GMC downsized its Acadia for 2017 from full-size to midsize. It hasn’t lost its third row, but that row now seats just two, so seating capacity is seven instead of eight. Compare the 2017 Acadia with its 2016 predecessor here. See how the Acadia’s features and specs compare with the Highlander’s, Pilot’s and Explorer’s here. The new GMC Acadia has a superior driving experience, upgraded available safety and multimedia technology, a classier interior — and a slightly lower price.

The 2017 Acadia will go on sale later this spring with six trim levels; four- and six-cylinder engines; a six-speed automatic transmission; and front- or all-wheel drive in all trims except the base SL trim, which is only available with front-wheel drive.

To cover another base, GMC also offers a two-row, five-seat Acadia. Branded an Acadia SLT with All Terrain Package, the five-seat version has a more aggressive look and an upgraded all-wheel-drive system. It aims to peel off some sales from Jeep’s successful two-row Grand Cherokee.

I drove a well-optioned Acadia Denali trim, an SLT-1 with the All Terrain Package, and an SLT-1 with the new four-cylinder.

Hedging its bets a little, GMC will continue to sell a previous-generation Acadia Limited through early 2017.

Exterior & Styling


Formerly a sibling of the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse, the new Acadia rides a version of the new 2017 Cadillac XT5’s platform. Overall, the new Acadia is 7.2 inches shorter, 3.5 inches narrower and 4.4 inches lower than the 2016. Compare the 2017 Acadia to its 2016 predecessor here.

Parked in a row with its competitors, the slimmed-down Acadia fits right in. Deviation from class-average dimensions by any of them is usually only about a half-inch, and at most it’s about 3 inches.

With the new Acadia, GMC shows again that it’s not afraid of chrome. There’s a family resemblance to the previous version in the 2017’s traditional, sit-up-straight SUV profile and conservative styling; it will not be mistaken for a new Nissan Murano. The 2017 is, however, more rounded and sculpted than the boxy 2016.

While the Denali and SLT-1 give off an upscale vibe, to me the looker of the Acadia lineup is the one with the $1,800 All Terrain Package. It has a sportier look, with a body-colored grille surround, blackened trim and its own darkened 20-inch wheels.

How It Drives


This is still a tall SUV; you won’t mistake it for a sport sedan. But neither will you mistake it for the old Acadia, which had nearly minivan manners. Comparing V-6 versions, the 2017 Acadia is down nearly 600 pounds versus the 2016, one GMC engineer said, thanks to its new size and a mix of lighter materials and new assembly techniques. An even lighter version can be had thanks to the new four-cylinder base engine, which makes for a vehicle that’s more than 700 pounds lighter than the lightest 2016.

The change is akin to a pair of NFL tackles climbing out the back of the Acadia, and you feel it when driving; the 2017 is car-like and surprisingly agile. The handling standout of the versions I drove was the Denali, which included an adaptive suspension (a $1,200 option on AWD versions). Sport mode firmed up the suspension nicely, making for a planted feel and little lean in cornering while still offering a good ride.

Sport also gives the all-wheel-drive Acadia a rear bias and alters its steering, accelerator and transmission settings in satisfying and not intrusive ways; you could make this your everyday mode if you were willing to pay a bit more for gas. Family bonus: This could also be your choice if you have kids prone to carsickness; there was noticeably less body motion in the rear seats on twisty roads.

Time in models without the adaptive suspension, however, revealed a standard suspension that’s more than adequate for most tasks. Handling is confident, and the ride is nearly as comfortable. Well-tuned variable-assist steering goes from parking-lot easy to responsive at speed.

The new Acadia’s turning circle is a more manageable 38.7 feet, down from north of 40 feet. The braking feels linear, with expected bite in relation to pedal effort.

All GMC Acadias offer a mode selector. Front-drive models have Normal, Snow, Sport and Trailer/Tow modes, while all-wheel-drive models have 2×4 (disconnecting all-wheel drive for maximum gas mileage), 4×4, Sport, Off Road and Trailer/Tow.

