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Acadia vs. Outlook vs. Enclave: which to buy?

by mkaresh:      May 14, 2007 - Updated May 16, 2007

Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Styling, room, versatility, ride quality, quietness
Cons: Feel their size in tight turns, seats could be better
The Bottom Line: Properly equipped, the GMC Acadia is the sportiest of GM's three new large crossovers.

One of my grad school professors once advised, "Why publish once what you could publish thrice?" In other words, tweak a single piece to get three publications out of it. GM likes doing the same with vehicles. So instead of one new large crossover (i.e. SUV body on a car-like chassis), we have three: the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, and Buick Enclave.

I've already reviewed the Saturn and the Buick, so about the Acadia in itself there's not a whole lot new to say. But there are some differences, so I've decided to focus on these in this review and make it a comparison among the three.

If you're shopping for a large crossover, which is likely to be best for you?


The largest differences among the three, by far, are aesthetic. The Buick's exterior looks much different than those of the other two, with sensuous curves instead of rugged right angles. Between the GMC and the Saturn, the GMC looks more truck-like courtesy of more strongly defined fender flares and a painted D-pillar. Still, they're similar enough that anyone who likes the look of one is likely to like the look of the other. The GMC's appearance is enhanced by the optional 19-inch wheels; different 19s with a less rugged look are optional on the Saturn.

Inside, the Buick is again least like the others. Curves together with scads of fake wood and chrome suggest a Jaguar knock-off, while the Saturn's interior apes those of VW. In contrast, the Acadia's interior goes in a trucky/techy direction, with rugged forms and surfaces. I personally think it looks higher in quality and feels more solidly put together than the other two, despite the fact that it does not attempt to be as fancy (or perhaps because of this). I'd especially like to see better materials in the Enclave.

The Acadia I drove was fitted with the "brick" leather, a burnt orange hue not available in the others. I've seen similarly pigmented interiors in the Infiniti FX and Nissan Murano, and liked the warm yet bold ambiance it created. I similarly like it in the GMC, and would likely opt for the brick interior if I got an Acadia, but something isn't quite right. Maybe it's the use of too many sharply contrasting colors, with black and faux aluminum also prevalent. The "brick" especially seems to clash with the latter. One detail I don't care for: the three air vents at the top of the center stack are ringed in chrome. The effect is a bit much.


All three vehicles have similar interior dimensions and use very similar seats. As noted in the other two reviews, interior space is plentiful but the seats aren't the best. The front seats provide minimal lateral support and just don't have a premium feel, while the second row seats are mounted too close to the floor. Hopefully they'll fit better front seats in the upcoming Denali trim.

All three have more room behind the third row than any competitor. In none does the front passenger seat fold, though.

On the Road

All three use the same drivetrain, though the engine in the base Saturn has only a single exhaust and five fewer horsepower, 270 vs. 275. A base GMC Acadia tips the scales at 4,800 pounds, so adequate rather than strong acceleration better be good enough.

All three have a rocker switch on the gear shift knob that can be used to manually shift the transmission. Precisely, it's an "electronic range selector," you you select the highest permissible gear ratio and the transmission selects among the rest. The largest problem with this system is that the transmission doesn't react quickly to inputs via this rocker.

On the other hand, the Acadia SLT I drove had the optional head-up display (HUD). This feature, which I highly recommend, isn't available on the Buick and Saturn. It projects vehicle speed, engine rpm, the selected top gear, and other information onto the windshield in such a way that it appears to be floating over the leading edge of the hood. As a result, it's possible to keep one's eyes on the road and on valuable information at the time. This can be especially valuable when tacking twisty roads in a sports car, but I'd still want it in a vehicle like the Acadia. The HUD's tach and gear indicator made it much easier to decide when to manually shift the transmission in (relatively) spirited driving.

The GMC Acadia's suspension tuning is identical to the Saturn Outlook's and a bit more taut than the Buick's. As much as I personally put a high priority on handling, the Buick's suspension struck me as offering the best balance between handling and ride quality. The Buick doesn't handle quite as sharply as the other two, but rides considerably better.

All three have standard 18-inch SUV tires, Goodyear Forteras, and optional 19-inch tires. In the case of the GMC and the Saturn, the 19s are a performance tire, specifically Goodyear Eagle RS-As. The Enclave's 19s are more ride-oriented.

The biggest difference between the 18s and the 19s on the Acadia and Outlook is that the latter provide considerably more grip but also add a touch a busyness to the ride. Whether you need this grip will depend on the curviness of the roads you drive and how aggressively you like to drive. The Eagle RS-As do ride a bit more harshly and busily than the Forteras, and their grip on ice is lower. So I'd test drive both.

The Acadia and Outlook are quiet inside, but the Buick is extremely so. Engine, wind, and road noise are all more prominent in the GMC and Saturn.

GMC Acadia Prices and Price Comparisons.

The Saturn Outlook starts at $28,790, the Acadia $2,000 higher, and the the Enclave another $2,000 higher. But the level of standard features increases with the base prices. For example, xenon headlamps are standard on the Buick. To get them on the GMC, you'll have to spend well over the base price of the Enclave. Also, the Acadia and Enclave come standard with second-row captain's chairs, a $495 option on the Saturn. (Opting for a bench in the GMC or Buick brings with it a $495 credit.) It's possible to push the prices of any of them well over $40,000.

Even after adjusting for features the Saturn lists for about $1,000 less than the other two. But incentives tend to be lower on Saturns, and their policy remains to sell at MSRP. So in the end the final purchase prices of the three will tend to be close when they are similarly equipped.

But you're going to want a specific set of features. Depending on what you want, any of the three could be the cheapest. So don't assume anything before pricing them out.

I developed a site to make such price comparisons easy. TrueDelta's page for the Acadia:


Last Words

Most of the differences between the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, and Buick Enclave are aesthetic. Many decisions among them will be based on personal taste. Beyond styling, the GMC seems sportiest when fitted with the brick interior, HUD, and 19-inch performance tires, wile the Buick is the quietest and most luxurious. Finally, prices can be different depending on the set of features desired.

While none of the three is perfect, all have a lot going for them: exterior styling, interior room and versatility, and about the best driving experience you'll find in a vehicle with such generous dimensions. Any of the three would be a good choice.

A Note on GMC Acadia Reliability

Many people are probably wondering about the reliability of the GMC Acadia and its sibs, as they are all-new vehicles with a new transmission.

I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.

Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy an Acadia rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in GMC Acadia reliability comparisons.

Before I can report results, I need reliability data on all cars--not just the Acadia--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.

For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.

A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 

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