2019 Holden Acadia LT AWD review

Holden’s new seven-seat SUV is a worthy alternative to the ubiquitous Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9, and miles ahead of the old Captiva.

Holden needs a win, as it fights to define itself as a full-line importer. While many of its new products – ZB Commodore, Astra, Equinox – are competitive with rivals, declining sales figures show it’s still battling to win people over.

The Tennessee-made Acadia crossover SUV enters the fray with an important role to play. Chiefly, convincing middle Australia to walk past the (also US-made) Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder, plus the CX-9 from public-favourite Mazda, and embrace the lion-badged brand once again.

The recipe looks good on paper. This is the only Holden that begins life as a GMC, a fellow General Motors division that specialises in SUVs and pickups, rather than as a Chevrolet or Opel (the latter is now a subsidiary of France’s PSA). GMC is a more premium brand, in the States.

This means the Acadia has the sort of boxy, big-grilled look and presence that Australians tend to gravitate towards. It’s all faux chrome, squared-off edges and wide haunches. The same could not be said for the now-defunct Captiva that sold on price, and price alone. Only the clumsily protruding front bumper undoes the look.

It’s about 5 metres long, the Acadia, and its design does little to conceal this fact. Of course it’s all about perspective. This thing is barely a mid-size SUV in the US, where true behemoths still rule the roads.

We’re testing the Acadia LT here, in all-wheel drive (AWD) guise, wearing a price of $47,490 ($46,990 drive-away at the time of writing, on campaign). By comparison the Kluger GX AWD is $48,850, the CX-9 Sport $48,990 and the Pathfinder ST AWD $45,490.

It’s the entry member of a three-variant line-up, below the better-equipped LTZ and LTZ-V.

It’s a base car in name only, because it’s not lacking standard equipment. You get a new 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, three-zone climate control, button start, cruise control, and a three-mode reversing camera with a tightly-cropped overhead view for hitching a trailer.

There’s also a suitably well-considered list of active safety features including standard low-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cycle detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, collision alert and a haptic vibrating driver’s seat augmenting audible warnings, a la the smaller Equinox. It alarms you at first.

The only useful feature missing is adaptive cruise control. We’d note that the lane assist function interferes a bit too much on the straight-ahead, and while it’ll nudge you back if you stray towards a road marking, it doesn’t self-centre, meaning you’ll ‘ping pong’ from side to side. We drove with this function turned off most of the time.

Indeed, there’s a case that the LT has all the key spec covered. The LTZ is a whopping $10,000 more and the additional highlights are heated and electric leather seats (easy to clean, we know), rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging and an electric tailgate. Nice to have, but that’s quite a steep walk-up.

The interior is typical General Motors, with oversized buttons and rubberised knobs controlling ventilation and audio volume. The new infotainment software is good, allowing smartphone-style touchscreen movements (pinch/zoom/swipe). The contrasting silver plastic and fake wood inlays add some character to the otherwise sombre look.

There’s a decent-sized cubby ahead of the gear shifter, and a deep console, though the door pockets are for 600mm water bottles only (a little narrow). The tastefully designed cloth seats have ample adjustment, as does the steering column, and there’s a digital speedo.

In typical GM style, though, the fit-and-finish could be better. The hard plastics on the transmission tunnel, the squeaking cup holder surround, the loose rubberised mat in the fascia storage bin, the wobbly console cover, and the cheap-feeling drive mode selector dial are all examples. A Mazda CX-9 has superior interior ambience.

The second row seats are excellent. The bases slide and recline, and there are two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom for a 194cm passenger to sit behind a 194cm driver. Impressive.

The floor is also flat all the way across, with no intrusion from the driveshaft, meaning the middle-row’s middle seat is quite useable. Amenities include rear temperature/fan controls, two USB points, roof-mounted air vents and handy cup holders and storage cubbies in the upper doors, and the flip down centre arm rest.

It’s worth noting that the second-row seats fold 60:40, with the smaller side on the right-hand side, not the kerbside. Access to the third row is via a single lever atop each middle seat section, which when pulled neatly slides the base and tilts the backrest forwards, giving you a decent enough aperture (though the Pathfinder does it a little better).

The sixth and seventh seats are actually pretty good. There’s a heap of headroom and that big side window makes it easy to see out, though the legroom is best suited to people 170cm or under. A couple of kids? Absolutely. There are also vents and a single USB point all the way back there. These seats aren’t just a tack-on novelty.

