Buick Enclave vs. GMC Acadia: Buy This, Not That

2016 Buick Enclave
2016 Buick Enclave | Source: Buick

GMC is known for building the Cadillac of trucks — unless, of course, it’s being compared to Cadillac. And Buick isn’t exactly the sexiest brand in the GM portfolio, but its handsome, comfortable near-luxury lineup (and massive success in China) has been enjoying something of a renaissance. So what happens when The General’s two upper-mid market brands come into direct conflict? Well, profit. Sweet, sweet profit. In 2015, the Acadia found over 96,000 buyers in America. The Enclave found an additional 62,000-plus. Not bad for two of the oldest midsize SUVs on the market.

Since 2008, the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave have been platform mates sharing the GM Lambda platform, which itself dates back to 2006. The Acadia first appeared in ’07, and despite a 2013 refresh little has been changed since George W. Bush was in office. The Enclave bowed as an ’08, and its upscale interior and flowing curves were instrumental in establishing Buick as the respected middle-class Acura-fighter it is today.

2017 GMC Acadia
2017 GMC Acadia | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

But things are changing, and for the first time in their history, the Acadia and Enclave no longer share the same bones. The Acadia is all-new for 2017, joining the Cadillac XT5 on the new C1XX platform, leaving the Enclave on the Lambda until a redesigned model bows for the 2018 model year. GMC may have just made its best-selling model even stronger (and better looking to boot), but the Enclave has been punching above its weight for years. So can the two compete even though the GMC has already gotten a big head start? That’s what we’re looking to find out for this week’s Buy This, Not That.

Tale of the tape

2016 Buick Enclave interior
2016 Buick Enclave interior | Source: Buick

If you want to know where the roots of the current “That’s a Buick?” ad campaign came from, look no further than the Enclave. Tackling pricier rivals like the Mercedes M-Class (now GLE) and Lexus RX, the ’09 model was a revelation after years of the brand fielding some legitimately dreadful cars. At a time when midsize SUVs were almost scientifically nondescript, the Enclave’s flowing lines and almost aggressively upmarket interior for under $40K paid off handsomely for Buick. To date, the Tri-Shield brand has sold nearly 500,000 of them to SUV-hungry Americans. What’s more, it has the honor of being the most American-made car built by a domestic brand.

So far as midsize SUVs go, the Enclave is one of the bigger ones. At nearly 17 feet long and 5,000 pounds, it’s nearly 800 pounds heaver than its rival the Acura MDX, but its 3.6-liter, 288-horsepower V6 does an admirable job moving it along, hustling the big three-row people mover from zero to 60 in under eight seconds, and its 270 pound-feet of torque is enough to tow most small boats or trailers. The Enclave has aged surprisingly well in the looks department too, and its cavernous interior is as comfortable as ever. Now starting at around $40K and topping out in the mid-$50K range, the Enclave easily creeps into territory occupied by the Germans and Lexus, but its combination of size, space, and value makes it a unique and attractive proposition. It’s riding out 2016 and ’17 largely unchanged before the big redesign comes for 2018.

2017 GMC Acadia interior
2017 GMC Acadia interior | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

On the other hand, the outgoing Acadia’s hard-edged style and plasticky interior seemed to age like milk, and its looks still reminded us too much of the long-departed (and awful) Saturn Outlook. But despite this, the Acadia has long been GMC’s best-seller, and for 2017, the all-new model has the potential to be a sales supernova. Our Justin Lloyd-Miller drove a preproduction version of the new Acadia, and concluded:

… regardless of what trim you choose, you can count on the new Acadia to be better behaved, more fuel efficient, offer better driving dynamics, and be easier to live with.

For ’17, the Acadia is 740 pounds lighter than the old truck and 7.2 inches shorter without sacrificing much interior room. The 3.6-liter V6 is carried over, but in the new truck, it pumps out a respectable 310 horsepower. For the first time, a 2.5-liter four cylinder is also available for fuel economy-minded buyers.

Inside, the cabin has been tastefully updated, with any traces of “Old GM” — exposed screws, shiny, rock-hard plastic, exposed seams — thankfully minimized. Like the rest of the GMC lineup, the Acadia is available in SLT, All-Terrain, and Denali trims, giving buyers plenty of variety, with the SLT starting at around $30K, or about $10,000 below the base for an Enclave.

The verdict

2017 GMC Acadia
2017 GMC Acadia | Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

This should be an easy one, but still feels strange nonetheless. Since 2008, the Buick Enclave has been far more attractive than the Acadia in virtually every way, and both are leagues above the bland Chevy Traverse (the third Lambda-based SUV). But the 2017 Acadia is one of those new models where it feels like engineers coldly attempted to design the SUV to succeed in every metric, and it actually worked. The new Acadia is handsome, comfortable, and mechanically and technologically current in every way. And with a $10K price difference, you’d be crazy to choose an aging Enclave over the new GMC. Your local grocery store parking lot is likely to be filling up with these things in a matter of months, and with good cause. But if you’re willing to wait, there is a wild card here: The all-new C1XX-based Buick is likely to be here in about a year, and we have high hopes for that one. The GMC Acadia wins this battle handily; we’ll see if it can win the war after Buick rolls out its 2018 Enclave.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.