More than a few folks may be pondering GMC’s gamble to send its hefty midsize SUV, the Acadia, to the fitness center to shed a few, or 700, pounds. Heaven knows how long this vehicle was on the treadmill because it also came back 7.2 inches shorter and 3.5 inches narrower.
In fact, the shrinkage even made it possible for GMC to offer a four-cylinder option — a first for Acadia — though it’s doubtful many will opt for that engine choice.
And though the top-to-bottom overhaul may elicit a few frowns, the changes were based on consumer surveys and will better position the second-generation Acadia to compete with the leaner Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
The model starts with a softer look that is more crossover SUV, less truck, and features new lighting arrangements in the front and rear.
Perhaps more important is what Acadia’s trim new physique achieves on the road: improvements in handling and maneuverability. A shorter wheelbase and tighter turning radius make it easier to park and pull sharp U-turns when needed.
Electric-assisted steering provides quick feedback, and a new independent suspension enables Acadia to absorb road bumps without surrendering much road feel.
Move up to the top-line Denali and get more drive options with a terrain selector dial that allows adjustments to throttle response, steering, transmission shift points, plus settings for mud and off-road. The new All-Terrain trim adds an Active Twin Clutch system that can send power to wheels, getting the best traction.
Two engines are available, one of them a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 194 horsepower. That’s not much oomph — they could have at least turbocharged the thing — but it still may be enough with the newly svelte Acadia and for folks who aren’t going to tax the vehicle.
Still, the popular choice will be the 3.6-liter V-6 that’s good for 310 horses and 271 pound-feet of pull. That’s enough to climb the hills and still tow along up to 4,000 pounds (1,200 less than the 2016).
A six-speed transmission distributes the power smoothly. A couple of more gears might have upped the mileage figures, which are EPA-estimated at 18 mpg for the city, 25 mpg on the highway and a combined 20 mpg. But even that’s 2 mpg better than last year, thanks to an active cylinder management system that shuts down two of the cylinders when they’re not needed.
For all its contraction, Acadia still offers plenty of family room across three rows, seating up to seven. Overall volume is down, of course: Cargo space dips from 19.6 cubic feet to 12.8, but, fortunately, second and third rows do fold flat. And, there are cubbies galore, including two under-floor bins and a handy drawer that pulls out from the center console.
Front-seat space is ample, and captain’s chairs that slide and recline are optional for the second row. Seats in the third are low to the floor and best for kids or younger, more limber adults.
A revamped dash, adorned with real wood and aluminum trim on the Denali, has user-friendly dials and controls. An 8-inch touchscreen offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, plus a new system lets you download your own apps, too.
Among Acadia’s safety technology is something startling: the Safety Alert Seat. It’s an industry first, and it sounds a warning to check back rows for any children left behind. It only signals the driver if the rear doors had been opened earlier.
Also included are more common tech-safety features like surround-view camera (the seat buzzes the driver if something is in the way), adaptive cruise, blind-spot alert and collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian braking.
No question, Acadia is a reborn animal. If you liked the extra heft and power, you might want to shop around. But most, who enjoyed Acadia’s comfort, versatility and family features, will be gratified with this lighter, leaner generation.
2017 GMC Acadia Denali
As tested: $52,285
What’s all the excitement about? Second-generation GMC Acadia Denali is leaner, more compact and agile
Powertrain: 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 will be the popular choice, but new this year is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that gets 194 horsepower
How’s the performance? Strong acceleration, smooth and comfortable, plus more maneuverable with its shorter wheelbase
What about fuel economy? 20 mpg combined (25 highway, 18 city)