2017 GMC Acadia: Designing and Engineering a “Professional Grade” Crossover

GMC doesn’t make cars. It makes trucks and utility vehicles. There’s the small Terrain. There’s the large Yukon. And now there’s an all-new seven-passenger Acadia right in between.

“This is one of the most interesting vehicles I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on,” says Matt Noone, director of GMC exterior design, speaking of the 2017 GMC Acadia, the second-generation of the crossover SUV.  The first-generation Acadia originally appeared as a model year 2007 product, based on the GM Lambda platform, which also gave rise to the Buick Enclave, the Chevrolet Traverse and the now-passed Saturn Outlook.

The new Acadia is based on the new GM midsize crossover platform that is also used for the 2017 Cadillac XT5.  The major difference between the 2016 and the 2017 Acadia is the size.  Explains Paul Spadafora, chief engineer for both the new Acadia and the XT5, when they looked at the Acadia they took into account the use of the vehicle, and learned from customers that there was an interest in something smaller, more garage-able and with a reduced turning radius.

So the 2017 Acadia is dimensionally smaller than its predecessor, and while the 2016 model can be configured to seat up to eight people, the new one handles a maximum of seven.

In terms of the size differences:

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Arguably, the 2017 model is a much tidier package than its predecessor.

Noone says that when they set about to design the new vehicle, they kept the key “Professional Grade” characteristics in mind—and it is worth noting that they’ve been using that term to describe GMC vehicles for 17 years, so this isn’t some fleeting marketing phrase but a part of the organization’s bones. The characteristics are “bold,” “capable” and “precisely crafted.”

He also says that they made extensive use of clinics for the simple reason that they wanted to make sure that what they designed for the second-generation vehicle would be something that people would actually be interested in buying.  Noone says that many times what they’d find when showing vehicles that had a somewhat more expressive form of vocabulary (they’d bring in models that would “go from mild to wild”) was that people would say that they liked it, but then asked if they’d purchase it, they’d say, “No, but I like it.”

Realize that unlike the other GM brands, GMC is unique in that it is fundamentally a “truck” brand, in that it doesn’t have any sedans in the lineup.  It is all about trucks and utes for GMC.  “From the exterior standpoint,” Noone says, “we try to gauge how much of the truck DNA that’s our heritage, our lineage, and how much the customer wants.  I think the original Acadia has quite a good amount in it.

It’s not a boxy looking vehicle, but with this vehicle we learned the customer wants a vehicle that delivers on the GMC promise of ruggedness, durability and professional grade, but without as much of our truck-based language. 
 

Noone goes on to explain, “This is a completely new dynamic for us, which is really exciting.  When it comes to trucks—full-size, mid-size—we know the recipe, we know our customers.  That’s what we’ve been brought up on.  But here was new territory.  

“The Acadia customer wants something that is more refined, sophisticated and timeless in its form. And with this design we found a sweet spot for our customers.”

Similarly, Michael Stapleton, Noone’s counterpart as GMC director of Interior Design, says that one of the things that they’re really pushing is the use of “authentic” materials, like real aluminum on the large center stack.  But another aspect of developing the interior of the family vehicle was making it sufficiently comfortable, inviting—and safe.  “People who drive this want it refined.  They want to feel comfortable.  And they want to be able to bring their stuff with them,” he says.

As for the “stuff”: when the second and third rows are folded—and the folding mechanisms are readily accessible from the rear hatch—there is 79-ft3 available on and above the flat surface.

As for the safety (from the standpoint of the interior, not the available front pedestrian braking, low-speed forward automatic braking, forward automatic braking, IntelliBeam automatic headlamp high-beam control, 360-degree camera system, safety alert seat, forward collision alert, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, nor the lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert), there’s an industry-first rear seat reminder: According to Tricia Morrow, General Motors global safety strategy engineer, each year children die from heat stroke having been forgotten in the back of vehicles.  So because the Acadia is a family vehicle, they’ve developed a system that if the rear doors are opened at the start of a journey and then not reopened when the engine is shut off, the driver is alerted to check the back seat. Just in case.

While the previous-generation Acadia was offered with one engine, the 2017 model offers a choice. There is an Ecotec 2.5-liter four cylinder engine that provides 194 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque and a 3.6-liter V6 that provides 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque.  The four-cylinder offers GMC’s first application of fuel-saving, start-stop technology.  Both engines feature direct injection and are mated to a six-speed automatic.  The Acadia comes as a front- or all-wheel-drive vehicle (AWD). The AWD vehicles offer a disconnect drive mode setting that disconnects the rear axle from the drive system to save fuel.

As is now something of a mantra when it comes to new vehicle development at General Motors, there is a significant mass reduction compared to the outgoing model.  Base vehicle to base vehicle they’re looking at a weight reduction on the order of 700 pounds (2017: 3,956 pounds; 2016: 4,656 pounds).

However, as the new vehicle has an I4 base engine and the previous model has a V6, it is worth looking at FWD models with V6s.  In that case, the weight save is 600 pounds.  Part of that is from the overall size reduction, with other factors including the use of high-strength steels that allow the use of thinner gauges, suspension changes, and new acoustic materials.

The 2017 GMC Acadia is manufactured at the GM Spring Hill Assembly plant in Tennessee—the original Saturn plant.  (Curiously enough, when the Acadia’s sibling Saturn Outlook was being produced, it, like the Acadia, was being manufactured at the GM Lansing, Michigan, Delta Township Assembly plant.)