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2017 GMC Acadia First Drive Review: Smaller on Purpose

GMC’s crossover breaks away from its Chevrolet and Buick siblings, and becomes more nimble

GMC’s crossover breaks away from its Chevrolet and Buick siblings, and becomes more nimble

After a decade of being the professional one of General Motors’ full-size crossover triplets, the 2017 GMC Acadia has reinvented itself as a smaller midsize crossover while the next-generation Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave will retain their larger footprint.

The crossovers leave behind the Lambda platform that has served them well for a decade to adopt new underpinnings, known internally as C1. It means the new Acadia now shares its roots with the Cadillac XT5, to the delight of GMC engineers.

The 2017 Acadia, which goes on sale in late spring, can be ordered to seat five, six, or seven passengers—no more eight-seater. And GMC adds a new All Terrain off-road trim level as a sportier lifestyle option, and it is only available with two rows of seats.

In adopting the new architecture, the Acadia becomes smaller and 740 pounds (336 kg) lighter, which translates into a more nimble and fuel-efficient crossover. The new softer look—less trucky, more SUV-like—drives home the fact this second-generation Acadia has discarded its old, boxy skin and emerges as a more refined vehicle.

The Acadia now occupies a more distinct space in a Buick-GMC showroom by becoming smaller than the Buick Enclave. The strategy results in less overlap between brands and positions the Acadia to better take on the imports in the heart of the segment.

The 2017 Acadia is 7.2 inches shorter at 193.6 inches, and the wheelbase is 6.4 inches shorter. It is also 3.5 inches narrower and 3.9 inches lower, which results in almost 40 fewer cubic feet of cargo space.

Marketing executives Tony DiSalle and George Jones say GMC buyers have told them they welcome the downsizing, which makes the car easier to drive and park. Their customers rarely use the third row but like the fact it is there. And because the third row spends most of the time folded down, cargo room is sufficient. The second and third rows fold flat to offer 79 cubic feet of space—similar to the Toyota Highlander and other key competitors—and the second row slides easily for access to the back. The outgoing model offered 116.1 cubic feet.

The weight reduction is huge. Chief engineer Paul Spadafora breaks down some of the 740-pound (336 kg) weight loss. Making the Acadia smaller took out 200 pounds (91 kg); another 280 pounds (127 kg) came out of the structure by using different materials and assessing the need and composition of every part and joint. GM shed another 100 pounds (45 kg) from the interior with the help of lighter sound-absorbing materials. For perspective, consider the huge investment Ford made to cut 700 pounds (317 kg) from the F-150 by switching to an all-aluminum body.

Shedding pounds made it possible to add a 2.5-liter inline-four engine to the Acadia lineup. During testing in northern Virginia, the four-cylinder whined, as is expected, but it quieted down at speed. Its 194 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque seemed more than adequate in our relatively brief time with the engine.

Jones said 20-25 percent of buyers are likely to opt for the smaller engine that gets 21/26 mpg (11.2/9 L/100km) city/highway for a combined 23 mpg (10.2 L/100km).

Those who opt for this engine also get stop-start technology. The system is not seamless, but some might like the noticeable reminder that they are saving fuel every time the engine turns itself off when idling.

For those who want extra grunt and the ability to tow 4,000 pounds, the 2017 model has GM’s second-generation high-output 3.6-liter V-6 that generates 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque. It gets 18/25 mpg (13.1/9.4 L/100km) city/highway and 21 mpg (11.2 L/100km) combined, which is better than the outgoing model—but only by 1 mile (1.6 km) per gallon even though the V-6 has active fuel management that deactivates two cylinders when they are not needed.

Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission—at least until GM gets its nine-speed on the market. The new transmission will allow GM to offer start-stop with the V-6, something it cannot do with the six-speed. Officials would not say when the new transmission is coming.

The front-wheel-drive crossover is available with all-wheel drive. The All Terrain, the model for those who want to tow, gets GM’s advanced all-wheel-drive system from the Cadillac XT5 with an active twin clutch to transfer torque.

A steady downpour washed out the off-road course at the Marriott Ranch where we were supposed to test the All Terrain’s capability. The All Terrain was designed to compete against the Jeep Grand Cherokee but only in the urban jungle. The Acadia is for off-roaders who want to park on the grass at a soccer game and does not pretend to have the Rubicon capability of a Jeep.

Pricing starts at $29,995 USD for the base SL model with two-wheel drive, which is $1,905 USD less than the outgoing model. Additional trim levels include SLE, SLT, the sporty All Terrain with many of the shiny bits replaced with black accents, and the top-of-the-line Denali, which accounts for 30 percent of sales and starts at $47,845 USD. Our loaded tester came to $52,285 USD. Each level has its own distinct grille, and the base model is arguably the most attractive.

The Acadia is priced to compete in the heart of the crossover segment that includes the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot as well as the Ford Explorer. The new Acadia is being built in Spring Hill, Tennessee, alongside the Cadillac XT5 while the Chevy and Buick crossovers continue to be built at the Delta Township plant near Lansing, Michigan.

GM has decided to keep building the current eight-passenger Acadia in Lansing until March 2017. It will be renamed the Acadia Limited and serve as a transition for those who still want a larger family vehicle and prefer the squared look that was introduced as part of the 2013 model refresh.

But the Acadia Limited will have a limited run because the Lansing plant will need to be retooled to make the next-generation 2018 Chevrolet Traverse and 2018 GMC Enclave next year using a long-wheelbase version of the C1 platform.

An eight-passenger family vehicle is a better fit for Chevrolet as the volume brand and leaves room for another crossover between the Traverse and the Equinox, which is getting smaller. Buick also needs the Enclave to remain full-size to make room for the new midsize Envision, which is 18 inches shorter. GMC customers who want a full-size SUV still have the option of the Yukon SUV.

Driving the new Acadia, it does feel smaller and more maneuverable. Steering is firm and responsive, and there is very little body roll. GMC offers some damping for a smoother ride, but it is not a full continuously adjusting suspension in the truest sense, nor does the suspension adjust its height to improve the ride or ease getting in and out of the vehicle, which is fine because most buyers should find it an easy vehicle to access. And the Acadia performed well on Virginia’s well-kept roads.

One criticism: The seat belt is not height adjustable and cuts into the neck of the short-statured. It also releases with more force than expected. On our rainy drive we noticed the windshield wipers do not have a rain-sensing automatic mode.

Safety features include cameras for a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the vehicle, making it possible to offer parking assist and cross-traffic alert. There is also blind-spot alert and pedestrian detection.

The Acadia is the first vehicle on the market to offer a rear-seat reminder, which chimes to remind the driver there is something in the back seat, a way to prevent the 40 deaths a year from kids being left in a hot car.

The top-notch infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Acadia offers 4G Wi-Fi and comes with a trio of apps: Glympse to share your location, At Your Service to find merchants, and the Weather Channel app. But after a two-month free trial, you need to subscribe to keep the Wi-Fi that powers the apps; it’s $9.95 USD a month.

Moving up to the Denali provides 20-inch aluminum wheels and a hands-free liftgate; extra tech includes optional adaptive cruise control.

Inside, front seats are heated and ventilated, the second row is heated, and there are climate controls for all three rows. The wood accents have been lightly shellacked instead of receiving a heavy gloss coat, providing a more natural look.

All trim levels have an attractive interior with a number of interesting films and accent stitching. There are plenty of cubbies for storage, including a space to store the key.

All in all, GMC has met its target of creating a smaller, more nimble, more refined, and softer-looking crossover with the 2017 Acadia. There is no reason to think this model won’t outsell its larger predecessor.