It’s been a decade since General Motors finally gave up on trying to stake out a claim in the minivan market and then trying to recast its vans as pseudo-SUVs. In 2006, GM launched an all-new platform for full-size crossover utilities that was known internally as Lambda and ultimately spawned four nameplates, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the now-defunct Saturn Outlook. Having achieved some notable success with the platform with steadily growing sales of more than 200,000 units annually since 2010, an all-new second-generation Lambda is now ready and hit the streets in 2016 under a redesigned version of the Acadia.
While each of the original four Lambda crossovers had unique styling, they were mechanically identical and all had the same critical dimensions. Shoppers simply had to pick the design, trim level and price point that suited them best. But what if you liked the overall platform but didn’t need something quite so large? The Acadia and its siblings were similar in size to GM’s full-size body-on-frame SUVs, the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe and actually offered more interior passenger volume thanks to their unibody architecture.
But what if you wanted something bigger than the compact Terrain but didn’t something quite so huge? GMC didn’t really have anything to offer. Until now that as. The new Acadia surprised us when it debuted at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit by coming out seven inches shorter with six inches less wheelbase. This clearly moved the Acadia down a size class so that it now competes more directly with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Kia Sorento.
One of the upsides of cutting out so much size is a dramatic reduction in mass. The 2017 Acadia is more than 700-pounds lighter than its predecessor. This diet comes through a combination of the smaller size and the same optimized design techniques that GM has been applying to all of its recently introduced models. Of course this also means less volume inside for passengers and cargo. The Acadia is still available with third-row seat but it’s considerably tighter than before and only accommodates two passengers.
Only the lower end SL and SLE trims get the third-row as standard while the higher trim levels offer it as an option, instead optimizing for five occupants. For most customers this is probably just fine and for a typical family with just a couple of kids, this means ample enough second row legroom that the youngsters won’t be kicking you in the back on a road trip.
My tester was a mid-grade SLT-1 with the All-Terrain package. That package adds 20-inch alloy wheels that actually probably wouldn’t be all that useful if you wanted to actually use this as an all-terrain vehicle but they do look good. More importantly, it gets you a more advanced all-wheel-drive system with a twin-clutch system to distribute drive torque between the front and rear axles as well as hill descent control. I didn’t go off-road but we got our first big winter storm of the year just before the Acadia arrived and even on all-season rubber, it always felt sure footed in the white stuff.
Inside, the All-Terrain package brings unique tan-colored, perforated leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are comfy and reasonably supportive but if you are inclined to drive with your arm on the window sill, you might find the high beltline uncomfortably tall. Overall visibility is descent for an SUV this size but the A-pillars are fairly thick when looking across rather than straight ahead. That means when you make a left turn, you’ll want to be careful when looking right to make sure oncoming vehicles aren’t in your blindspot.
Fortunately, the Acadia has blindspot warning as standard on SLT-2 and above trim levels, but my test unit didn’t come with any other assists like the adaptive cruise control that is only available on the Denali. The new electrical architecture in the 2017 Acadia brings with it an upgraded infotainment system that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support as well as a built-in WiFi hotspot and 4G LTE modem.
That drastically reduced mass enabled the GM engineers to equip the base Acadias with GM’s 2.5-liter direct injected four-cylinder as the standard powertrain. SLT and Denali models get an upgraded 3.6-liter V6 that now generates 310-horsepower and 271 lb.-ft. of torque and now has cylinder deactivation during light load conditions for better fuel economy. GM has refined the cylinder shut-off over the years to the degree that it is completely imperceptible. 2017 Acadias use GM’s six-speed automatic transmission, but by the time 2018 models roll off the line in mid-year, the V6-powered versions will probably be switching over to the new 9-speed that recently debuted on the Chevrolet Malibu.
Performance in the Acadia is more than adequate, but it won’t get your blood boiling. There’s plenty of acceleration for passing and merging onto freeways and the ride quality is good with excellent body control. There’s not much steering feel to speak of though and this is definitely more of a cruiser than a Sport utility.
The newfound svelteness of the 2017 Acadia brought a significant boost in fuel economy with the EPA combined rating jumping from 17 mpg to 20 mpg and I got 22 mpg during my week in GMC’s new midsizer. The base front-drive SL now starts at $30,000 and pricing runs up to $48,000 for the luxury Denali. The SLT-1 All-Terrain with Navigation comes out to just over $45,000 delivered.
I personally like the design direction they’ve taken with the new Acadia, eschewing the aggressive blockiness of the smaller Terrain. It’s a good look that implies this is more than just a soft-roader without going overboard. It doesn’t have the sportiness of some of the latest crop of premium crossovers like the Jaguar F-Pace, but I doubt that’s what a GMC customer is looking for. As the replacements for the Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse roll out in the coming months, I think we’ll see more divergence than we did in the first generation of GM’s big crossovers, covering a broader spectrum of the market and maybe hitting some of those niches that the Acadia isn’t aimed at.