My youngest just turned 16 and to celebrate, we all decided to head up to the beautiful mountain ski resort of Breckenridge, Colorado. It’s about a 2 hour drive (depending on traffic, which can be hugely variable) through some of the most lovely terrain on Earth and in the winter, you can go from a stunning vista of snow-covered mountains to an evergreen forest in the blink of an eye. It’s also famously tricky driving as you get to higher elevation (Breckenridge is at 8,900 foot elevation and to reach it you have to cross over Loveland Pass, elevation 11,500 feet). Breck (as we call it) can get really cold too, so temperatures near zero are common and when coupled with a very typical overnight snowfall, can lead to pretty miserable driving conditions even on a bright, sunny day.
I reached out to GMC thinking it was the perfect opportunity to test out one of their newer vehicles and they kindly obliged by sending out a 2020 GMC Acadia AWD AT4 for the road trip. The Acadia is a mid-size SUV with plenty of room for five but no third row seat. 2020 is the first year it offers the AT4 trim set too. Oh, and it also looks like an unmarked police car:
This photo is taken in downtown Breckenridge and I can attest that while the Acadia did just fine on the slick, icy roads, I was cautiously watching so many other cars slipping, sliding, overcompensating for the lack of traction and spinning without any traction at all. A front wheel drive Mazda sedan blocked the entire road for at least 30 seconds, spinning and spinning without moving an inch.
For the Acadia, it’s not only an AWD model, but there’s a simple dial that lets you up the traction as needed, right from the center console:
Seat warmers were a nice added bonus when it was 5F outside too, and switching to 4×4 for the worst of the conditions was as easy as it could be. Surprisingly, the car doesn’t automatically switch to a better traction drive system based on conditions or detection of wheel spin / reduced traction, but perhaps there’s a safety reason for that?
Lots of cargo room was a huge boon too and our skis fit just fine, as you can see:
Yes, this is a typical 60/40 split rear seat. Such a great idea because we didn’t need a lot of extra space for the skis, so having the majority of the rear seat space available for the passenger made their ride much more comfortable.
While the drive control dial was pretty typical and quite similar to the Jeep line, it was the drive shifting system that was most surprising. There’s no gear shift. There’s no stem on the steering wheel column for changing gears. In fact, when you first get in, you might have no idea how to switch into drive, but it’s a set of controls embedded in the dashboard:
Push the “P” to park, pull the “R” or “D” to move into reverse or drive, and pushing “+” and “-” lets you shift gear by gear. This model Acadia features an 8-speed automatic transmission and a 3.6L V6 engine with plenty of power for even the challenging 8% uphill grades of Highway 70 going from Denver to Breckenridge. In fact, it’s a great drive because as with most American designed cars, the GMC Acadia trades off fuel efficiency for power.
How much so? The reduction in fuel economy due to the bigger engine isn’t too bad, actually, and even on the engine-testing mountain roads I was averaging almost 22mpg:
21.8mpg might sound low, but it’s hard to have a big SUV with space, power and great fuel efficiency. Having said that, yes, I would love to see GMC offer this same vehicle with 2x the fuel efficiency. I mean, a guy can dream, right? 🙂
Notice that the center console gauge layout is pretty darn traditional too, with tachometer, fuel, engine temperature and speedometer. Heck you can’t even get kilometers per hour if you prefer the European measure. Someday that’ll be our measure too, but until then, remember, 5280 feet = 1 mile. Weird, really.
Back to, well, the back:
Legroom for passengers in the Acadia was very good, as shown above. Plenty of space for a drive back that ended up being quite a bit longer than the optimal two hours.
Turns out that there’s a great weekly winter migration from Denver and environs up into the mountains Friday followed by the same people trekking back Sunday evening, ready for another week. All on the two-lane I70, which means every savvy Coloradan knows to schedule around those times. Which still didn’t help us from hitting at least some clogs, as the CarPlay connected Google maps app so overtly illustrated:
84 miles to home, and it’s going to take almost two hours. If we’re lucky. Fortunately we were, and once we survived the haul up from Silverthorne to the amazing Eisenhower Tunnel, it was surprisingly smooth and easy driving, even with trucks zooming past.
Plenty of time to assess the function of each and every control on the traditionally laid out dashboard:
Hidden behind the left and right crossbars of the steering wheel were next channel/prev channel and volume controls. And I can never remember which is which, so I rarely use them lest I inadvertently advance a chapter in my audiobook. Not good. I will say that the entire infotainment system is very well designed, with big, easy buttons and logical controls, as you can see above. This Acadia had the upgraded Infotainment package ($995 upgrade) including HD Radio. But does anyone actually listen to HD Radio? I’m in the biz and I’m skeptical. Still, the 8-speaker Bose audio offered up some great sound and enough volume to even satisfy the teens in the vehicle.
And so, let’s step outside just one more time for another photo:
This color combination is Carbon Black Metallic exterior and a beautiful Jet Black / Kalahari interior. No trace of sand from the desert (the Kalahari desert, of course, otherwise located in Botswana & Namibia, Africa) but a $1000 upgrade for the privilege of this color scheme. I don’t really get how car companies can get away with charging for premium exterior colors, but it’s definitely a thing and just about every company seems to do that nowadays.
The only thing I’ll mention as I wrap up this piece is that the key fob is surprisingly big:
Yes, the recycle arrow is actually a remote start (so nice on cold mornings!) so there’s a decent amount of functionality, but if you’re looking for a sleek and modest key fob, this isn’t the car to buy. Then again, who the heck buys a car based on the key fob?? 🙂
All in all, I really enjoyed the 2020 GMC Acadia AWD AT4. It handled with verve and confidence in even poor driving conditions, looks great, is super comfortable, has lots of cargo capacity and has a sound system that’ll have you sitting in the driveway listening to the last track on your favorite album again and again. It’s definitely on my short list for a more powerful and mountain-ready SUV perfect for Colorado.
AS DRIVEN: 2020 GMC Acadia AWD AT4 with 3.6L V6 SIDI DOHC engine, 8-speed automatic transmission and optional additions of the premium color package (Jet Black / Kalahari), carbon black metallic color package, infotainment package, driver alert package II. Base price: $41,300. As driven: $45,680.00 including destination charge.
Disclosure: GMC loaned me the 2020 Acadia AWD for the weekend for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks, GMC, we really enjoyed this vehicle!