A new smaller platform allows GMC to offer a significantly lighter, more dynamic Acadia. Does it still remain competitive in the segment? Automan joins the media drive across Arizona and Nevada to find out
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Supplied
When you think of an American SUV, the car that normally comes to mind is the big Yukon, Tahoe or their bigger brother Suburban. Part of the broader offerings of General Motors, these full-size SUVs compete with the Ford Expedition. So when the previous GMC Acadia debuted it wasn’t surprising at all to be confronted by Ford’s salespeople asking me how I rated that against the Explorer? In the interim, the Acadia went through a full product lifecycle, the Explorer overlapped and the competition continues.
But then that’s the older GMC Acadia. It had something going for it in that its Chevrolet iteration, Traverse, was distinct in identity. But as we were told by the folk from the factrory who met us in Phoenix, Arizona for the walkaround and orientation, the car was seen as being too close to the Yukon in size and too far from the smaller Terrain.
So this time around, the second-generation Acadia loses almost seven inches in length and 3.5 inches in width to the smaller common platform with the Cadillac XT5. What this does is bring the Acadia into the sweet zone the engineer’s craved and serves to distinguish it further from the next gen Traverse which will continue to be on a larger platform. The magic figure being quoted here is 700 pounds of weight that the new Acadia loses. If seen realistically, this equates to a typical load of passengers and cargo, so this will serve to dramatically increase the performance.
Other benefits of the new platform are a stiffer body with less flex, better critical ratios and the ability to accommodate the latest electronics package. Despite it becoming smaller, the Acadia is still offered with a choice of seat configurations (5, 6 or 7) and in two major trim lines (All Terrain or Denali). The base Acadia will not be brought to the region (there is also no appetite for a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder version that is sold in the US market).
“The new Acadia captures a greater feeling of refinement, in everything from the responsive feeling behind the wheel to the way passengers interact with its intuitive features,” said Rick Spina, executive chief engineer for compact and crossover SUVs at General Motors. “It’s a vehicle that offers the functionality Acadia is known for, while delivering big advantages and balance to customers’ everyday lives.”
At first glance the Acadia looks like a completely new vehicle, which it is. For all practical purposes, the model could have had a new name and worked comfortably, although there is no doubt some benefit with going with an accepted badge.
As you would expect from a new vehicle, there is almost nothing in common between the first and second generations in terms of styling. The GMC badge has grown while the grille and headlights have evolved towards the newer, sharper look of the badge. The presence of two distinct trim lines results in a brushed chrome on black surrounds look for the All Terrain, while the Denali has chosen the path of bling. And the body styling of the variants is tweaked, while the Denali sides cascade down to the road the All Terrain tries to tuck in the skirts to aid in staying clear of obstructions. This differentiation extends to badging, upholstery choices and wheels, although the actual off-road capabilities are broadly the same for both versions with the AWD. The HID lamps are only for the Denali.
The interiors have also evolved rather nicely with the provision of a panoramic roof, larger displays, a more digital instrument panel and electronics that serve to connect up with and extend your mobile experience.
You can connect to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and additionally use features like automatic braking, adaptive cruise control with distance warning, lane keep and lane assist and a surround vision camera system.
That is going to be the biggest differentiator between the old and new cars. This is why people would spend the extra money you are asking for a smaller platform.
The Acadia also gets an all-new 3.6-litre engine and six-speed gearbox combination. The engine is rated at 310hp with 367Nm of torque from an all aluminium block and head with direct injection. this is mated with a hydramatic 6T70 six-speed automatic transmission that is offered in either a base front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive arrangement.
The opportunity to drive the Acadia took us from Phoenix all the way to Las Vegas, with a good run through scenic areas like Sedona and over parts of the historic Route 66 taking us to Williams, where we stayed overnight at the Station hotel after driving to the Grand Canyon park and having dinner on the south face of the Canyon.
The next day took us further over the Route 66 route through kingman and down to Laughlin, the first point of entry on that route between Arizona and Nevada. That served as the lunch stop – at the Bubba’s shrimp factory. As you can see, the connection with deepset Americana was being dialled in to enable us to understand the car and it’s relevance to most of mainstream America. Part of the route was on sandy trails through a National Park, where we maintained speeds of 70 mph and above without having to let off the accelerator.
We like how the Acadia feels. The vehicle is now a mid-size SUV and you can feel the new, lighter platform and the alacrity with which the V6 engine responds to inputs. The NVH level is good, dial in a song and you can almost have no other sound around.
The Denali is definitely at its best on the highway. settle in at 70 mph and you just coast along with almost no input on the accelerator.
While the Acadia coasts along the system’s tendency to act as a co-driver is very pronounced. It senses the road markers even on rather poorly marked highways and tends to begin a correction phase that seeks to bring the car back on track. It’s easier when the highway is straight and you are just drifting. The problem comes when you drift on a curve – the system does not have enough confidence to chart its course through the curve.
Even better is the SUV’s manners in traffic. The vehicle has pedestrian sensors, so it tends to brake to avoid impacting them as well as handles itself rather well in slow moving traffic.
The smaller two-lane roads of the old Route 66 did require a bit of working the pedals, but the fact is that only a maverick would try to take chances with the patrols along America’s roads, especially near smaller towns.
As for the single off-road patch that we had to drive on, we put the vehicle in full-time 4WD mode and just careened through it. The sands weren’t quite the sort you would find in the Middle East region, being more packed, but the suspension proved supple and responsive, with good travel.
The move towards the smaller platform has been largely beneficial for GMC. The new GMC Acadia is much more of an everyday vehicle, offering better size and proportions. At the same time the car feels a lot more European in the way it drives and weaves.
The best part is that despite the size and weight going down, the engine remains a 3.6-litre unit, albeit with more power than before. The fuel efficiency is supposed to be close to that of a typical four-cylinder engine with the active cylinder deactivation, but when you kick down on the accelerator, the Acadia takes off.
However, most buyers will like the cabin and feature package of the Acadia as this sets the vehicle apart from most of the competition. You can even choose a certain look of the car in between the All Terrain and the Denali. If you feel that your forté is skewed toward the outdoors you may opt for the former and you will also get a specific All terrain mode instead of the generic off road mode that the Denali features.
Beyond that the main options you have are in terms of drive layout and seating layouts. The six-seater option really ends up being the most opulent of the lot and not surprisingly it will be the mainstay of the Denali version. There is adequate space to pop through the gap between the two seats of the second row to the third row. Although the third row is not as large as you would expect, the seats are handy and do accommodate adults as we experienced on our drive back from the dinner at the Grand Canyon.
While the drive ended at the porch of the Aria in Las Vegas, the bling of the car managed to still look as if it is part of the environment there. Especially that of the large chrome grille of the Denali. It was almost anti-climatic to hand over the keys and draw the trip of a lifetime, with atleast a couple of bucket list items on it, to a close.