2020 GMC Acadia AT4 Review | A soft-roader in steel-toed boots

Byron Hurd
·7 min read


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For carmakers today, the perfect lineup would be focused almost entirely on trucks and crossovers, favoring profitability at the expense of diversity. Just look at FCA’s Ram and Jeep showrooms. In the General Motors portfolio, that brand is GMC, with not a car to be found in its lineup and several body-on-frame offerings meant to take a serious beating. It should be a license to print money.

But a lineup of trucks and SUVs isn’t enough. Some folks want the rough-and-tumble edge of an off-road vehicle, albeit one that can still credibly serve duty in the school pickup line. Enter the AT4 trim level, an off-road package that spans the gap between the GMC's upscale professional image and the off-road oriented buyer. The 2020 GMC Acadia AT4 is the latest member of the family

AT4 slots in between the mid-grade SLT and the range-topping Denali, but simply saying it’s the second-most expensive Acadia variant isn’t really doing it justice. If the SLT trim is understated, and the Denali trim opulent, the AT4 trim promises ruggedness and adventure – even if it can’t deliver it. 

The Acadia is definitely a soft-roader and AT4 doesn’t do much to change that – it’s effectively an appearance package. It adds a unique grille, 17-inch wheels and AT4 badges — all blacked out — plus a set of Continental TerrainContact A/T tires engineered to offer a comfortable ride while still enabling some off-pavement excursions. There are several unique interior treatments as well, including “AT4” embroidery on the seats, regardless of whether you go with the base upholstery or the upgraded perforated leather ($1,000) that was added to our test vehicle.

Note that we didn’t mention anything beyond the small wheels and meaty tires that would actually make the AT4 any better off pavement. There’s no extra ground clearance (it remains a meager 7.2 inches), low range 4x4 system or suspension enhancement to be found here. This would be a departure from other GMC AT4 models, including the Sierra 1500 and upcoming 2021 Yukon, which get extra ground clearance, underbody protection and a rugged suspension, but it won't be an outlier. The similarly soft-roading Terrain AT4 has already been announced

Yet, off-road models tend to get hammered with on-road handling and ride quality criticism and here's where the Acadia AT4 being more of an appearance package pays off. The Acadia’s suspension hasn’t been stiffened to the point where it would treat your internal organs like they’re in the pit at a metal concert. In fact, the AT4 is downright luxurious. And even with those knobby all-terrain tires, the steering remained precise, allowing us to dodge potholes or errant drivers without the vagueness expected of off-road-oriented models like the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro or every Jeep Wrangler. The tires do make extra noise, but the Acadia is otherwise quite comfortable and quiet, and tracks nicely on the highway. 

On the other hand, we feel compelled to call out GM’s strange part-time all-wheel drive system, which must be turned on in order for it to “automatically” activate. If there’s any upside to this execution, it’s that the Acadia will remember what mode the AWD system was in when you last shut the car off and start back up the same way. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for the engine auto stop/start, which always defaults to “on.”

The AT4’s $43,395 base price (including a $1,195 destination fee) places it in the heart of the large crossover market, and specifically the small group of well-equipped, macho-styled entries like the Dodge Durango Citadel Anodized Platinum (yes, that's really its name), Kia Telluride SX and Honda's Pilot and Passport Black Edition models.

For that base price, which comes in at about $6,000 less than the better-equipped Denali, you get a mostly comprehensive amount of equipment. Unlike other trims that offer turbocharged and naturally aspirated four-cylinders, the AT4 is exclusive offered with the 3.6-liter V6 making 310 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The twin-clutch all-wheel drive system is standard along with a nine-speed automatic. The AT4 trim also bundles in niceties such as remote manual releases for the second row seat backs, a power tailgate with opening height adjustment, built-in navigation, heated and ventilated seats, heated side mirrors, LED headlights, roof rails and a power, eight-way driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment. You also get rear park assist, rear cross traffic assist, blind spot monitoring, a high-def rearview camera, teen driver key settings and GM’s rear seat reminder. 

Note that forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist are not included in that list. They're optional despite being standard on most competitors. You can't get adaptive cruise control at all as it's locked behind a firewall labeled "Denali" along with a heated steering wheel, head-up display and some other extras. 

There is one additional but intriguing omission for the AT4, however: the third-row seat. This is the only Acadia available in a two-row, five-passenger seating configuration that comes standard. You can still get the six- or seven-person three-row configurations, when so-equipped, the Acadia is one of the smallest in the segment in terms of cargo space. Even the Toyota Highlander has more. Yet, when you shave off the way back, the Acadia suddenly becomes a giant among two-row mid-sizers, besting even the Honda Passport with the back seat raised and lowered. It crushes the Jeep Grand Cherokee. 

Yet, it’s important to keep in mind that the Acadia was still engineered to be a three-row crossover. The five-passenger model is basically a rear-seat delete option and we're not really sure what's gained by its omission apart from more favorable cargo volume comparisons. If you’re looking for a five-passenger CUV with good cargo space, the Acadia is probably a bit large and unwieldy for you. And if you only need a third row on very rare occasions, a smaller crossover like the Kia Sorento or Volkswagen Tiguan with a small, fold-away third row might make more sense; both will be much easier to park than the bigger Acadia. 

Inside, the AT4 is standard Acadia apart from some unique contrast stitching and special badging on the head restraints. That means we can log the same complaint about GMC moving away from traditional shifters to push-button gear selectors. The general idea of an electronic shifter is a good one as it opens up a lot of cubby room, but GMC's specific "shifter" is a poor design. It's a bank of selector switches were some are pulled to choose a gear; others are pushed. The whole mechanism is located at the bottom of the center stack, in front of a cubby and the cupholders, which is inconvenient. If you want to manually select gears, you’ll be reaching for the far side of the stack, where you’ll toggle shifts via yet more buttons. 

The rest of the Acadia's controls and in-car tech are thankfully pretty straightforward. The touchscreen is easy to use and see, and the AT4 even comes standard with built-in GPS navigation. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto might make that seem redundant (less so OnStar turn-by-turn directions, which has always seemed like a waste of time and resources), but there are times when a built-in system is superior, such as when you're an area without cell coverage. And if you're going to buy a GMC AT4 model, it should be assumed that you'll be venturing someplace where that's a possibility – even if it is just an appearance package.

But as appearance packages go, the Acadia AT4 offers sharp looks and an adventure-ready attitude with adequate standard and optional equipment. Make no mistake, it's missing some key standard features, it's one of the smallest crossovers in its class (and despite our five-passenger tester, we still consider it a three-row model), and its off-road pretensions are just that. But, if you can live with those shortcomings and are most interested in presenting that rough-and-tumble edge in the school pickup line, it's a fine family truckster.

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