Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 GMC Acadia

Upon arrival in Vancouver to sample GMC’s all-new 2017 Acadia, we jumped into our vehicles and drove the Sea-to-Sky highway toward Whistler. Our navigation system asked us to make a left turn about 20 kilometres before Whistler, onto an almost-hidden gravel road that winds its way through the lush B.C. forest. A minute later you arrive at a striking oasis called the Brew Creek Centre.

When they say it's all-new, they mean it. The 2017 Acadia shares no parts with the 2016.

Set in an impossibly beautiful, quiet and relaxing environment that used to be a privately owned cedar mill, the Centre is a 12-acre complex comprised of a main lodge along with multiple cabins and two-storey multi-room buildings in a resort that can handle anything from weddings to corporate events like ours. They pride themselves on having as little impact on the environment as possible – their sustainability model includes solar heating, composting on a grand scale and they even grow their own produce.

GMC introduced us to the new Acadia here, and we learned a bit about where the brand is headed from a corporate standpoint as well as with the Acadia nameplate itself. GMC's motto is "Bold, Capable, Precisely Crafted" and they want to ensure they keep doing things right – especially here, as Canada has the highest GMC market share in the world.

So where are they coming from with the Acadia? Our hosts noted that the modern family embraces the chaos of life and is ready, willing and able to seek out everyday adventures – and their SUV should be able to do the same. The Acadia is remarkably flexible in its offerings – it's available with two different engines, 2WD or all-wheel drive, and there are five-, six- and seven-passenger configurations. And when they say it's all-new, they mean it. The 2017 Acadia shares no parts with the 2016.

We met a brand-new trim level too – the 2017 Acadia is available as an All Terrain. It is the first 5-passenger (two-row) Acadia, and gets a cool (and unique) appearance package where GMC's traditionally blingy look is taken down a few notches in favour of a darker finish. There are also skid plates and roof rails. It seems the All Terrain is aimed at the outdoorsy, adventurous crowd that is looking for a more rugged, less luxurious Acadia with more room for their stuff.

If the 2017 Acadia doesn't look familiar, you probably haven't seen an Acadia before. GMC's big, bold styling cues continue on in the 2017, but it is instantly recognizable. In my opinion that's a good thing, as the Acadia was my personal favourite of the GMC triplets (the others being the Chevy Traverse and the Buick Enclave).

While the styling is evolutionary, you will notice a big change in dimensions. GMC has knocked a full seven inches off the Acadia's length – which impacts the cargo space, not the leg room inside – and the SUV is narrower now too.

DENALI! Test Drive: 2015 GMC Acadia Denali AWD

That bold, bright Denali signature grille is flanked by HID headlights and very noticeable LED driving lights. The overall shape remains the same, but you can immediately tell it is more compact and tidier.

Speaking of the Denali trim, it's obviously quite important to GMC. It's even evident when you walk around and get into the Acadia. You'll find one Acadia badge – and nine Denali badges. It's practically shouting "DENALI" at you.

The new Acadia interior is well done. I really enjoyed that some of those chiseled lines from the exterior moved inside to make for some bold, blocky styling that is clearly influenced by GMC's trucks. The materials looked and felt good, with plenty of soft-touch and stitched panels, and the fit and finish was quite good. The one let-down was the terrible fake wood. I found the heated and ventilated seats, upholstered in perforated leather, to be very comfortable around town and on the highway. In terms of aesthetics, I particularly liked the All Terrain trim's striking two-tone interior.

There's an 8-inch touchscreen that handles everything from phone, navigation and the Bose sound system to apps, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – the latter two allow you to bring part of your digital life into the vehicle without adding distractions while you're driving. There's also the new MyGMC app for your smartphone that lets you remotely start your vehicle, lock or unlock your doors, call roadside assistance and other stuff – from anywhere in the world. GMC made a pretty big deal about the Acadia's connectivity, and it includes their much-hyped OnStar 4G system which allows your vehicle (any GM vehicle actually) to become a wi-fi hotspot for up to seven devices. It works quite well, but I still don't understand why I'd want to add yet another cellular bill (once my three months or 3 GB free trial runs out) if I have data on my devices. Anyway, maybe that's just me.

My Denali trim came chock-full of driver assistance technology – low-speed automatic braking, pedestrian detection, surround vision and back-up cameras with front and rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. A true standout in terms of family safety is the Rear Seat Reminder. An industry first, it notes when you open and close a rear door, and when you come to a stop and get out, it reminds you (with five chimes and a visual warning) to check your rear seat for precious cargo. This could help prevent someone accidentally leaving their children or pets in a hot vehicle, and could easily save lives. That's my kind of safety tech! There are a couple of nice touches for Canadian winters – a heated steering wheel and remote starter.

