZ-V is, as they say in the trade, fully loaded. Ready? Here’s the list: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat-nav with natural voice recognition and intelligent search function, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth, three-zone climate control, 2.1-amp fast-charging USB ports in all three rows and a sophisticated all-digital 360-degree camera with eight switchable views plus vision of the trailer-hitch that can be operated for mid-journey checks while in motion.
Safety and driver-assistance tech include autonomous emergency braking with cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist that can recognise unpainted road edges, and ‘lateral impact avoidance’ that combines the blind-spot monitor and lane-keep assist to help prevent the driver from colliding with overtaking vehicles during lane-changes.
There is also rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking assist and advanced traffic sign recognition that combines navigation and camera data with the adaptive cruise control to automatically adjust the vehicle’s speed to prevailing limits.
Like the smaller Equinox, most of these safety systems alert the driver using haptic seat vibrations rather than annoying chimes.
Other features comprise leather upholstery, automated parking assistance, rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging, a powered tailgate, electric front seat adjustment, heated and ventilated front seats, a digital driver info display, a Bose premium audio system, a dual-panel sunroof, keyless entry and start, automatic high-intensity discharge headlights, 20-inch alloys (with a full-sized spare) and Continuous Damping Control suspension.
Six of the eight available colours are $550 Premium paint options (ours was finished in Blue Steel, which prompted endless Zoolander jokes) and an arguably essential cargo blind is $230 extra, with carpet floor mats costing another $195.
The Acadia is deceptively designed. In isolation it looks massive, due to its bold, bluff nose and blockily assertive all-American appearance. But it’s no bigger than a Toyota Kluger – which feels as big as it looks – and smaller than the Mazda CX-9.
It’s similarly surprising when stepping out of the Acadia at the end of a journey. You anticipate quite a step down but in reality, it feels more like stepping across, in a similar way to ruggedised wagons such as the Subaru Outback.
On the move, there’s an odd hemmed-in feeling for the driver, particularly when manoeuvring. Rivals such as the Kia Sorento and aforementioned Mazda shrink around the driver, but if feels as though the shrinkage goes a little too far in the Acadia.
Worse, the Acadia’s driving position is woeful and whether you’re more than 180cm or around 160cm in height, it results in leg and back ache. We put it down to poor location of the pedals – perhaps due to the right-hand-drive implementation – which are set too high off the ground and too deep in the footwell, requiring unnatural ankle-flexing and a short-legged, long-armed posture reminiscent of 80s Italian cars.
It’s a shame, because the front seats are big plush armchairs and the overall character of the Acadia is successfully geared toward comfort. This is true of the two outboard seats in the second row and even the third-row chairs are opulently padded and upholstered.
Ventilation is excellent across the board – take note Mazda – and the tri-zone air-con – with blissful auto-activated front-seat cooling – was an effective foil against a memorably hot summer. The rear temperature and fan speed can be controlled via a panel on the rear of the centre console or the touchscreen, which can also lock the rear panel to prevent curious kids tampering with the settings.
For those in the middle row, there is heaps of room in all directions and a great view out plus a comfortable level of recline available. Even with the dual sunroof set-up of our LTZ-V test car and in the humped central seat, headroom is ample. That middle position isn’t the comfiest, mind, and the Acadia cabin is a bit narrow for three adults abreast, but the 60:40 split-slide function allows rubbing shoulders to be offset somewhat.
As mentioned, seat comfort at the very back is better than most, but access is compromised. There is just – just – enough room for three six-footers to sit in tandem if the central row is slid forward enough, but once the rearmost passengers are in place, the middle-row backrest must be first returned to its kneecap-crushing furthest back position before being slid forward again.
This makes no sense. Also, General Motors skimped on switching the split of the middle bench so that the single-seat section is on the kerb-facing side, meaning two people must exit the vehicle in order for third-row passengers to step out on the safest side. Then again, this is a common gripe with seven-seaters sold in Australia.
