2021 Toyota Highlander vs GMC Acadia
Looking for a spacious SUV to tote the entire family? You might have already given some consideration to a few vehicles, and among them might just be the 2021 Toyota Highlander and the 2021 GMC Acadia. Both of these vehicles have a lot to offer, but one does have a few advantages over the other. And, as you will soon be able to surmise, the one we think is better is the Highlander. We need to explain why that is, though, so you can get a feel if this is the right vehicle for you.
The Highlander is fresh off of a remodel in 2020, so there are not too many changes that have been made to the 2021 line-up. The only addition - an exciting one, to be certain - is the sporty XSE trim level. The XSE has a sport-tuned suspension, unique sport-themed styling elements, a built-in navigation system, and ambient interior lighting.
There are a lot of things to like about the Highlander. It gives you a quiet cabin with a cozy ride quality and plenty of space in the first two rows. For the driver, this third-row SUV is easy to see out of thanks to its slender roof pillars. If you need it, there is a rear-view camera, plus available blind-spot monitoring and a 360-degree surround view camera system. Also, the standard V6 engine provides a good balance between power and fuel economy. The fact that it gives you 1-2 miles per gallon combined over some of its top rivals is solid.
On the downside, the Highlander's third row of seats is incredibly narrow to get to. The flat seat bottoms and seating position make them suitable only for kids. There is also the matter of the lack of cargo space behind the third row. The Highlander only gives you 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, although this can be expanded out to 48.4 cubes.
So, how does the 2021 GMC Acadia stack up against the Highlander? It provides a ride quality that is one of the most refined for its segment. The optional V6 engine also does a good job of providing acceleration, although the base 193-hp 4-cylinder is certainly not as exciting. You do get five USB ports on the lower trim levels, and they cap off the third row with charge ports. The technology is on-point, for the most part. The cabin is easy to use and attractive overall. You also get a wide, clear view around the sides and rear of the vehicle.
Although the cabin looks practical and feels nice, it is not oriented toward any sort of luxury despite the rather beefy price tag you get on the line-topping trim level, the well-loved Denali. You also can find other SUVs with more third-row space and more cargo space.
Still, this year gives you some cool new items. The blacked-out wheels and exterior trim on the Elevation Edition look chic, and there is now wireless smartphone app integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A good powertrain can enhance a driver's enjoyment of a vehicle, but a bad one can certainly bring things down a few notches. The 2021 Toyota Highlander is equipped with a standard 3.6-L V6 engine that generates a power output of 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. This engine comes paired up with an 8-speed automatic transmission that directs power to the front wheels (FWD). All-wheel drive (AWD) is available on any trim level you choose, should you want it. You can also opt for a Highlander Hybrid if you want to up your combined miles per gallon to 36. The gas-only powertrain gets 23-24 mpg combined depending on whether you get FWD or AWD equipped, which is 1-2 mpg better than most top rivals. It might not seem like much, but in this competitive segment, it is a respectable gap.
The 2021 GMC Acadia is powered by a base 4-cylinder engine that generates 193 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. If you are looking to do any sort of towing, you will have to upgrade to the V6 engine, which gives you 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. It can tow up to 4,000 pounds while the two smaller engines can only tow a small 1,000-lb trailer. There is also a turbo 2.0-L 4-cylinder that gives you a power output of 230 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. These engines can be equipped starting on the SLE trim level.
What makes a vehicle a pain or pleasure to drive, aside from its powertrain? Drivability is a term that we use that is rather all-encompassing. It involves factors like acceleration, braking, steering, handling, ride comfort and quality, and even how well the included technology functions.
So, how drivable is the 2021 Toyota Highlander? The Highlander is able to get from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, a time that is somewhat better than average for this segment. This puts it right on par with the Kia Telluride. It can certainly withstand twisting mountainous roadways, and the body roll remains well under control as it goes along. There is an optional torque-vectoring AWD system that enhances the SUV's handling performance and ability to safely travel across slick road surfaces.
