CarsDirect Articles: Acadia vs. Highlander… or rather Kia Sedona for fun.

As an aside that would otherwise go unheard, I’m putting out blogs of my work versus my own thoughts, as they are two different things.

Originally Written:

When minivans aren’t enough, or not your style, there are plenty of SUV’s to cover your seven or eight passenger needs.  The GMC Acadia and Toyota Highlander are two such SUV’s that (when both equipped with a V6) deliver around the same towing, efficiency, and entry price of $34,000.

While Toyota has stuck with selling the Sienna alongside its SUV brethren like the Highlander, General Motors has since moseyed away from sliding doors some time ago because of continually languishing sales.  GM has been Lambda SUV family (Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave) to fulfill that niche.  Acadia’s mission to take on minivans is dimensionally close, as the width and length of the GMC is nearly identical to the contemporary vans.  The interior passenger volume, on the other hand, was short by around 20 cubic feet compared to vans—that’s more than the average car trunk of space missing.  However that 288hp, six-speed automatic Acadia can tow around 5,200lbs when front-wheel or all-wheel drive versus 3,500 for most vans.  Fuel economy for a front drive Acadia is rated 18/24 city/highway.  Opting for AWD does allow for with the penalty of 1mpg city/hwy.

In the Toyota camp, the Highlander is a smaller vehicle with less power, and one less gear in the transmission.  Yet the Highlander V6 can tow 5,000lbs while averaging better overall economy (Acadia has a 7mpg split between city/hwy no matter what, while Highlander splits only 5-6 depending on whether front- or all-wheel drive).  Rear legroom for both second and third rows also surpass those of the Acadia, though cuts into cargo capacity in the process due to shorter length.  Turning radius of the Highlander undercuts Acadia 38.7’ against 40.4’.

Initially, the Highlander starts at $29,000, but does so in an asterisk: there’s a base 2.7L, 187horsepower four cylinder model.  While down a couple cylinders, the automatic is a six-speed rather than the V6’s five.  Fuel economy of the 2.7L FWD is up to 20/25 city/hwy, but the towing drops to 1,500lbs.  Achieving EPA estimates may be harder with a more labored engine.  For 28 both city/hwy, a middle-range of towing, and about the same power of the Highlander V6, Toyota also offers the Highlander Hybrid.

What Highlander may lack in exterior and cargo size over the Acadia, it makes up for with powertrain options, rear seating space, and spunk.  The Highlander is the SUV for those who need to seat seven, but deal with tighter streets and garages regularly.

My Take:
I hate these CUV’s, but I’ve had seat time driving the older Acadia and also know the Highlander has a venerable 3.5L V6 that is hard to ignore in the auto-scape.  When it came down to comparing these two vehicles, the question “why?” came up not only because I see more point in a minivan, but because the Acadia is far larger than the Toyota.

All in all, I’m indifferent on this test, but might have the Acadia because I’ve at least been behind the wheel.  More on that below.

Side Story:
The Acadia is one of my favorite “why not a minivan?” examples in the world of big SUV’s.  Not to pick on the Acadia on it’s own, but the entire Lambda SUV line, they really have a huge exterior that takes on a Kia Sedona, but the interior/cargo size of the minivan is larger by some 20 cubic feet… that’s a good amount of space in difference.

My attempt at making our ex-rental Sedona look hot a couple years back... how'd I do?

My attempt at making our ex-rental Sedona look hot a couple years back… how’d I do?

My strong opinion is helped further since my aunt has a 2008 Acadia, and my sister and brother in-law have a ’07 Kia Sedona.  In driving each vehicle, the Sedona has a more direct, less tippy feel.  The transmission of the Acadia is a much quicker and smoother six-speed unit than the Sedona’s tranny (in ’07 they had a 3.8L V6 coupled to a five-speed auto, while the ’11 saw a 3.5L V6 and six-speed auto).  Both offered manual modes, lending some fun for me since the Acadia’s 3.6L is related to the engine in the Cadillac ATS/CTS and Chevy Camaro, while the Kia is related to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe… both examples are of course down-rated and front-drive based, but family is family.

Kia did their manual mode right– it’s a seperate slot on the side of “D,” with a plus/minus to toggle around.  The Acadia is putting it in “S” for “Sport” and a toggle-switch mounted atop the shifter– never a sporty flavor, but in this application I’ll accept it.  Neither is built for real sport, and have very thick rubber between the rim and road; they flop around a lot.  The Sedona is a very composed vehicle when pushed, though, and it helps they put so much effort into making it lighter.  The suspension and body even use aluminum– that’s Jaguar/BMW touches in a cheap Korean minivan!  The seating position is crap, and the understeer is plenty, but over-all the Sedona is a more fun drive with more useable space.  I’ve even been in it to a snow-covered Yosemite Valley before with no qualms.  It does what we need, and then some.

Interior wise, the Acadia is a nicer place to be, even if a bit dark (click below for original sites/photos).
KIACarnival-SedonaSWB-3379_1 used-2012-gmc-acadia-slt-8016-10534255-7-640

As a side note, a Sedona rocking steelies, beauty rings, and white letters (maybe faux wood) is an interesting look for an otherwise overlooked shape.  Look closely and you see a well defined shoulder line, tapering roof and greenhouse toward the back, and a nearly Hofmeister-kink‘d window in back.  There are also those “angry eye” headlamps.  This van has potential for fun.  I did these conceptually for my sister.


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