Baggage Free

It's just not cool to make minivans anymore.It's debatable if minivans ever were cool — just ask any 30-something who grew up sandwiched between a cooler of Capri Sun and mesh bag of soccer balls.

Scott Anderson

February 1, 2007

4 Min Read
WardsAuto logo

It's just not cool to make minivans anymore.

It's debatable if minivans ever were cool — just ask any 30-something who grew up sandwiched between a cooler of Capri Sun and mesh bag of soccer balls.

Minivans are even less cool if you're an auto maker on the wrong end of the segment, as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have demonstrated.

Both domestic auto makers have shut down their minivan programs, leaving the sliding-doors wide open for the leaders: The Chrysler Group's Dodge Caravan and Honda Odyssey. By no means does that mean GM and Ford have surrendered the market, however.

With the all-new Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia cross/utility vehicles, GM is trying to change the rules of the game as Generation Xers look to buy family haulers of their own.

Both new CUVs are well-executed people movers that are distinct enough to avoid the criticism of homogenous rebadging. The Acadia brings the “professional grade” appearance GMC customers expect, even though the Acadia is the brand's first model not built on a truck frame.

Meanwhile, the Outlook's pluckiness conveys Saturn's conversion to European styling, even though this model is engineered in the U.S.

Found in front- or all-wheel-drive layouts, both contain GM's upgraded 3.6L DOHC V-6 with variable valve timing. The 275 hp and 251 lb.-ft. (340 Nm) of torque combine with Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings of 18 mpg (13 L/100 km) city and 26 mpg (9 L/100 km) highway for FWD variants.

The CUVs' new dedicated platform hovers relatively low to the ground, aiding ride and handling that is fluid compared with some truck-platform SUVs or CUVs derived from existing passenger-car architectures.

Inside, the Acadia and Outlook carry just about everything. There is space behind the third-row seats for groceries and soccer balls.

All seats fold flat, and the third row is fitted with Velcro straps — easily reached and yanked from the tailgate — to erect and lock the third row into place. The third row headrests fold down with a push of a button, instead of requiring disassembly.

The three rows of seats can be configured for seven or eight passengers, with two bucket seats up front and a standard third-row 60/40-split bench seat. The second row offers the choice of a 3-occupant split bench or two captain's chairs.

Both the Acadia and Outlook feature “smart slide,” a new seating innovation that also arrives on the upcoming Buick Enclave, the CUVs' platform mate. A 1-pull lever pushes the second-row seat cushion up while the seatback slides forward. The entire unit slides as one, allowing for easier access to the third row. The feature also means seating can be adjusted for both tall and short passengers.

Other little features on both models give away GM's target audience. For instance, the angle of the driver's dead pedal — no minivan needs a dead pedal! — was crafted with a groove for the comfort of women in high heels.

Another plus is the 6-speed automatic transmission's manual-mode button. That feature is nonetheless a nice option for engine braking and more spirited backroad cruising.

Uplevel interiors are plush, and the ride for all trims is nicely hushed. The CUVs were sealed with a new type of expanding foam that helps keep out noise.

GM presents the Acadia alongside would-be competitors in the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot.

Both GM CUV models are down on horsepower compared with the MDX's new 300-hp 3.7L V-6 mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. However, GM's 3.6L V-6 spreads more torque through a wider range.

Neither rival vehicle is particularly pleasing for passengers getting in or out, especially the MDX, which allows third-row entry only from the curbside. GM's point here is well taken: If a third row is necessary, it should be accessible without having to contort into a pretzel.

The Acadia starts at $30,000 but can loft to nearly $50,000 fully loaded. Outlook starts at $27,255 and tops out at about $38,000. An Acadia Denali version with a V-8 is expected later in 2007.

Why will these CUVs succeed when similarly pitched domestic “breakout” CUVs Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Freestyle haven't lived up to expectations? GM says its CUVs offer low step-in height, yet still are more roomy than the competitors.

But how will GM market to the minivan buyer without uttering the “M” word?

“You don't,” says GM product chief Bob Lutz, as he whips the Acadia around a corner near Palo Alto, CA. “You just show them what they can get.”

Subscribe to a WardsAuto newsletter today!
Get the latest automotive news delivered daily or weekly. With 5 newsletters to choose from, each curated by our Editors, you can decide what matters to you most.

You May Also Like