2017 GMC Acadia first drive review

May 17, 2016

When GMC released the Acadia for the 2007 model year, it showed that the automaker was starting to get it. Instead of limiting families to large truck-based SUVs like the Yukon that could double as tow vehicles and break the family fuel budget, GMC, along with Saturn, Buick, and eventually Chevrolet, was finally offering a crossover that drove more like a car, went lighter on gas, and still had the interior space of a full-size SUV.

The Acadia proved to be quite a success, with sales rising steadily through the years to close to 100,000 units last year. For 2017, however, GMC is downsizing the Acadia, offering 4-cylinder power, and reducing the price by about $2,000. It's a gamble to change a successful vehicle so drastically, but GMC feels it is aiming the Acadia closer to the mainstream. We traveled to Washington, D.C. to drive the new Acadia and determine if GMC is on the right track or at risk of downsizing sales as well.

MORE: Read our 2017 GMC Acadia review

The 2017 GMC Acadia uses a longer version of the modular C1XX platform that was introduced on the 2017 Cadillac XT5. Though it is larger than the XT5, the 2017 Acadia is 7.2 inches shorter than the model it replaces, its wheelbase is 6.4 inches shorter, and width is down by 3.5 inches. All told, it weighs up to 740 pounds less. GMC says 200 of those pounds are the result of the smaller size. Using different materials for the structure, including higher strength steels, reduced the weight by 280 pounds. Another 100 pounds came out through the use of lighter sound-deadening materials. Going with a 4-cylinder base engine saved some weight as well.

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

More maneuverable

Take seven inches of length and 740 pounds out of a vehicle and you are certainly going to improve the handling. The 2017 GMC Acadia is much easier to maneuver in tight spots and more responsive to driver inputs than the large, but pleasant model it replaces. There is still some lean in turns, but it's less noticeable, and there is a slight bit of wobble at highway speeds, a result of the raised ride height.

Despite the weight loss, the Acadia feels a bit heavy when ordered with the V-6 model and all-wheel drive. It lightens up with front-drive and/or the 4-cylinder engine.

In any model, the steering is fairly direct, if light on road feel, and the available Sport mode makes it almost as heavy as you would find in a sports car. In Denalis with the optional Continuously Variable Ride Control system, that Sport mode also firms up the adjustable shocks. Even in the firmer setting, however, the ride is forgiving.

Powertrain performance

Most buyers will likely opt for the 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6, and with good reason. It gets the Acadia moving briskly and has plenty in reserve for highway passing. Plus, it lets out a satisfying growl when pushed. GMC says the 0-60 mph time is as low as 6.5 seconds, which is fast enough to win a drag race against most crossovers.

The new 194-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is actually acceptable for most everyday driving, especially with a light load. It offers good initial response, but runs out of breath when pushed hard, running uphill, or—likely—when loaded with people and cargo. Even with just a driver, 0 to 60 mph arrives in a rather pedestrian 9.3 seconds.

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

The Acadia's weight loss translates to improved fuel economy, and both engines employ technologies to save even more fuel. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine has stop/start capability, while the 3.6-liter V-6 gets Active Fuel Management, which shuts down two cylinders under light load conditions. When ordered with front-wheel drive and the 2.5, GMC estimates fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined. Add all-wheel drive and those numbers fall slightly to 21/25/23. For the 3.6-liter V-6, GMC estimates ratings of 18/25/21 mpg with front-drive and 18/25/20 with AWD.

By comparison, the outgoing Acadia was rated at 15/22/18 mpg with front-drive and 15/22/17 with AWD.

All Acadias come standard with a Traction Select system. It adjusts the throttle map, transmission shift points, steering weight, and, when equipped with the active dampers, the damper settings. Depending on the model, it is available with 2WD, 4WD, Sport, Towing, and Off Road/All Terrain modes. The All Terrain mode is used in the new All Terrain model, and GMC says it works with the vehicle's unique all-wheel-drive system to improve hill climbing capability. That Active Twin Clutch all-wheel-drive system can transfer torque both front to rear and left to right, while the system in other Acadias can only move power front and back.

Despite the name, the All Terrain doesn't have any other off-road-oriented features, like tow hooks, improved approach and departure angles, or knobby tires. The Active Twin Clutch system adds a bit more slippery surface traction, but no Acadia is a serious off-roader.

