2017 GMC Acadia Denali Review

Jan. 06, 2017 By Josh Burns
The Acadia isn't exactly a trail conquerer, but can it deliver of its promise of AWD capability for the outdoor family.

Modern trucks and SUVs are sold on the concept of versatility. Itís not just a sales pitch anymore, because trucks and SUVs are truly far more capable and versatile than ever before. But while a truck may have the edge with cargo space in the bed, its limitation can be a lack of seat space for larger families. Thatís where SUVs, especially those offering optional third-row seating, can offer something trucks cannot. Add in the growing host of SUVs with AWD capability and youíve got a family rig that can still be a weekend adventure vehicle as well.

The new 2017 GMC Acadia Denali fits this description to a T, as this new mid-size SUV comes packed with family-friendly options, third-row seating and an AWD option. The Acadia isnít a serious off-roader. But in a more sensible respect, we wondered if it could confidently get up the weathered dirt trail to the trailhead for a hike, or can it comfortably get to the cabin without getting stuck? Ultimately, does its AWD promise actually deliver when this family-focused SUV needs to get in the dirt? Thatís what we aimed to find out.

The 2017 Acadia features a host of upgrades.

Whatís New?
The GMC Acadia had its strongest sales year in 2015, selling nearly 100,000 units that year. Thatís an impressive tally when you consider GMCís Yukon is a dominant force for the brand in the SUV segment. The Acadia sits in the middle of GMCís SUV lineup between the compact Terrain and the full-size Yukon, and for 2017 it returns with a host of changes. The AWD model, which is what we drove for this test, is powered by a 3.6L V6 engine that features direction injection and variable valve timing (VVT). The engine Ė which is also available on the mid-size Canyon pickup Ė is rated to produce 310 horsepower and 271 lb.-ft. of torque, and it is EPA rated at 18 mpg in the city and 25 miles per gallon on the highway. The V6 is mated to the Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed automatic transmission.

MORE: 2018 GMC Terrain Gets 3 Turbocharged Engines

Our Denali has plenty of leather and power seat adjustable for the driver and passenger.

One of the biggest changes on the new 2017 model is the reduction of weight Ė 700 pounds, to be exact. The weight reduction on the Acadia is of note, since the entire vehicle was essentially reshaped to aid in this reduction. GMC also notes it added more high-strength steel in key areas to provide added strength to the vehicle to help reduce weight safely and efficiently. Also new for 2017 is the addition of the Traction Select system that helps with performance in varying on-road or off-road terrain.

The third row seats aren't going to be a realistic option for full-sized adults, but kids will fit just fine.

When the third row is not in use, the rear cargo area opens up considerably.

Safety features added on the 2017 Acadia include GMís new Rear Seat Warning indicator, Forward Automatic Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, Surround Vision Camera, and a handful of other safety features. One added benefit of note on the AWD model is it features a 22-gallon fuel tank instead of a smaller 19-gallon tank on the FWD model.

How it Performs?
When our AWD Acadia Denali showed up it took us a bit by surprise. Our first thought was, ďThis sits pretty low to the ground.Ē We worried about taking this thing off of the highway at all, but we didnít need to cross that bridge immediately since we planned to drive it around town for a few days.

The backseat has its own power ports and A/C controls.

The base price for the FWD Acadia is $29,995, but our feature-packed Denali AWD pushed the price tag up to $51,260. After getting behind the wheel of the Acadia with that price in mind we looked for things to knit-pick but were hard pressed to find any. The interior of the Acadia is well appointed with heated leather seats that offer power adjustability and lumbar support adjustment for both driver and passenger. The second row seating is comfortable and spacious enough for adults, and we like the USB outlets and 120-volt power outlet for the backseat. The third row is great for children, but donít expect adults to realistically be sitting back there (not shocking considering leg room is 8.6 inches less than the second row). The tri-zone air conditioning is also a great feature. The upgraded eight-speaker Bose system in our Acadia spreads the sound out nicely, and although itís an option some could live without the Dual Skyscape sunroof is pretty cool.

The Acadia's touchscreen has a great layout and is easy to use. The 2017 Acadia also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

From the driverís seat, the Denali Acadia feels confident and composed on the highway. The electric power steering with ďActive Return AssistĒ helps the SUV glide around town effortlessly, and the four-wheel disc brakes help provide stopping power for the 20-inch wheels. With MacPherson struts employing continuous damping control up front and a five-link independent rear suspension also using GMCís continuous damping control, the SUV is composed while turning and it can soak up those unexpected potholes and bumps just fine.

