GMC Acadia Rebuilt, But Will Buyers Come?

The automaker renowned for stacking its lineup with lovable beer-leaguers turns the tables by slashing more than 700 lbs. from the new Acadia.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

May 27, 2016

7 Min Read
rsquo17 GMC Acadia Denali
’17 GMC Acadia Denali.

FLINT HILL, VA – In an era when cars and trucks swing for the fences with “bigger-is-better” redesigns, the ’17 GMC Acadia bucks the trend and plays small ball, relatively speaking.

In its 10 years on the market in the U.S. and Canada, the Acadia has been baseball’s equivalent of an old-school basher: as thick in the shoulders as the waist, plodding and ungainly on the basepaths, and as dependable as the dollar for late-inning heroics.

So when it came time for the Acadia to enter the modern era, General Motors must have wrestled mightily over giving up the big CUV’s stadium-size roominess and luxury-suite view of the road, a combination that drew an intensely loyal fan base, for a more agile offering that would be less of a fixture at the postgame buffet known as the gas pump.

But the automaker renowned for stacking its lineup with lovable beer-leaguers turned the tables by slashing more than 700 lbs. (318 kg) from the new Acadia. It employs a host of lightweight materials, and every dimension of its footprint was shrunk.

Those moves permitted a blockbuster trade: Out goes a V-6 that labored so hard in the old model it could not get from second base to home plate without a fill-up, and in comes a smooth-operating and fuel-efficient inline-4.

The result is a more maneuverable large CUV with sharper handling and fuel economy upwards of 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km), which is a full 4 mpg (1.7 L/100 km) better than the old model.

It’s more flexible, too. Although the 8-man seating option is out, the new Acadia shifts to an optional third row to allow 5-, 6- or 7-passenger capability to satisfy buyers seeking cargo space or a balance between the two configurations.

New technologies include available selectable drive modes, allowing drivers to adjust for different conditions such as snow or trailering, and a fresh-off-the-shelf all-wheel-drive system that saves fuel by automatically disconnecting from the rear axle when it is not needed. It permits mild off-roading, based on testing here.

The Acadia also adds automatic pedestrian braking and a surround-vision camera to its suite of active-safety options and an industry-first child-seat alert system to prevent kids left in hot cars.

The Acadia is the second application of GM’s new Middle and Large CUV architecture. The 2-row Cadillac XT5 came first, arriving earlier this year, and the Acadia is just trickling onto dealer lots. A longer wheelbase version of TL will underpin the next Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave large CUVs coming next year. Additional CUV products for the U.S. and abroad also will spin off the platform.

Delivers in the Clutch

Cruising from Washington to Virginia horse country here, the Acadia shines in its new uniform like a Yankee in pinstripes. In the city, traffic grinds to a halt as commuters exit the Beltway for surface streets. Plucking through the crush of cars even briefly would have been nightmarish in a larger truck, but the Acadia darts about easily enough despite still measuring a full 16 ft. (4,877 mm) long.

The side blindspot alert technology comes in handy in the heavy traffic, while skinnier interior A-pillars offer a less-encumbered field of vision while turning corners.

Along the rolling hillsides outside of the city, the Acadia’s slimmed-down figure fits the narrow roadways, and there’s no need to hold your breath coming over a crest in anticipation of oncoming traffic. The turning radius was cut nearly 2 ft. (610 mm) to be on par with competitors. It’s no Honda Civic, but the new Acadia is tremendously easier to maneuver in tight spaces than the old one.

But the agility comes at a sacrifice. The feature most Acadia buyers coveted is the unparalleled roominess and cargo space. On models with the second-row captain’s chairs, ingress and egress to the third row used to be as easy as defending right field. Now it’s as difficult as a squeeze play with the narrower pass-through. Foot-, knee- and elbow-room can be excruciatingly tight for an average adult.

If passengers are demoted to the minors, however, they can take solace knowing they are not completely written off because GM added overhead lighting and USB ports to the third row for a modicum of creature comfort.

There also are 36 fewer cu.-ft.(1,019 L) of cargo room on the new model, so returning buyers will have to be thriftier about what they take with them. At the same time, this CUV still has plenty of room for gear, and on most trim levels there is no charge to add or delete the third row.

The downsizing was done to move the Acadia closer to the heart of the market, where models such as the Toyota Highlander reside, and it gives GM more flexibility to put additional entries to the red-hot CUV market in coming years. It also draws down the price point of the Acadia to $29,995 for base models. Careful with the entry price, though, because adding the optional V-6 and other bells and whistles can push it to more than $47,000 for a top-of-the-range Denali model.

The new Acadia also answers pleas by owners of the old one for better fuel economy. They got their wish. According to the EPA, the 2.5L 4-cyl. Acadia saves $1,000 or more in annual fuel costs over its 6-cyl. predecessor compared with the average new vehicle.

The 4-cyl. model is no red-headed stepchild, either. It is a rock-solid engine that returned 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) during mostly city driving. It’s asked to do a lot of heavy lifting, not unlike the old V-6, so there is some strained feedback from the engine compartment under throttle. But with standard stop-start technology, the 4-cyl. is among the best marriages buyers will find between fuel efficiency and drivability in the segment. If the plan is to tow or haul lots of people and cargo, an optional redesigned V-6 would be a smarter choice.

The updated 3.6L V-6, a 2016 Wards 10 Best Engines winner, punches out a powerful 310 hp. That’s nearly 30 hp more than the similarly displaced engine it replaces, and it puts some quick into a CUV that previously could not get out of its own way.

During mostly highway driving out to the countryside and a second run to the airport, a pair of V-6 testers return an impressive 24.8 mpg (9.5 L/100 km) and 25.5 mpg (9.2 L/100 km), respectively.

Given its legion of fans, shrinking the Acadia was a gamble, and to mitigate the risk GM plans to keep the old model around indefinitely. Kind of like a former champion knocking around on game day to keep spirits up when the going gets tough.

But in this era of heightened efficiency demands, the redesigned Acadia is a more pragmatic take on the large CUV. And since it offers a new choice between cargo- or people-carrying capabilities, it still can deliver in the clutch.

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'17 GMC Acadia Specifications

Vehicle type

5-, 6- or 7-passenger large CUV with FWD or AWD layouts

Engine

2.5L DOHC 4-cyl. with GDI and aluminum block, head

Power (SAE net)

194 hp @ 6,300 rpm

Torque

190 lb.-ft. (258 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm

Bore x stroke (mm)

88 x 101

Compression ratio

11.25:1

Transmission

Hydra-Matic 6T50 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase

112.5 ins. (2,857 mm)

Overall length

193.6 ins. (4,917 mm)

Overall width

75.4 ins. (1,916 mm)

Overall height

68.7 ins. (1,745 mm)

Curb weight

3,956 lbs. (1,794 kg)

Base price

$29,995

Fuel economy

21/26 mpg city/hwy (11.2-9.0 L/100 km)

Competition

Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Tucson

Pros

Cons

Fleet-footed for size

Sacrifices roominess

Adds fuel-efficient I-4

Works hard under throttle

More pragmatic CUV

Will buyers respond?

 

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