Less space in an upscale cabin

The greatest advantage of the outgoing Acadia was its interior space. It had so much room that you could fill it with eight passengers and still carry their stuff. It maxed out at a whopping 116.1 cubic feet of cargo space, making it the most spacious family hauler this side of a minivan.

GMC gives up those advantages to play more in the mainstream this time around. A GMC spokesman said only eight percent of buyers needed an 8-passenger vehicle. Without as much width to work with, this one can only accommodate two passengers in the third row instead of three. That drops max capacity to seven, and GMC offers a six-passenger variant with two second-row captain’s chairs, as well as a new two-row version with five-passenger seating.

Sized like a a Toyota Highlander, the Acadia still offers good space. Front-row occupants sit on comfortable bucket seats with plenty of headroom and legroom. The second row slides fore and aft a few inches and it, too, offers good space in most instances. Throw a couple people in back, though, and you’ll have to play a game of give and take to balance second- and third-row passenger space.

Those third-row occupants should probably be kids, as legroom is tight and the cushion sits low, causing a knees-up seating position. Still, a pair of adults will fit back there in a pinch, and the passenger side Smart Slide second-row seat provides fairly easy access to the third row: just pull a handle and slide the seat forward to create a clear path to the rear.

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

With all the seats up, the 2017 Acadia has a minuscule 12.8 cubic feet of rear cargo space compared to 24.1 cubic feet for the 2016 model. The second and third rows fold flat to expand that to 79 cubic feet, which is still spacious and competitive for the class but a far cry from the outgoing model’s vast cargo hold. In the All Terrain model, with its two-row seating, GMC also provides a rack that can be moved a couple of feet forward and back on a track and used to hold cargo in place.

The Acadia’s cabin is suitably upscale for its $30,000-$50,000 price tag. The door panels and dashboard feature soft-touch surfaces, and the center stack is ringed in metal trim. My only complaint is the plastic trim that in some models does a poor job of approximating wood. GMC says it may update the materials before the vehicle goes on sale. Let’s hope it does.

Features and safety

The Acadia's upscale look is enhanced by the generous equipment list of the top-of-the-line Denali model. It comes with such niceties as heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, an 8-inch configurable instrument panel display, a heated steering wheel, and a hands-free power liftgate.

The other models are SE, SLE, SLT, and the new two-row All Terrain.

GMC's Intellilink infotainment system, which is standard on most models, is also updated this year. The 8-inch center touchscreen carries over, but it adds Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, as well as access to new apps. The Glympse app lets the driver send information on his/her current location to anyone with a smartphone, even if they don't have the app. An At Your Service app uses the OnStar system to send offers from businesses in the immediate area to the vehicle. The new The Weather Channel app is self explanatory.

Owners can also download the new myGMC mobile app to their smartphones to start or stop the engine, lock or unlock the vehicle, send directions to the vehicle, use the At Your Service app, call for roadside service, schedule dealer services, read the owner's manual, look up recalls, locate the vehicle, and manage the 4G LTE connection.

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia

In addition to the connectivity features, the Acadia adds several new safety features. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts, forward-collision alert, and lane-departure warning systems all carry over. New this year are a 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, pedestrian detection with low-speed automatic braking, and forward collision warning with emergency braking. Three radar units, five cameras, and ultrasonic sensors enable many of these features, and many of their alerts are handled by General Motor’s Safety Alert seat that vibrates in the direction of the warning. 

This year the Acadia also gets a rear-seat reminder system to alert parents that they may have left kids in the car. It senses if the rear doors have been opened and sounds a warning and flashes a message in the instrument panel when the driver is exiting the vehicle. GMC says that 30-40 kids die from heatstroke each year, and half of them are the result of being left in a vehicle.

So, the question remains: Was GMC wise to downsize the Acadia? Our answer is yes. GM plans to keep the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Acadia on the large Lambda platform, and sell them alongside the Acadia, thus serving both segments of the market. The 2017 GMC Acadia wears its new, smaller size well, offering good room for up to seven, improved dynamics and fuel economy, plenty of safety features, and a touch of family luxury. That's a formula that works for a family crossover.

These driving impressions are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. GMC covered our overnight accommodations, meals, and some transportation costs.

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