2017 GMC Acadia Denali AWD

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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When the 2017 GMC Acadia was making the rounds on the auto show circuit last winter, one of the main talking points was its reduced size compared to its predecessor – the vehicle has been ‘right-sized’ according to GM spokespeople.

So what does that mean, exactly?

They shrunk it – and not by a little, either.

The ’17 Acadia is some seven inches (177.8 mm) shorter and 700 pounds (317.5 kg) lighter than the outgoing model.

On the plus side, the Acadia is now a much easier vehicle to park and maneuver in crowded mall parking lots, and average fuel economy (for V6 models) is about 2 L / 100 km better.

The downside is it is now smaller on the inside (cargo space has shrunk by about 1,000 litres), although third-row seating remains.

So why make the Acadia smaller? Simple – the mid-size SUV / crossover category is white hot in both Canada and the U.S. at the moment (much to the detriment of mid-size sedans), and GM wants to take full advantage of it.

The previous gen was built on the same platform as the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse, and while a lucrative market for large SUVs remains (particularly in the U.S.), it's not as big or as hot as the mid-size category.

In 2015, for example, eight of the top 20 selling vehicles in Canada were mid-size SUVs and, through the end of November, it’s the same story in 2016.

So far, the GMC Acadia isn’t among them, but given the smaller proportions of the ’17 model, it could climb further up the Canadian sales charts.

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Built in Saturn’s former home of Spring Hill, Tenn., the Acadia shares the new C1XX platform with the Cadillac XT5.

In addition to a chassis and an assembly plant, the Acadia also shares a 3.6L DOHC V6 engine, which features active fuel management and cylinder deactivation. Power output is identical to the Caddy, rated at 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft. of torque.

Unlike the Caddy, however, the Acadia is also available with a 2.5L 4-cylinder base engine, which puts out 193 horsepower and 188 lb-ft. of torque. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic, as opposed to the eight-speed found in the XT5.

As was the case with the outgoing model, the Acadia is available in two basic model lineups: regular and Denali.

The base FWD 2.5L trim starts at $34,995, while the Denali (like my tester) checks in at $54,695.

While this spread might seem large, at least there are some mechanical differences as one moves up through the grades – the Denali comes with the 3.6L V6 and AWD standard.

At any rate, the crimson red tintcoat tester I spent last week driving is one well-equipped ride.

In addition to the standard kit, which includes a leather interior, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation and satellite radio, dual 8-way power front seats and 20-inch aluminum wheels, GM piled on a bunch of other goodies.

Among the extras is a technology package ($1,975), which adds adaptive cruise control, automatic front braking and surround vision, a dual-panel sunroof ($1,685), continuously variable damping suspension ($1,395), crimson red tintcoat ($595), and an engine block heater ($100).

On the road, the Acadia Denali delivers a quiet and comfortable ride. The handling doesn’t seem especially sharp, but is acceptable for a mid-size SUV. The steering feels reasonably direct and responsive and, much like the XT5, acceleration and power delivery from the 3.6 is solid, if unspectacular.

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Truthfully, I spent so much of my time with it sliding around in slushy snow searching for traction and stuck in commuter traffic that I couldn’t push the limits much. But, again, it’s an SUV—how aggressively would you drive it, even in ideal weather conditions? Probably not much.

Another thing worth mentioning, is despite being designed to be a primarily AWD vehicle, there is a knob on the centre console that allows the driver to toggle between FWD and AWD, in addition to sport and trailering modes. Being able to switch over to FWD during highway driving is a definite bonus from a fuel-saving perspective.

Inside, the Acadia Denali is handsomely designed, very well-equipped (as mentioned) and quite comfortable. The design aesthetic is much heavier on pick-up truck, traditional SUV influences than the XT5, but the Denali trim does make the Acadia feel more luxurious. Call it near-luxury. Not a Cadillac, to be sure, but still pretty luxe for a GMC.

And despite being a bit down on interior space compared to its cavernous predecessor, the Acadia is still spacious, and getting in and out of the third row is easy. Same goes for folding down the rear seats, which is accomplished via nylon straps. The seats themselves are still tiny, and best suited to small children, but they’re there if you need them.

Overall, the Acadia Denali appears to present a pretty good value proposition. I drove the XT5 a couple weeks back, and while it did make a favourable impression, I think the Acadia makes more sense if you’re in search of value and aren’t as concerned about the badge on the front grille.

It delivers the same performance, can be outfitted with similar equipment, has a third row and an infotainment interface that’s much easier to navigate than the Cadillac CUE system.

The Caddy might be wrapped in more attractive sheet metal, but the Acadia Denali is handsome in its own right and has a starting MSRP that is almost $14,000 less than the XT5 Platinum.

These factors should auger well for Acadia sales moving forward.    

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SPECIFICATIONS2017 GMC Acadia Denali AWD

BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $54,695 / $62,245 (incl. $1,700 destination)
ENGINE:
3.6L V6
HORSEPOWER:
310 hp @ 6,600 rpm
TORQUE: 
271 lb-ft. @ 5,000 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:
1,794 kg (base Acadia)
CONFIGURATION:
front engine, all-wheel drive

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.):
13.3 / 9.5 / 11.6
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM):
36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES:
Cadillac XT5, Infiniti QX70, Lincoln MKX, Lexus RX

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Photography by Lee Bailie

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