The All Terrain Package includes an upgraded all-wheel-drive system with an electronic, dual-clutch rear differential. The system can shift torque in all directions, with nearly 100 percent going to a single wheel if needed.

A surprise for me was the new, non-turbocharged base engine: a 193-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It’s certainly no neck-snapper – it takes more than 9 seconds to get to 60 mph, GMC says — but it didn’t induce white knuckles when passing or while merging on the freeway, though it keeps the transmission busy in highway cruising. The transmission tuning and gearing made it feel peppy in city driving. For cost-conscious buyers with mostly city and suburban driving needs, this could be a sensible choice.

If you aren’t feeling that sensible, though, the new-design 3.6-liter V-6 puts out a satisfying 310 hp and 271 pounds-feet of torque. GMC expects most buyers to pick it; the refined V-6 is a better fit for the GMC Acadia’s overall persona. Power delivery was strong, and it will tow up to 4,000 pounds, down from a 5,200 maximum for the 2016.

Both engines improve gas mileage over the 2016. The four-cylinder includes a stop-start function and the V-6 employs cylinder deactivation that makes it a V-4 under light loads. In keeping with GM’s new policy for its four-cylinder engines, stop-start cannot be turned off. You probably won’t mind, though, as it’s nearly seamless.

The result for front-wheel-drive models is EPA-estimated fuel economy of 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined for a FWD four-cylinder and 18/25/21 mpg for the new V-6 with front-wheel drive, compared with the old model’s 15/22/18 mpg. The V-6 gives up 1 mpg in combined mileage with all-wheel drive, where the four gives up a mile in highway mileage. In a real-world drive on mostly highway and two-lane rural roads, the front-drive four-cylinder logged better than its highway rating, with 26.4 mpg on the trip computer, while driving an average 36 mph.

Interior


In terms of spaciousness, the GMC Acadia and its rivals are closely matched — at least by the numbers. In feel and outward visibility, the Acadia seems as open and airy as the Toyota Highlander and just slightly less so than the taller, wider Pilot. All three best the snug, closed-in feel and visibility of the Explorer. Plus, the Acadia’s interior is impressively conversation-quiet on the road.

The new GMC Acadia’s interior is pleasant with subdued colors — with the exception of the more dramatic black-and-saddle leather interior of the All Terrain Package. The other color schemes are more modest than opulent, even in the decked-out Denali trim, with its wood accents and leather. Materials quality is good in the places where you touch; there’s still some hard plastic below elbow-level.

There’s seating for seven with a comfortable second-row bench or six with second-row captain’s chairs. The All Terrain Package fits just five, as it drops the third row in favor of large underfloor storage bins.

The sliding and reclining second-row seat provides truly limo-like accommodations — if you don’t need to compromise space for someone in the third row. The two-seat third-row bench has sufficient padding and generous headroom, and it reclines. It sits low, however, leaving an adult’s knees elbow-high. That said, it can accommodate a 6-footer behind a same-size adult in the second row. Outboard pairs of Latch child-safety seat anchors are provided only for the second row; there are tethers in both the second and third rows.

A tilt-and-slide feature on the curb-side captain’s chair or the smaller side of the 60/40-split bench allows access to the way back even with a forward-facing child seat in place. It operates with one hand but not as easily or smoothly as such seats in some of the competition — and it’s only on the curb side. It clears a space just narrow enough for entry; you’ll have to work on your low lunge in yoga class to handle the exit.

The interior retains some of the 2016’s van-like conveniences, such as ample storage, including a bread loaf-sized drawer for the second row in the center console, plus abundant cupholders and bottleholders. The Denali also includes tri-zone climate control, with vents and separate controls for the second row.

Ergonomics & Electronics


A 7-inch touchscreen with GMC’s IntelliLink system is standard on SL and SLE trims, and an 8-inch unit is optional on the SLE and standard on SLT and Denali models. The screen has big, clear buttons and menus, and it responds quickly. Knobs for volume and tuning make it easy to use, as do physical buttons for Home and Back, as well as basic audio functions.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard. The Acadia also offers emergency communications and a subscription-based 4G LTE connection via OnStar. A premium Bose eight-speaker audio system is optional.