The vehicle I was driving was a six-seat configuration with a walk-through second row. You can also opt for a three-seat bench. The heated second-row seats were quite comfortable. They slide and recline, and the curbside SmartSlide seat can be moved forward for easy third-row access – while keeping a child seat in place (without the child in it obviously). Second-row passengers get automatic climate control, USB ports and a 120V household outlet and a very handy large slide-out drawer bin at the bottom.

I found the third row relatively easy to access (but only on the curb side). When the second row is moved ahead a bit, I, at 5'10", had a reasonable amount of leg-and head-room back there. Anyone taller than me will likely wish for more space but it is usable for adults, and certainly spacious for children. There's another USB port back there too and the third row reclines for comfort.

There's a hands-free power lift gate which requires you to sweep your foot underneath the driver's side rear corner toward the rear tire – I found it wasn't very sensitive and needed a few tries every time. Irritating. The cargo space behind the third row is quite limited, but if you're not using the third row, it can be folded away to provide a much more spacious and useful 1,181 L of room.

You will find two new choices with the Acadia: a 193 hp (188 lb-ft of torque) 2.5L four-cylinder for buyers whose priority is fuel economy; plus an all-new 310 hp (271 lb-ft of torque) V6 – the only thing it shares with the previous engine is its 3.6L displacement. Both are coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, and in the Denali's case, all-wheel drive.

Of note, the All Terrain trim gets an advanced twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system and an additional off-road driving mode.

It's not just a new engine under the skin that caught my attention. GMC has somehow managed to trim 728 pounds from the Acadia's curb weight, which is a tremendous achievement. The base vehicle's weight went from 4,683 pounds down to 3,956! That's going to have a direct impact on the vehicle's drivability and fuel economy. GMC rates the 2.5L four-cylinder at 11/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway) and the six-cylinder at 13/9.3 L/100 km.

Speaking of under the hood, GM also sent us to the Whistler/Blackcomb resort where we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the snow grooming machine maintenance shop. These are half-million dollar PistenBullys from Germany we're talking about – some with 1,500-metre cable winches allowing them to anchor themselves to the mountaintop so they can groom the steepest ski runs. It was pretty cool to see what they look like pulled apart. We also went on the jaw-dropping Peak2Peak gondola, which takes you from the peak of one mountain to the next. Traveling at surprisingly high speeds and at eye-watering, sphincter-clenching heights made for quite an adventure – I would highly recommend this if you're ever in the area. It's a whole new perspective from which to enjoy the mountains, valleys and lakes!

The serpentine Sea-to-Sky highway with its endless curves, blind corners and elevation changes is a technical and fun drive – and perhaps a mid-size SUV isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think about exploring this beautiful and challenging road. But the Acadia I was driving was equipped with GMC's optional continuously variable suspension and it is fantastic. The ride was silky-smooth, but it remained firm enough to feel competent and connected, and there was never a hint of floatiness. The moment a curve came up, I felt in control and enjoyed the Acadia's tenacious grip.

As a matter of fact, I was often surprised at how flat it stayed in the twisties. Is it fun to drive on a mountain road? I'd stop short of saying that, but let me put it this way – it has a nice, solid and planted stance on the road and it's a lot more fun than most other mid-size SUVs. The V6 puts down plenty of power off the line, and passing is no problem either. The transmission is smooth, but definitely takes a second or so to downshift when you put the pedal down.

GMC made a big deal about how quiet the new Acadia is, and for the most part, I found that to be true. Even at highway speeds, it seemed to be quite hushed inside.

There's a rotary Traction Select knob that allows the driver to choose between 2WD, 4WD, Sport, Snow and Tow modes. If your trim has the trailering package with heavy-duty cooling system, your Acadia will have a towing capacity of up to 1,814 kg (4,000 lb). And if you're towing, you'll appreciate the Tow Vision Mode for the back-up camera which adds a centering line to make maneuvering and positioning your trailer easier.

While the Acadia can get quite pricey as you make your way up through the trims to the Denali, there is some good news here too. GMC has actually reduced the price of the 2017 by $2,000 across the board.

GMC has obviously continued making their Acadia a boldly styled SUV, and they've really upped the Acadia's game in terms of technology and drivability. It's a nice ride, to be sure, and it does a great job at almost everything – but it has plenty of competition at the higher end of the pricing schedule.

Pricing: 2017 GMC Acadia
Acadia SLE FWD: $34,995
Acadia SLE AWD: $37,995
Acadia SLT AWD: $47,295
Acadia All Terrain AWD: $49,390
Acadia Denali AWD: $54,695