First Drive: Piloting GMC’s Lighter, Smaller 2017 Acadia

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GMC Acadia Denali and GMC Acadia SLT face off

GMC Acadia Denali (left) and SLT face off | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

For years, General Motors has tried out a three-pronged approach to woo America’s ubiquitous SUV owner. Chevrolet, the most affordable, offers the Traverse; Buick will happily sell you an Enclave if your country club refuses to valet your Chevy, but perhaps the longest and sharpest prong is the GMC Acadia. The three are all fundamentally similar, and the General has found great success with its approach. But cars age (as they do), and for 2017, the sharpest tool in the shed is getting a complete makeover.

If the GMC Acadia looks smaller to you, it’s because it is. After years of “bigger is most definitely better,” it seems consumers have finally come around to realize that it isn’t. The new Acadia sheds 740 pounds versus the current generation, a sizable piece of that coming from its new length — 7.2 inches shorter than the 2016. Lighter gauge sheetmetal, different sound-deadening, and strategic deletions of unneeded material help get the Acadia the rest of the way.

GMC Acadia Denali and GMC Acadia SLT

GMC Acadia Denali and SLT | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

At the dealership, you’ll be able to buy the Acadia with GM’s sharp 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and if you’re towing, this is the option to have — it’s good for a 4,000-pound payload behind the car. Cylinder deactivation lets you net mileage in the mid-20s; we observed about 22 miles per gallon after an hour and a half of driving in varied conditions.

But if cost and fuel economy are primary concerns, GMC will — for the first time — offer the Acadia with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 194 horsepower. It’s rated to tow only 1,500 pounds, but it can bring Acadia’s fuel economy ratings up to 26 on the highway. In mixed driving, we saw the four-cylinder manage about 24 with ease.

2017 GMC Acadia Denali

2017 GMC Acadia Denali | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Acadia will be available in five-, six-, or seven-person configurations thanks to the optional third row (which is deleted for the All Terrain trim, in favor of more trunk and cargo rails). While the middle row is comfy, roomy, and with the captain’s chairs equipped, a lot like the front, the third row should really be reserved for small children or smaller adults.

2017 GMC Acadia Denali interior

2017 GMC Acadia Denali interior | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

We were offered three trims of Acadia — SLT, All Terrain, and Denali — and afforded the opportunity to stretch their legs through the winding backroads in the bucolic landscape of Virginia, between Washington D.C. and Shenandoah National Park. After clearing some light D.C. traffic (no, really, it was actually pretty light), we made our way past historical battlefields, colonial-era villages and pasture on a road that could have been purpose-built for Porsche, Lotus, or Alfa Romeo 4C owners. And the Acadia, after a redesign to its chassis and a diet regimen, took to it like a fish in water.

Though there was body roll through the twisties, it was largely mitigated, and the Acadia — despite its SUV pretensions — remained planted and in control. Various settings (including Sport) will have a material impact on how the Acadia handles, too; new electronic steering replaces the dated hydraulic system and offers a weighty, even-handed response. Suspension will firm or relax based on the selected driving mode, and a sort of pseudo-torque vectoring system (with what GM calls an Active Twin Clutch) has the ability to channel power to the rear as needed. In all, it feels less like a Yukon and more like the Terrain.

GMC Acadia Denali 3.6-liter V6

GMC Acadia Denali 3.6-liter V6 | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

GMC will be offering the Acadia with the drivers’ choice of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and is offering a proprietary app store for the Acadia’s infotainment system that will allow owners to download, use, or delete apps at will, similar to a smartphone or tablet. A highlighted example was Glympse, an app that allows the driver to convey the car’s location to a smartphone — handy, GMC said, if you were picking up someone at an airport.

GMC Acadia SLT

GMC Acadia SLT | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Acadias that GMC had ready for the posse of auto journalists started off with the SLT seen here. It was the closest trim to an entry-level SLE available; the materials were nice but not fancy, the chrome present but not abundant, and inside, you had mostly everything you’d need in a modern car, but there was a noticeable lack of driving modes and a few empty buttons. The SLT — which starts at a shade over $29K before destination — is the model you get if you like the styling, or really want the four-cylinder.

If you’re after more capability than you can get out of a current-gen Enclave or Traverse, the All Terrain is the model to be looking into. GMC toned the chrome down, added driving modes (the All Terrain is specifically tuned for use on surfaces that are not asphalt), and gave the All Terrain a sleek, stealthy look with added plastic body cladding for those with more active lifestyles. As mentioned prior, the third row was deleted for better cargo capacity. Our tester was black, and featured some gorgeous two-tone caramel and black leather inside.

GMC Acadia Denali and SLT

GMC Acadia Denali and SLT | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

At the top of the range is, true to GMC fashion, the Denali. Loaded with all the bells and whistles (full suite of safety tech, real wood, metal, and leather accents, etc.), the Denali is comfortable and civilized. Its driving manners weren’t all that different from the other trims, but prices can climb close to $50,000 when optioned appropriately and it’s been chromed up the wazoo to reflect that.

Were it my money, I’d be putting it on the All Terrain. A happy medium between the SLT and Denali, the tasteful smoky chrome accents, dark wheels, better off-road capability and protections, and fully-functional trunk are a better fit for my millenial needs. The tan leather is Denali-spec quality, the V6 has strong low-end pull, and personally, I think the All Terrain’s toned-down exterior is perfectly understated. But regardless of what trim you choose, you can count on the new Acadia to be better behaved, more fuel efficient, offer better driving dynamics, and be easier to live with.

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