Test Drive: 2017 GMC Acadia Denali

As you – the reader – can no doubt appreciate, climbing into a new, completely redesigned vehicle carries with it a sense of excitement, and perhaps a little trepidation too as you put the vehicle in gear and head out into city traffic.

Acclimating to an unfamiliar cockpit while confronting the “kill or be killed” attitude of rush hour can be daunting. Such is what I faced upon picking up this week’s tester, the reworked 2017 GMC Acadia. On my side though was the intuitive, logical layout of controls and switchgear in the down-sized SUV.

Many modern vehicles have ditched the usual ordinary rotary knobs in place of interfaces meant to mimic the digital world, and this has largely been a failure in my view. Therefore, you can’t imagine how pleased I was to find knobs and well-sized buttons dominating the Acadia’s clean, uncluttered instrument panel.

In no time, I was scrolling through satellite radio stations, adjusting tone controls, activating the navigation map, and changing HVAC settings. Bloody brilliant I thought. This level of user-friendliness is so often excised in favour of wizardry.

In reworking the popular Acadia, GMC did something that’s quite rare in the auto industry these days: they shrunk an SUV. Once considered full-size, the 2017 Acadia is, by GM’s definition, a mid-size SUV. It’s still large enough for a notably spacious third-row seat while taking up 18.2 fewer cm. (7 in.) of roadway.

This makes the vehicle more nimble, more fuel-efficient, and more garage-friendly. Overall, a good call by the pens at GMC. With its second and third rows of seating folded flat, the Acadia’s cargo bay will ingest some 2,237 litres (79 cu. Ft.) of whatever floats your boat.

Accessing third-row seating is remarkably easy thanks to GMC’s Smart Slide second-row seats, which leap forward and partially fold with the simple pull of a latch. I managed to clamber into the third row without a complete loss of dignity. Once there, I was rewarded with adequate leg room, which anyone who has travelled third-class knows, isn’t generally the case.

Regardless of one’s seating entitlement, the spacious cabin of the Acadia is a peaceful, relaxing environment in which to settle back for a journey. I was perhaps spoiled more than I should’ve been with the chart-topping Denali iteration of GMC’s latest SUV, which for all intents and purposes is a premium vehicle without the Euro-badging.

Of course, with an as-tested MSRP of $58,025, it should spoil its occupants with leather-lined opulence, which it does quite effectively. But fifty-eight large isn’t necessary to reap many of the benefits embedded in the new Acadia. You see, it begins life in the showroom at $34,995 – a far cry from Denali pricing.

The entry-level version is powered by a 193 hp. 2.5L 4-cylinder engine hooked-up to the front wheels. Ascending the ladder of trim levels secures a 310 hp. 3.6L V6 engine and the option of all-wheel-drive (AWD), engaged via GMC’s Drive Mode Selector located on the centre console ala Land Rover style.

Both engine choices are fused to a 6-speed automatic transmission featuring a manual mode.

In addition to a powerful drivetrain, moving up the Acadia ladder nets a wide array of driver-assist features and safety hardware, such as Front Pedestrian Braking and a Surround Vision camera system.

On the entertainment front, the Acadia is available with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple Car Play, and Android Auto. It’s pretty much a rolling example of web-based tech.

And rolling in the Acadia is pretty much an example of automotive-based delight. In short, the new Acadia exceeded my expectations with its exceptional level of operational refinement, defined largely by its hushed cabin and wonderfully absorbent underpinnings.

These two attributes imparted a sense of luxury that I wasn’t anticipating, but was grateful to receive. I often think of large, plush vehicles, such as the Acadia Denali, as relaxation chambers meant to help ease the burden of heavy traffic.

They’re infinitely comfortable and offer a commanding view of the road; and due to their bulk, don’t encourage useless lane-hopping. In other words, sit back and survey the external chaos in a cocoon of tranquility…and that aptly describes my experience in the Acadia.

With its V6 engine in play, there’s plenty of oomph when called upon, but that calling is funded with a heavy demand for fuel. However, when driven in front-wheel-drive mode with a feather touch, fuel-efficiency is quite respectable at 12.5L/100km or so, but tap into the power and the picture darkens rapidly as fuel-economy heads north of 15.0L/100km.

Overall, I was uncharacteristically impressed with GMC’s new Acadia. It raises the bar in the mid-size SUV field, but reaches upscale premium pricing when the Denali box is checked.

A last item of note, which I’ve never before encountered is GM’s Rear Seat Reminder. This “first” monitors opening and closing of the rear passenger doors before departure. When the vehicle is shut-off at the end of a trip, the system sounds a chime and displays a reminder to “check the rear seat.”

This technology is intended to prevent the driver from inadvertently leaving a child in the rear seat, thereby reducing the risk of heat-related death. If it saves just one life, which I have no doubt it will, the engineers are heroes.

2017 GMC Acadia
Trim level: Denali
Price as tested (before taxes): $58,025
Freight: $1,800
Configuration: front engine, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.6L 6-cylinder / 6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 310 hp / 271 lb-ft
Fuel-economy ratings (L/100km): city 13.0, highway 9.3
Observed fuel-economy (L/100km): varied from 12.4 to 15.5
Warranty (basic): 3 years / 60,000 km
Competitors: Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander

Related links:

GMC Canada

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