The Highlander does feel like the big SUV that it is at times. It does not move with a lot of nimbleness, as quite a few of its rivals do. There are also third-row SUV that are able to come to a stopping distance more quickly than the Highlander.
The ride is quite comfortable, though, and it smooths out road imperfections of all sizes. The second row captain's chairs are almost as plush as those in the first row, which is abundant indeed. The third row is the only one with seats that are less than comfortable for adults since the seat cushions tend to be a bit flat and unsupportive. The cabin itself is well insulated from wind and road noise, and the engine barely makes a peep.
Space is ample enough in the first and second rows, but just trying to negate the narrow passageway into the third rough is going to be tough for most adults. Space back there is limited at best, so kids are going to be the only ones who can comfortably fit back there. There are rivals like the Telluride that offer more third row space and easier access. Taller adults might want more telescopic range from the steering wheel, but finding a cozy driving position is otherwise pretty simple. Drivers will likely appreciate how much visibility they get from the thin roof pillars. The available 360-degree surround view camera is certainly not a necessity for most people, but it does give a nice, clear read-out of what is surrounding the vehicle. Just rotate the camera to see what you want to hone in on. It is relatively hassle-free and works as it should.
Speaking of the Highlander's technology, Toyota has really taken the leap into current-gen gadgetry. The standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display provides decent enough graphics, but the 12.3-inch screen that comes as an option casts a bit too much glare for it to be truly effective. You get up to five USB ports in the first two rows, but the third row does not have any.
So, how does the 2021 GMC Acadia compare to the Highlander? We'll start off by giving you this bit of advice: When it comes to the Acadia, stick with the V6. The other engines feel weak and lackluster. The V6 puts in some strong acceleration (a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds). The brakes are easy to modulate and will bring the vehicle to a panic stop within a reasonable distance for this size of a SUV. The steering is lightly weighted, which gives it added maneuverability on the highway and in tight parking lots. And, despite its gargantuan size, the Acadia handles rather well. The optional All Terrain package gives you an enhanced AWD system and hill descent control, which helps out during the winter. The 7.2 inches of ground clearance, however, is not quite enough for any off-roading adventures.
The third row of seats on this Acadia generation are tight, which can make them uncomfortable for adults. The first and second rows should provide enough comfort from their seat padding to last for a few hours. The cabin gets barely any wind or road noise coming into it, and there are no noticeable vibrations while driving along at faster clips. The dual-zone automatic climate control system is easy to use and evenly distributes air throughout the cabin.
The cabin is all about being user-friendly, not luxurious. The physical knobs - though somewhat sparse - are easy to figure out. Also, you can slide in and out of the seat with ease and, once you are there, quickly find a good driving position.
Technology is a true highlight for the Acadia, given its standard 5 USB ports, OnStar services, and GM touchscreen with easy-to-follow buttons and prompts. You can simply pair up with Bluetooth or even wirelessly connect with your smartphone device to utilize your preferred apps.
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Safety is a big deal for any automaker, since that is a crucial element that buyers need. Toyota outfits the 2021 Highlander with a slew of standard safety features, including the Toyota Safety Sense bundle of advanced driver aids. Frontal collision mitigation will alert you if there is a potential upcoming frontal collision and will apply the brakes for you in time if it senses you are unable to do so. Adaptive cruise control will adjust the Highlander's speed to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of it. Lane tracing assist gently steers the Highlander back into its intended driving lane if it detects the vehicle straying over the line. A traffic sign reader and automatic high beams also come as part of this suite.
The 2021 GMC Acadia has a similar set-up of safety features. You can equip the optional Driver Assistance package to get blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. Just bear in mind that you do have to spend more to get more here.
Which Has the Best Value?
Overall, the 2021 Toyota Highlander has more value. You will not need to spend more money on getting a powerful V6 since it has one that comes standard. You also get a lengthy list of standard safety features that enhance your feeling of security.
Which is Better?
While the 2021 GMC Acadia has some strong tech features and a spunky V6, it is going to cost you more to get what you want from this vehicle than it would from the 2021 Toyota Highlander. The Highlander is designed with efficiency in mind, sure, but it is by no means a bore.