Occupants across the rows are protected by either dual front, front-side, or claimed full-length side curtain airbags. The driver gets a knee-bag too.

With all three seating rows in use, there’s cargo space for a couple of carry-on suitcases. Drop the third-row seats into the floor, and this grows to about 1000 litres. There are also levers in the rear to fold the middle seats down as well, though the bigger portion doesn’t go completely flat. The cargo lip is 794mm above the road, and there’s a small space-saver spare wheel under the floor.

Like the Kluger and Pathfinder, the Acadia is powered by a petrol-fired naturally aspirated V6, in this case a version of the 3.6-litre unit used in the new Commodore. This direct-injected unit makes peak power of 231kW at 6600rpm and peak torque of 367Nm at 5000rpm.

Typical of this sort of engine, it’s a free-revving unit with a nice note, however as those figures suggest, it requires a heavy right foot to get the most from it. By contrast, the 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Mazda CX-9 makes 420Nm of torque, much earlier in the rev band, making it feel more effortless and muscular despite its smaller displacement.

Thus, while the combined-cycle fuel use claim is a reasonable 9.3 litres very 100km – thanks in part to a smooth stop/start system and cylinder deactivation that runs the engine on four cylinders in low-stress situations before seamlessly switching back – it doesn’t take much to send this reading upwards.

To be specific, our car’s longer-term trip computer reading said over the last 800km the car had averaged 12.3L/100km. At least it handles 91 RON fuel.

In fairness, the Toyota and Nissan are scarcely better, and we’ve averaged similar figures in the Mazda too. Being American, the chances of a diesel to match the brilliant new Hyundai Santa Fe are nil. There is also no hybrid at this stage, something Nissan offers and which Toyota plans to, soon.

If you ever tow the family caravan or trailer, note that the Acadia has a 2000kg braked capacity, and a trailer sway prevention system built into its stability control.

Mated as standard to the V6 engine is a nine-speed automatic transmission of the torque-converter variety. Aside from the very occasional clunk running through the drivetrain at low speeds, it generally remained unobtrusive.

Our car came with the $4000 more expensive on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) configuration, that sends torque to the rear axle when the front tyres are struggling. This system is controlled by a rotary dial, which can put the car into a sports mode or ice/towing modes, fettling the throttle mapping and stability control inputs to suit.

The system can also decouple the rear axle and drive as a FWD to theoretically save fuel. However, the Acadia’s front wheels will chirp and spin frantically if you try a fast getaway in this 2WD mode, just like the Kluger does. We’d suggest forking out for the all-paw surety of the AWD system, as it alleviates all this fuss and makes family trips outside the city less stressful.

The GMC/Holden is really quite poor at ‘putting its power down’ through the front wheels only.

Dynamically, Holden’s crack team of chassis engineers based in Victoria (perhaps the very best GM has anywhere, if the old VFII Commodores were a guide to their talents) has reworked the Acadia to suit our roads. The suspension is a par-for-the-course strut/independent layout, and brake-torque vectoring is fitted as standard.

It may look like a Yank Tank, but the Acadia actually has good stable body control against cornering forces, and light responsive steering. It also settles well after hits, and the springs/dampers and high-sidewall tyres on 18-inch rims iron out sharper cabin inputs. It’s as smooth, quiet and comfortable as it needs to be, and isn’t scared of corners.

The brakes are suitably big (321mm discs at the front and 315m at the rear) to haul this 1968kg beast up quickly enough, in controlled fashion.

From an ownership perspective, Holden offers an excellent five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance, and capped-price servicing at 12 month intervals (or 15,000km). The company also offers 24 hour test drives, which we both commend, and recommend.

Additionally, it’s clear that Holden is comfortable offering discounts these days, as the rest of its range shows (well, maybe not comfortable, but obliged to), and its network is generally well stocked with demonstrator models. For this reason, we’d suggest you have a case to get an even better deal than what’s on the sticker.

All told, we were relatively satisfied with the Acadia LT AWD, which looks to be the pick of the range. It lacks the CX-9’s cabin ambience, granted, its engine never inspires you and the FWD mode is ordinary, but it’s spacious, good value, comfortable and looks the part.

We can happily say it’s worth cross-shopping against the mentioned rivals, if you’re open to owning a Holden.

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