The 2020 GMC Acadia receives minor updates as it enters the second half of its life cycle and with the new year, comes the AT4 trim level. This off-road themed trim is mechanical the same as the other Acadia trims, however, all benefit from a much-improved improved transmission that affords better fuel economy and a casual rapid acceleration.
This 2020 Acadia AT4 crosses the line at nearly $46,000 which includes many notable features such as updated LED headlights and brake lights, remote engine start, proximity entry, and a hands-free power tailgate. Inside, brown leatherette seats are heated, and while the 8-inch touchscreen is quick to react, it sits low in the dash, as does the gauge cluster which houses a 4.2-inch digital display. The Bose stereo is good for its price range and will satisfy most and there are numerous power outlets throughout. The quality of the materials and interior design are a bit of a let-down compared to its competition. There is also an excessive amount of panel gaps and misaligned parts that yield an unfinished and uncoordinated feel.
The Acadia shows feels a step behind the leaders of the pack in terms of active safety tech – active cruise control is unavailable on the AT4 – however, it excels at every crash test thrown at it. The Acadia even has an inboard seat side airbag to protect the driver and front passenger from each other. A key option package included is the Driver Alert Package II (about $700) which brings automated emergency braking which avoided a collision in the IIHS 12 mph test. The rear camera is impressively detailed and the HD viewing angles make for a one-shot trailer hook-up process and rear cross-traffic alert is also appreciated for this long crossover.
The headlight performance hasn’t yet been evaluated by IIHS, however, during a night drive with four passengers on-board, the Acadia’s soft suspension caused several drivers to complain of excessive glare by flashing their own headlights – a little bit embarrassing for a mid-$40k crossover.
Styling and Size
The AT4 trim is new for the Acadia line-up and is GMC’s newest sub-brand (Denali being the other). It receives all-terrain tires with blocky shoulders mounted on black 17-inch wheels and a darkened grille and exterior trim pieces. The result is a more adventurous look without much actual hardware to back it up though that omission helps keep the price more reasonable.
Inside, this Acadia’s 5-passenger setup (up to 7-passenger is available) afforded a flat loading floor and 41.7 cubic feet of cargo room while the rear seat passengers enjoy plenty of legroom – 39.7 inches to be exact.
Power and Efficiency
The 2020 Acadia features a new 9-speed transmission, taking over duties from the 6-speed auto. Teamed up with GM’s “high-feature” V6, the duo makes for a smooth and rapid acceleration up to speed. The engine has an authoritative voice between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm and the transmission quickly tosses one gear for the next as it moves through the tightly-spaced lower ratios. The engine loses its sense of refinement when the revs reach the redline, however, with so many gears and the engine’s meaty mid-range power, pushing the engine so high was rarely necessary.
The transmission’s shifter operation is new too and falls in-line with other newer vehicles. Gone is the traditional lever and in its place, a row of buttons and rocker switches. It’s similar in layout to the GMC Terrain’s system, though small details yield a significantly easier no-look switch selection. There’s room for improvement, however, as the gear limiter “+” and “-” buttons are a far reach and require a look away from the road – almost never ideal, especially when driving in conditions that require such gear control. However, after a few days of using the new “lever” and appreciating the added center console space, the traditional shifting method feels obsolete.
To help with fuel efficiency, the engine can operate seamlessly on 4-cylinders and the automatic engine stop/ start system has been designed into the transmission to help rapidly refire the engine and engage first gear. While the system is mostly unobtrusive, the system’s on/ off button is front and center to allow for quick get-aways or added smoothness during rush hour’s stop and go traffic.
The new transmission helps to make gains at the pump too with EPA estimates of 18/ 25/ 21 mpg (city/highway/combined) which is 1 mpg point better than the 2019 Acadia. During my time, I easily managed 24 mpg.
Ride and Handling
Despite the trim’s off-road image, the AT4 maintains the low ground-clearance, weak approach angle, and lack of underside protection of the rest of the lineup. It was enough to discourage me from tackling anything more than a county dirt road. Not all is not lost, however, as the advanced all-wheel-drive system can distribute up to 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels and up to 85% to either rear-wheel depending on the situation and chassis settings. A rotary knob on the console can select 2WD for maximum efficiency, AWD for everyday traction, Sport for a more responsive drivetrain, Off-road for maximum traction and maintaining momentum in slippery surfaces, and Towing albeit the Acadia’s meager 4,000 lbs towing rating.
The 2020 GMC Acadia AT4 doesn’t reset the bar in any category, however, its soft suspension yields a smooth ride no matter the road and its updated transmission transforms the Acadia from feeling a bit lethargic to one that’s energetic and adds to the can-do nature of the Acadia AT4.