USB connections abound, with two up front, two for the second row and another for the third. The backseat also has a 120-volt outlet, and some trims include rear audio controls with headphone jacks. There’s an available rear-seat entertainment system with two DVD players (no Blu-ray support), two 7-inch screens on the front head restraints, headphones, and USB and RCA ports; a less costly option is a set of tablet holders for the backs of the front seats.

In a first for GMC, there will be built-in apps developed jointly with an app partner; GMC plans to make more apps available through an app store. Among the first is a version of Glympse, which lets you share your vehicle’s location or keep track of your teenage driver.

Cargo & Storage


The new GMC Acadia’s trimmer size shows most here: Cargo room behind the third row has been cut nearly in half to a compact car-like 12.8 cubic feet, but there’s about 42 cubic feet with the third row down. Maximum cargo space is 79 cubic feet, down from a cavernous 116.1 in the old Acadia, but still competitive with the Highlander (82.6), Pilot (82.1) and Escape (80.7). Both rows of rear seats fold flat, and mechanical rear controls let you drop (but not raise) both while standing at the available power liftgate.

Lacking a third row, the All Terrain Package version has a long, wide, flat load floor behind the second row, opening to a pair of large storage bins under the floor. A rail-based cargo management system adds a moveable cargo barrier.

Safety


As of this writing, the 2017 GMC Acadia had not been tested for crashworthiness by federal regulators or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. When it is, you’ll be able to find the results here.

The 2017 GMC Acadia ups its game significantly in safety technology, though to get everything offered you have to move up to at least an SLT trim. Collision warning with low-speed automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection is available (it’s standard on SLT-2 and Denali trims), with a higher-speed system optional on the Denali. Also available are lane departure warning and lane departure prevention, blind spot warning, automatic high beams, front and rear park-assist sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert.

A backup camera with good definition is standard, while a relatively seamless 360-degree camera system is optional. An available Tow Vision trailering system offers a rear-camera view to line up your hitch, and you can also use it while driving forward to keep an eye on your trailer and cargo. See a full list of safety features here.

A new safety feature, which GMC says is an industry first, is a standard Rear Seat Reminder that goes off when you shut off the vehicle if a rear door was opened just before or during the trip. Aimed to help prevent forgetting a child in the rear seats, it sounds an alert and displays a reminder on the dash to check the rear (it can be turned off).

Value in Its Class


The Acadia is offered in six trims, counting a stripped-down SL that starts at $29,995, including the destination charge. It’s available in just two colors with almost no options; it seems to be aimed more at getting Internet searches than sales. The starter for most buyers will be the more appealing and better-outfitted SLE-1, which comes in at $33,375 with front-wheel drive; add $2,000 for all-wheel drive. From there are the SLE-2, two levels of SLT (which GMC expects to account for more than 40 percent of sales) and the top Denali trim, which was responsible for a healthy 23 percent of Acadia sales last year, GMC says. It starts at $45,845, or $47,845 with all-wheel drive.

Those prices are down versus the 2016 Acadia (see the details here), ranging from $1,905 less for the cheapest 2017 to $2,970 less for an all-wheel-drive 2017 GMC Acadia Denali. None of these three-row haulers are cheap, but an SLT with desirable options can now be had for less than $45,000. That puts it in a league with more-optioned versions of its rivals, as you can see here, while delivering a lot of capability, good handling and near-premium ride and sound insulation. Want more? The nearly all-in Acadia Denali I drove stickered for $52,285.

The new Acadia is a risk for GMC. It’s always tricky to try to reposition a successful product — to attempt to bring in new buyers while keeping the old. And there’s a lot on the line. The previous Acadia racked up more than 96,000 in sales last year, trailing only the compact Terrain SUV and Sierra full-size pickup in GMC’s lineup.

But I think the 2017 GMC Acadia is a case of less is more: The new Acadia is a trimmer, more agile, more efficient vehicle that can be had for less money while still meeting the three-row needs of most families. If you really need a minivan, though, buy one. Nothing beats it — including, in my view, the 2017 Acadia.

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