GMC is GM's upscale SUV and truck division - up a notch from Chevy, not quite as high-end as Cadillac.

And up until now, it has only sold trucks - and truck-based SUVs.

Of course, not everyone needs or wants a truck - or even truck-based SUV, for that matter. Realizing this, GM decided to broaden GMC's product portfolio by adding the new Acadia to the lineup.

Though it has the hunky looks of a large, truck-based SUV, the eight-passenger Acadia is in fact the first-ever GMC model to be built on what is essentially a front-wheel-drive, integral frame/body passenger car chassis (with an all-wheel-drive system available optionally).

That makes it a "crossover" SUV - as such vehicles are now called.

You'll notice it rides closer to the ground, for one thing - and unlike a truck-based SUV, its interior isn't crimped up by a huge driveshaft tunnel rising up like a mountain range between the seats, eating up the available real estate. You'll also notice there's no truck-style solid rear axle; no two-speed transfer case or 4WD Low range - and so, not much in the way of off-road ability.

But that's ok - because the Acadia's not meant to tackle rutted backwoods fire roads or ford mighty rivers. There are Land Rovers (and Yukons) for that. And of course, the price for that kind of capability is usually an evil-handling, over-heavy ride that maybe gets 20 mpg on a good day. Or which is huge on the outside but doesn't offer all that much usable space on the inside - mainly because of the way a truck-based SUV is laid out, including that space-hogging driveshaft tunnel.

Instead of theoretical off-road capability, the Acadia offers everyday liveability to buyers (especially those with large families) caught between the ungainliness and civility-compromised nature of a traditional truck-based large SUV and the dreadful prospect of a gelding-by-minivan.

It's huge inside, for openers - with a standard third row and room for 7-8 people (depending on the configuration). That's as much or more interior space/people-carrying capacity as a full-size SUV like the GMC Yukon - but it's much more accessible space, thanks to wide-opening rear doors and GMC's clever "Smart Slide" system that lets passengers get into and out of the third row without a Yoga certificate. That third row's a real third row, too - not a press kit shuck-and-jive that's really there for looks (and advertising purposes) only. The Acadia seats 7-8 people comfortably - not just plausibly. It is every bit the equal, road trip-wise, of a full-size minivan like the Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Town & Country - but sans the diaper-duty stigmata.

Buyers can choose second-row captain's chairs or a second-row bench (and three across seating). There's almost 20 cubic feet of additional storage space behind the third row, too. With the second and third rows out/folded down, the Acadia is fully capable of carting home a load of 2x4s - even a dozen bags of cement mix.

Maximum towing capacity is 4,500 lbs. That's considerably better than the typical mid-size car or minivan - and most any mid-sized crossover, too. For example, the Toyota Highlander maxes out a 3,500 lbs. (and its third row is optional and useable only by kids). The Honda Pilot, meanwhile, can seat eight - but can't tow more than 3,500 lbs. And its standard 3.5 liter, 244 horsepower V-6 is much less powerful than the Acadia's standard 275 horsepower, 3.6 liter V-6. Mazda's CX-9, on the other hand, is sporty, good-looking and comparably powerful (with a standard 3.5 liter, 263-hp V-6). But it only pulls 3,500 lbs. and can't handle more than seven people.

If you cross-shop specs, you'll discover the Acadia's actually not too far off the pace of what a mid-sized, truck-based SUV can haul. But no mid-sized SUV can carry eight people. In fact, few full-size SUVs can outdo the Acadia when it comes to people (or cargo) carrying.

For example, the enormous (on the outside) Yukon isn't significantly bigger on the inside than the Acadia. It can theoretically seat up to nine people, but unlike the Acadia, its third row is difficult to access, uncomfortable to use (for adults) and doesn't fold flat. In the real world, the Yukon's comfortable for 5-6 adults - and maybe a kid or two. No more. Pile your Brady Bunch in both vehicles and see for yourself. It's a dead heat, usable space-wise. And you'll likely agree the second and third row accommodations in the Acadia are more pleasant once you're seated - and much less hassle to get into and out of, too.

Acadia wins easily on total interior cargo volume, too - with 117 cubic feet of space available vs. the Yukon's 108.9 cubic feet.

And as far as gas mileage goes, there's a similar gap - in Acadia's favor. A FWD Acadia carries an EPA rating of 18 city/26 highway; the V-8 Yukon, meanwhile, is a thirsty doggie - 16 city/22 highway. In real-world driving, feeding the Yukon (or any large, V-8 SUV) can be an expensive proposition. While the Acadia's numbers don't seem all that much better, keep in mind its super-sized interior and super-sized cargo capacity. To get appreciably more of either, you'd need a super-sized SUV - something even larger than the standard-issue Yukon, like a Caddy Escalade ESV or maybe a long-wheelbase Lincoln Navigator. And you'd also get the super-sized fuel bills that would come with it. That's acceptable if you must have a truck-style 4WD system - and the off-road capability and big towing numbers that come with a truck-based chassis and heavy-duty underpinnings. But if all you really want is the roominmess of a large SUV and don't really care about lugging around a 6,000-lb. trailer or climbing backwoods trails, why accept the downsides?

Other compelling Acadia attributes include its healthy 275-hp V-6 (stronger than any competitor in its segment) and its standard six-peed automatic transmission (most competitors have five speeds; a few still have four-speeds). The six-speed comes with a manual sportshift function and an aggressive first gear to aid off-the-line acceleration. It can scuttle to 60 mph in just over 8 seconds - which is enough to feel quick and plenty to pull into traffic with confidence instead of gritted teeth. Ride and handling are both much-improved over a necessarily clunky true SUV. And the optional AWD system (which can transmit as much as 65 percent of engine power to the rear wheels as necessary) is more than sufficient for dealing with the handful of snow days most of us face each year.

Base models (starting price $29,110) come with 18-inch rims, front and rear AC, stability control, full-row curtain air bags and GM's OnStar concierge system with "turn-by-turn" navigation assistance. Higher end models offer or can be ordered with all the niceties, from a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound stereo rig to three-zone climate control, a power rear liftgate, Heads-up Display (HUD), GPS, two-panel sunroof and backseat DVD entertainment system. A 19-inch wheel/tire package is available and looks sharp, but be sure you test drive a model so equipped before you buy as the ride quality suffers a bit.

GM (and GMC) has come off its 20-year-bender at long last. Vehicles like the Acadia bode well for the future of both. This one's not just practical - it's appealing, too. It won't kill you on gas - and it won't wilt your will to live, either.

If you think you need a big SUV - but are desperate to avoid a minivan at all costs - the Acadia's a must-see.