On the upside, third-row passengers benefit from well-located and large side windows and there’s a child seat anchor point on all five rear positions, providing parents with flexibility in terms of where they locate children of different ages and enabling them to pack the Acadia with tots if they have five kids in quick succession. Of the mainstream seven-seat SUVs, only the Mazda CX-9 and CX-8 can also claim this useful advantage (Ford’s Ranger-Based Everest does, too).
Storage is so-so. The glovebox and front central armrest bin are big, as is the handy drawer provided for second-row passengers. Space above and around the device charging area is generous, but what exactly would you put there? A two- or even three-tiered design would make more sense.
Cup-holders are basic and door bins are small, with the latter sadly unsuitable for storing most types of drinks bottles. Rear doors get a number of little cubbies and the central flip-down armrest has another pair of cup-holders while third-row passengers get weird square cup-holders plus a rectangular tray that could hold a small smartphone or two.
Luggage capacity is strong, though, at 292 litres in seven-seat mode, 1042L with five seats in use and 2102L with both rear rows stowed. There is a handy underfloor storage area in the boot, along with a deep plastic-lined rectangular bin for stashing wet or dirty items such as swimwear and hiking boots.
The LTZ-V as tested here is jam-packed with tech, most of it useful and much of it accessed and configured using the 8.0-inch touchscreen that is a joy to use, with crisp modern graphics and a responsive, intuitive interface. The clarity of the multi-view camera system is staggering for a mainstream brand, and the different angles come in genuinely useful when parking the Acadia in tight spaces.
Most of the other controls are intuitive enough, with a good mix of chunky buttons and rotary knobs plus an easy-to-fathom array of controls on the steering wheel that provide access to quite a depth of information from the large colour multi-function trip display.
On the other hand, the many peripheral gauges – rev-counter, coolant temperature, oil temperature, battery voltage and fuel are a bit cramped and difficult to read quickly. Thankfully, the digital speed readout is large and clear of font, although the cruise control information is a bit small.
Being a rebadged GMC – General Motors’ premium brand positioned between everyday Chevrolet and luxury Cadillac – the Acadia is impressively hushed while in motion. There’s just a whisper of engine sound unless accelerated hard, while road noise is almost absent and wind noise similarly well-suppressed.
If only the premium feel extended to the materials, fit and finish. There are some embarrassingly large areas of unconvincing metallic finishes, cheap-feeling hard plastics on the centre console and some chafing edges on the steering wheel trim, while the grain of the leather that wraps the wheel is also a little unpleasant to touch.
A ceiling air-con vent was missing from our test vehicle – none of the others felt loose or easily dislodged – and our twisty, bumpy dynamic test route soon had the cabin feeling loose and sounding rattly.
Engine and transmission
Shared with the ZB Commodore is the Acadia’s 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine. Sounds thirsty, but with idle-stop, cylinder deactivation and a nine-speed automatic transmission, it’s not too bad on fuel.
For front-drive variants, the official combined-cycle consumption figure is 8.9 litres per 100km. On test, we averaged 9.6L/100km in mixed driving, with a best of 7.9L/100km achieved on the motorway. That’s better than we got in both the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9, both of which are also petrol-only.
A quieter exhaust – but still a little raspy on start-up – means the Acadia is slightly down on power compared with the rather vocal Commodore, but with 231kW of power developed at 6600rpm and 367Nm of torque at 5000rpm, there’s plenty of go. There’s a distant but still-pleasing howl from under the bonnet under hard acceleration, too.
Besides a handful of low-speed clunks, shunts and thumps during our tenure, we found plenty to admire about the Acadia’s transmission. At 100km/h, the engine lopes along at a silent 1500 rpm, but a small flex of the right ankle is all that’s needed to elicit a rapid kick-down for quick bursts of acceleration.
Cruising around town, the transmission went about its business seamlessly. Only with a keen ear could we hear the Acadia’s engine revs gently rise and fall with each otherwise imperceptible shift.
There are no steering-wheel paddle-shifters – only audio control buttons – and an odd plus/minus button atop the gear selector, but even during our dynamic twisty road thrash, we never felt we could’ve done a better job of ratio selection. It’s a well-calibrated peach of a transmission, coupled with a smooth and effortless engine. Good work, Holden.