There is a FWD option for the Acadia, but we'd opt for the AWD option.

Itís easy to find a comfortable driving position for my 6-foot frame thanks to the power adjustable steering wheel and seat. The GM infotainment setup found in the Acadia is great, and itís the same one weíve praised in the past in the Canyon that weíve spent a great deal of time in. The touchscreen layout is easy to operate, and we appreciate the control knobs (and the placement of them) on each side of the screen. The center console features the same wood inlay found throughout the cabin, and it houses the shift lever and the Traction Select system, which shifts the Acadia into AWD.

Our best fuel economy on the highway during testing was 25.8 mpg.

The steering wheel offers controls for the stereo and Bluetooth-paired phones, but it also controls functions of the digital instrumentation screen for the driver. The screen has a number of displays to choose from, though we often found ourselves using the digital speedometer. On each side of the digital display are analog gauges that include a tachometer, temp gauges, a fuel gauge, voltmeter and more. The 2017 Acadia also boasts improved smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which helps make use of phone functions such as accessing the music library, phone contacts and receiving texts without the need to pickup the phone by hand.

We like the ability to swap between front and rear cameras.

The 3.6L gasoline engine feels right at home on the SUV Ė it doesnít feel underpowered or overpowered. The Acadia has confident acceleration from stoplights or when punching it onto freeway onramps, and itís easy to manage the speed of the vehicle on steep climbs. The six-speed transmission pairs nicely with the V6, and we though it clicked through the gears smoothly in every driving condition we encountered. The maximum trailer rating for the Acadia is 4,000 pounds, though we didnít get a chance to test its pulling power this time.

The 20-inch wheels and road-friendly tires didn't inspure confidence when first venturing into the dirt.

When we first ventured off of the highway, we flashed back to our first impression of the SUV and our concern of its low-looking stance, but we were pleasantly surprised with the Acadia once off the pavement. Although this isnít going to for any serious climbs nor should it take on any seriously rocky trails, the Acadia offers great grip on both loose and hard-packed trails. The 20-inch wheels and road-friendly tires didnít exactly inspire confidence for our first hill climb in the Acadia, but in all honesty the lack of an aggressive tire meant the performance would be less about a grippy tread pattern and more about the capability of the vehicle. We were impressed. We tackled fire roads, a few different moderate hill climbs, and some weathered trails with heavy ruts from recent rain, and the Acadia performed well, even when we found ourselves in places that most people never venture.

The front view for the camera made slow-speed crawling a little safer.

Ground clearance, or lack thereof, is worth noting because the Acadiaís clearance is limited by the air dam mounted below the front bumper. We had to take the bumps and ruts at a careful crawl, but what did help in these instances is the Surround Vision Camera. Not only does the Surround Vision use cameras to show a view of the terrain surrounding the vehicle, but the front- and rear-facing cameras help point out the terrain both in front of and behind the vehicle. In spite of its family-friendly demeanor, the Acadia doesnít feel out of place when the pavement ends.

Ground clearance will prevent the Acadia from tackeling anything too crazy, but the AWD SUV did surprisingly well off of the highway.

Final Thoughts
For most, the Acadia will be a family vehicle that wonít even sniff dirt. Occasionally it will be a mountain bike hauler, a camping transporter, or a vehicle to get you near the trails but not necessarily on them. Weíre happy to report that should you need to actually use the AWD functions on the new Acadia, provided youíre not going on anything extreme, it might just surprise you what it can handle.

The dual sunroof is very cool, but in the effort of cutting down cost we could live without it.

Thereís a lot to like about the Acadia overall. The third row seating is a nice option for larger families, and itís easy to fold down the seats to unveil a spacious rear cargo area. We appreciate the hands-free power liftgate out back as well. The optional WiFi, the integrated connectivity and plethora of ports means that no one will be out of touch or lose power on the next trip. In the overall ride quality department, the Acadai gets high marks as well. During testing, we were right in line with the 18 mpg fuel economy rating for city driving, and we were happy to see a 25.8 mpg rating for highway driving that is above the 25 mpg rating. Overall, the Acadia is a great family SUV that still can get off the highway when needed.

MORE: 2018 GMC Terrain Gets 3 Turbocharged Engines


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