WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seven hundred pounds. That was the captivating figure at the 2016 Detroit auto show when the cover came off the redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia. A buyer would need to equip the new Acadia correctly to indeed see such a drastic weight reduction, but the Acadia doesn’t just drop a waist size for 2017. The Acadia makes a paradigm shift from the archetypal full-size, three-row mommy machine—on the market for the past nine years—to a fresh offering in the growing midsize SUV segment, thanks mostly to smaller dimensions. After a stint in the new SUV through gorgeous Virginia backcountry, we discovered the segment-swapping 2017 GMC Acadia might fill a very necessary void in GM’s expansive lineup.
Both on paper and in the flesh, the Acadia’s redesign is dramatic. Visually, the 2017 model cuts a much smoother and cleaner profile than the tall and bulky first-gen. That’s not all because of styling either: The Acadia slashes 7.2 inches in overall length and 3.9 inches in height. GMC is keeping detailed specifics on the miracle 700-pound diet close to the vest, but we did learn it’s owed largely to the Acadia’s smaller footprint, shrunken structure, and interior changes.
Unsurprisingly, this weight and size deficit pays massive dividends when it comes to on-road driving. The Acadia hustles more like a car-based crossover than the cumbersome and rather truckish first-gen model, and it steers, stops, and accelerates with less recalcitrance. Ride quality, body control, and overall refinement also are improved, but for maximum comfort, buyers can hop up to the range-topping Denali and its trim-exclusive adaptive suspension. Drivers can fiddle with drive mode including Comfort, Sport, and off-road settings. With the adaptive suspension, the Acadia feels much nimbler and confident on tight roads, lessening our anxiety navigating blind corners on our route through some claustrophobic Virginia villages.
Motivation comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 194 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque or a 3.6-liter V-6 with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. GM’s old six-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels, and all-wheel drive is available as well. Not much has changed with the powertrain’s character when compared to the older versions of the Acadia, though the start/stop technology integrated into the 2.5-liter engine is a new trick. We only spent time with the Denali and All-Terrain models, both equipped with the 3.6-liter engine, so we’ll have to wait on a verdict for the four-cylinder mill. The V-6 delivers linear power as before, with little delay between throttle inputs and engine response. The six-speed automatic provides slightly rougher downshifts than we would like, but GM’s fancy new eight-speed gearbox from the Cadillac XT5 might soon be an upgrade.
With the powertrain revisions, fuel economy improves vastly over the outgoing SUV. The V-6 was the only powertrain available for the older Acadia, which got 15/22 mpg city/highway in both FWD and AWD guises. The new 2.5-liter front-wheel-drive Acadia raises efficiency to 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Hop up to the all-wheel-drive four-cylinder Acadia, and the city rating stays the same as the front-wheel-drive variant but takes just a 1-mpg hit on the highway. The new 3.6-liter is more efficient as well, with both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive SUV putting down 18/25 mpg.
The new Acadia packs a highly updated interior, including the handsome GM switchgear we have become accustomed to on recently refreshed models such as the Chevrolet Colorado, Volt, and Malibu. In the Denali and All-Terrain Acadia models, the cockpit is well equipped with all of the niceties you’d want considering the price, including heated and cooled seats with a heated middle row, digital gauge cluster, and a full-leather treatment on some models. On the lower trim levels, the plastics and materials aren’t quite up to snuff, but the overall package is still miles ahead of the ancient Lambda-platform SUVs.
Passenger space and cargo volume have indeed shrunk, but GMC isn’t worried about losing buyers. The automaker says drivers of the outgoing Acadia used the third row only occasionally. Where the outgoing SUV was sold in mandatory seven- or eight-seat configuration, the 2017 Acadia is available in just five-seat form when equipped with the new All-Terrain package, putting an emphasis on usable space and cargo rather than on hauling the kiddos. When included, third-row space is predictably uncomfortable for full-sized adults, but it would work in a pinch for a quick jaunt out to lunch.
The aforementioned All-Terrain package also adds a little visual flair, but the real benefit is an upgraded all-wheel-drive system for additional capability when the way becomes treacherous. In the All-Terrain, the system is the latest twin-clutch Twinster unit found on both the Cadillac XT5 and the 2017 Buick LaCrosse. The All-Terrain adds a trim-specific drive mode with the same name, which incorporates the ever-useful hill descent control. We piloted the All-Terrain Acadia for a short burst down a ranch-style two-track path, and the crossover never faltered over the rutted muddy ground. Ground clearance and a lack of capable tires might prevent the All-Terrain from storming the Dakar Rally, among other things, but it still packs more than enough capability to keep things nice and tidy when the path turns muddy or icy.
Now that the base front-wheel-drive Acadia drops both in size and price by $1,905, the lines between it and the midsize GMC Terrain are blurred. The Terrain is still a bit smaller, undercutting the Acadia in length by 8.3 inches, in height by 2.4 inches, and interior cargo volume by around 15 cubic feet, but look for a sizable chunk of Terrain buyers to migrate over to the redesigned Acadia for its better utility. GM plans on keeping the Acadia sized as is for the foreseeable future, and credible rumors strongly pin the next generation of Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave on an extended-wheelbase incarnation of the 2017 Acadia’s Chi platform. If you can’t stomach the size change, and still want the older Lambda-based SUV, GM will still offer the outgoing model through at least 2017 under the Acadia Limited nameplate.
The new Acadia is a much-needed and smartly executed redesign of an almost 10-year-old SUV. It may move downmarket into a smaller slot, which would only position the Acadia to better bridge the gap between the slightly smaller Terrain and the larger GMC Yukon.