Ride and handling
The Acadia LTZ-V exclusively comes with 20-inch wheels and a Continuous Damping Control suspension setup that was tuned extensively by Australian ride and handling guru Rob Trubiani.
For urban, suburban and motorway driving, it’s all very comfortable. The Acadia soaks away road imperfections in a relaxed manner befitting its squidgy seats and American heritage. But it does so in an impressively controlled way, never feeling floaty or sent bobbing along by big bumps. It’s miles ahead of the Kluger and smoother than a CX-9.
As such, we were impressed and surprised by how well the Acadia drove on our dynamic test route of crumbling country roads, for which we selected the ‘sport’ mode on the centre console dial to firm up those special dampers a little and make the drivetrain more responsive.
We didn’t suffer a loss of comfort in the process. If anything, the additional body control made the Acadia more comfortable for passengers when negotiating fast corners because it prevented them feeling as though they were being thrown about. In a Kluger, we’d have to slow right down to avoid pools of sick in the rear footwells.
Our front-drive test vehicle may have chirped a tyre when bursting out of junctions, but out here in the dry conditions of our test, we had no traction worries and the bit 20-inch Continental Cross Contact tyres provided seemingly endless grip. Also, it took just one fast corner for us to understand and trust the Acadia’s abilities, such was the intuitiveness of its steering, plus the stability and surety we felt through the chassis.
This is exactly how you’d want to feel when faced with an unpredictable situation on the road with your family on-board, right?
For those who live in hilly, twisty country, the Acadia’s Aussie input will really shine because it comes into its own like a proper Holden in this environment. And for those who never leave the city limits, it’s a comfy and quiet way to get about.
That’s a great balance.
Safety and servicing
In 2018, the entire Acadia range attained a full five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, scoring 94 per cent for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent for child occupant protection, 74 per cent for vulnerable road user protection and 86 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety kit comprises dual frontal, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags; autonomous emergency braking covering city, interurban and vulnerable road users; lane-keep assist with lane departure warning, and an advanced speed assistance system.
Service intervals on the Acadia are 12 months or 12,000km, with the first seven priced between $259 and $359 depending on interval under Holden’s capped-price maintenance program (correct at the time of writing).
The Acadia LTZ-V scores highly for its equipment – and its usefulness – as well as an impressive petrol drivetrain and well-sorted ride and dynamics.
It’s just a shame that the interior – where you and your family will spend all your time – is full of little let-downs and oversights.
Holden offers a 24-hour test-drive, and we highly recommend you work out whether you can live with the Acadia’s odd driving position and if your offspring can cope with the frustrating centre-row sliding mechanism.
Listen out for creaks and rattles while you’re at it, and make sure all the ceiling vents are where they should be, too.
Mazda CX-9 Azami FWD (from $60,990 plus on-road costs)
Like the Acadia, the CX-9 is made in America, for Americans and this shines through. But it is a thoroughly modern and genuinely upmarket machine that also happens to offer plenty of practicality while avoiding depressing its driver with dreary dynamics. Thirsty, though.
Kia Sorento GT-Line (from $58,990 plus on-road costs)
If you’re not averse to diesel, we reckon the Sorento remains our favourite bitumen-biased seven-seat SUV – not to mention its market-leading seven-year warranty. What’s more, this classy South Korean feels as solidly built as a bank vault.
Toyota Kluger Grande 2WD (from $65,646 plus on-road costs)
The boofy Kluger feels sumptuous in flagship Grande trim and has masses of interior space. Creamy smooth courtesy of a Lexus-derived V6 petrol and eight-speed auto. Shame about the barge-like ride and dynamics, and it likes a drink when in town.
Nissan Pathfinder TI 2WD (from $62,190 plus on-road costs)
Like the Acadia, Nissan’s Pathie is a petrol-only affair (although a hybrid is available) that has an above-average top tether count. Nissan has slightly raised its dynamic bar with the mid-life facelift, but compared with some slick rival,s its cabin presentation and quality disappoints.
Model release date: 1 November 2018
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