The 2020 GMC Acadia Gets an 'Off-Road' Look and a Wacky Push-Button Shifter

All photos: GMC

The SUV and crossover market in the U.S. is white hot, and to remain competitive, automakers have been rolling out new turbocharged powertrains, more gears in their transmissions, and often a variant that at least appears to have some semblance of off-road capability. So that’s what GMC’s done with the new 2020 GMC Acadia.

The GMC Acadia started out life as a higher-end version of the giant, bulbous Chevrolet Traverse full-size crossover, but then in 2017, it dropped into the mid-size segment and got sleeker styling. Now, for 2020, it gets a face quite similar to that of the GMC Sierra pickup, and actually, it looks pretty good.

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It’s got standard C-shaped LED headlights, a squared-off grille that droops down on the bottom corners, and a revised rear fascia with new taillights and a different shape to the trim bar above the license plate. I think the back looks okay, but the front looks downright handsome. For a crossover, that is.

For the first time, the Acadia’s SLE, SLT and Denali trims are joined by AT4, which is GMC’s new “off-road” sub-brand that launched with the 2019 GMC Sierra. But unlike the pickup truck, the Acadia AT4 doesn’t get a lift kit, skid plates, Rancho shocks, or a locking differential. No, the Acadia AT4—which comes standard with the 310 horsepower V6 and a “twin-clutch” AWD system—is more of an aesthetics package, adding black chrome accents to the exterior, unique 17-inch wheels, and standard all-terrain tires (which, if I’m honest, look pretty nice with all of that sidewall).

To be fair, in its press release, GMC doesn’t really call the AT4 a true off-road variant, only using the term to describe the styling, saying the vehicle gets a “rugged, off-road-inspired design.”

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Off-road-inspired.

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In addition to the new styling, there’s a fresh 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
engine joining the naturally aspirated 193 horsepower 2.5-liter four and 310 horsepower 3.6-liter V6. The new motor is a variant of the 2.0-liter found in the Cadillac XT4 crossover, and makes 230 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm—the same torque as the Caddy, but seven horsepower fewer.

All of the Acadia’s engines now get bolted to a nine-speed “Hydra-Matic 9T65"
automatic instead of a six-speed, which was the only option in the 2019 model.

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The user interface for that transmission in an interior that looks much the same as the outgoing model’s is a new push-button shifter replacing the old-school PRNDL lever. Called “Electronic Precision Shift,” GMC touts the setup (which is similar to the one in the GMC Terrain) as a way to free up center console space. Here’s a closer look at the shifter at the bottom of the center stack:

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GMC also says it’s improved the Acadia’s infotainment system with a higher resolution screen and better voice recognition, and that the user interface is improved. Other changes include “suspension refinements” (exactly what changes were made isn’t mentioned), some new wheels, LED turn signals in the mirrors, and other bits you can read about on GMC’s media site.

But really, the big changes are the new 2.0-liter engine, the nine-speed transmission, the “rugged” styling (especially on the AT4), and the push-button shifter. Most of those seem like decent improvements, but I’ve got to try out that gear selector before making a judgement. Because it looks wacky.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio