Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Good news about GM

Woo Hoo! Someone is taking notice of the new crossovers Sean's plant is building. GM doesn't usually get good reviews in the press but this USA Today reporter certainly was impressed.

Thanks to Sean for passing this review along.

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GMC Acadia Cruises to Top of Market for Crossovers
USA Today
By James Healey
Dec. 22, 2006

PALO ALTO , Calif. — It's a rare moment in the auto business when a vehicle seems just right, so much so that it transcends annoyances and omissions to sit atop its class.

Salients this year: 2007 Jaguar XK and '07 Honda CR-V small crossover SUV.

Now another: 2007 GMC Acadia, a large crossover SUV. It's a new vehicle to GMC's lineup and is the first crossover ever sold by General Motors' GMC truck brand. That means it's not built on a truck-style frame but rather as a unibody somewhat like a car.

Saturn, another GM brand, is selling a mechanically similar model called Outlook. Buick, also a GM brand, will sell a fancier version, called Enclave, next year. Thus, you have your choice of several flavors at several price levels.

GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz says the crossovers are emblematic. "This is about as good as we know how to do right now. This is as good as it gets," he said introducing the Acadia here. "This is a 'no-excuse' vehicle."

Action in the crossover market has been concentrated among small and midsize models. Until Mazda launches the CX-9 early next year, and unless Honda enlarges the Pilot from mid- to full-size, Acadia's competition mainly is with Outlook and with full-size, truck-based SUVs from GM and its rivals.

If you absolutely, positively need towing prowess or off-road capabilities, you're still likely to favor GM's Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, full-size, truck-based SUVs. But if you use a big SUV as nearly everybody does — as a minivan substitute that's good in foul weather, carries lots of people, tackles shopping, commuting and other errands without a whimper — Acadia and its ilk are for you.

A day driving Acadias around here was delightfully rewarding. Here's why:

Handling. Present in large quantities. Pete Nico, vehicle line director for the Acadia and its corporate cousins, says he likes a responsive vehicle that whips through turns and doesn't feel tipsy, so — by gosh — that's what he told the team to develop. What a joy to pilot through the winding mountain roads. How easy to forget you were at the wheel of a full-size anything, let alone a full-size SUV. In addition to the taut suspension — too stiff, some might say — the extraordinarily well-balanced steering gets much of the credit.

Power. Acadia's 3.6-liter overhead-camshaft V-6, the only engine available, has 251 pounds-feet of low-speed torque. It's unimpressive, but well-leveraged by the jump-and-run first-gear ratio in the six-speed automatic transmission. There's plenty of punch at low engine speed. The 275 horsepower is enough to get you up the ramp and onto the big road without anxiety and with a grin.

Room. An almost immeasurable 1 percent less passenger room than you get inside Tahoe and Yukon, and 10 percent to 17 percent more cargo room, even though Acadia's a bit smaller outside. In addition, Acadia's third-row seat folds onto the floor. You needn't remove it for maximum area as you must in the GM truck-based SUVs. Folding the second row is easy, because the head restraints flop down for clearance behind the first row. No need to pull them out and find some place to store them so their metal mounting rods don't become skull-piercing missiles in a crash.

Room is no good, of course, unless you can reach it and use it. You can, easily, in Acadia, making it significantly handier than truck-based models, which in spite of their size require you to twist and clamber.

The second row slides fore and aft to tailor the mix of people and cargo space, something the truck-based SUVs don't offer. The second row slides and tips forward to open an adult-size alley into the adult-size third-row seat. The third row, in fact, is more comfortable than the second row for all but the long-legged because the third row sits higher off the floor.
A bin provides secure storage under the cargo floor and a partition stands up to help keep groceries where you intend. No bag hooks, though. Couldn't find a secure and handy place, GMC says. At least the hooks were considered, something not all car companies do in spite of the obvious usefulness of the feature.

Acadia's second-row knee and legroom feel much greater than what's in the truck models, even though Acadia's specifications show about 2 inches less than in Tahoe/Yukon. The lesson: You can't completely shop by numbers. You have to get in and squirm around.

Fuel economy. Not good in crossovers generally, because they weigh a lot, but on that relative scale, Acadia is strong. High teens city, mid-20s highway, a 2-mpg highway advantage over smaller Honda Pilot. Everybody's numbers probably will drop when new fuel economy tests go into effect for 2008 models.

Maintenance. Not much. The engine uses timing chains instead of belts. "We didn't think it was right to tell the customer that at 60,000 or 80,000 miles, you have a several-hundred-dollar maintenance job replacing belts," Nico says. Many Japanese models use belts, which are quieter but eventually need replacing. Spark plugs are good for 105,000 miles. Transmission fluid and engine coolant shouldn't need attention for 100,000 miles. Check around. You'll be surprised how many vehicles still recommend spark-plug changes and fluid replacement sooner.
Gaffes that Acadia has to overcome to seem as top-notch as it does:

Transmission. It's that cussed six-speed automatic jointly developed with Ford Motor and also used in GM's Saturn Aura sedan and Ford Motor's Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover utilities. In each case, it's marred by a big stumble before downshifting when you hammer the go pedal for passing or merging or fun. At least GMC folks admit it's not right and that development work continues.

Seat comfort. Leather upholstery felt hard, not just stiff or firm. Cloth was easier on the backside. The second row sits too close to the floor for adult comfort. On the other hand, the dreaded lumbar support retracts fully so you don't get a permanent back-whacking from the seat. Uncounted GM managers over the years have said they dislike the too-prominent lumbar bulges, yet they continue in GM vehicles.

Noise. A little around the windshield pillars in the pre-production testers. Shouldn't be there in production models, GMC says. Trust, but verify. Acadia is a new design, using a new transmission, rear suspension and other key hardware, built in a new factory that began production earlier this year (but it's a veteran workforce, GM emphasizes). The pre-production test vehicles suggested no problems. Fits were tight and right. Some first-tier Japanese brands aren't as nicely assembled.

If all those "news" don't bother you, then Acadia, even with its annoyances, is a splendid vehicle that fills an empty spot in the market, at least briefly, and deserves a spot high on many shopping lists.