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The Soft-Roader For Democrats

The Soft-Roader For Democrats

From the land of the star-spangled banner comes the quintessential truck-maker and their tried-and-tested large-size crossover, advocating basic human rights ON space and convenience

By George Kuruvilla

Published: Fri 12 Jun 2015, 12:08 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:19 PM

The GMC Acadia — the brand’s first uni-body vehicle — has been well-represented in the market since 2007. From birth, this crossover looked to belong to a genotype characterised by ‘handsome’ and ‘almost-affordable’. But, what separates the great from the good are the details, and that’s what we’re examining in our test car this week. And, in an attempt to spoil us rotten, we were handed the keys to the top-spec Denali model, just so we could examine all the finer details.

Design & Aesthetics

The GMC Acadia takes the fight to the big boys in terms of size, with a broad torso and limo-like length measuring 5,101mm front to rear and 2,003mm ear to ear. Yet, at 1,789mm high, GMC has kept the Acadia basement-friendly without taking away the high and mighty feel you get in an SUV.

Designers have smartly concealed the bulk by injecting sharp creases, well-defined surface detailing and large wheels to the mix. The facelift back in 2013 equipped it with a bold three-dimensional polished grille with a 3-slat, perforated design. It’s carried over here and is quite intense when looked at closely. There is also plenty of chrome to give the frontal visuals an American feel.

Throwing light to the road ahead are Denali-specific and blue-tinted High-Intensity Discharge headlamps cradled in a ‘C’-shaped strip of LED daytime running lamps. While the SLE and SLT trims ride on 19” alloy wheels — giving the sides rather pronounced wheel arches — the top dog Denali rides on 20” machined aluminium alloys, or optional chrome wheels. They all ride on 255-section tyres, front and back.

Like the headlamps, the LED tail lamp design — which, in typically state-side fashion, has no amber turn signal indicators — gets ‘C’-shaped red and white lights in the cluster. You also have a make-believe wrap-around rear glass window with blacked out D-pillars; as for tailpipes, there are very non-truck-like dual flow-through chrome exhaust outlets integrated into the rear fascia.

GMC has maintained a variety in the external colour palette, giving you more than just 50 shades of grey; you shouldn’t have trouble finding yours, even if it is a Midnight Amethyst Metallic, like our test car. These days, when aesthetics are at the forefront of vehicle purchasing decisions, the Acadia, especially in Denali form, is a smart-looking choice for all ages… past 30. At least that’s what we think.

Beyond the skin is a quiet, spacious and cosy interior, typical of an all-American SUV. And if it is too hot to climb aboard the high-seat arrangement, you can get the car running with the remote start function, which is standard across the range. The seats are upholstered in French-stitched, perforated leather that has an inviting, couch-like appeal. The upholstery shades include Cocoa Dune, Light Titanium and Dark Cashmere. We shall stick to chocolate — how about you?

Luxury abounds in the cabin with a multi-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel trimmed in &mahogany wood, but there is some evidence of cost-cutting in the form of plastic finishes. The steering column has power tilting and telescopic movement, which is good, but it could use a few more inches upward to suit taller drivers. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup comes as standard; and the optional variable-effort steering makes city manoeuvring easy while maintaining a stable steering weight on highways. Speaking of which, the Acadia never felt tremulous at speed.

In terms of cabin lighting, you have subtle red ambient lighting strips across the dashboard, Denali-specific accent lighting in the foot wells, lighted sill plates etc. Even the instrument gauge panel, which, unusually — but conveniently — has the fuel gauge at the centre, are red-lit. The driver also enjoys the convenience of the integrated heads-up display that projects speed, rpm and other information onto the windshield. But it could have been brighter and, perhaps, clearer.

Up front, even large occupants can get comfortable, thanks to the 8-way power adjustability. The Acadia offers enhanced occupant configurations in the form of a 7-seater with a middle row and two captain’s chairs, or an 8-seater configuration with a second row bench. The SmartSlide seating system allows for easier access to the third row, but getting seated back there is a task nonetheless. The dual SkyScape sunroof system gives you a liberal view of the skies.

Powertrain & Performance

GM’s mainstay engine configuration, the 3.6L V6 — one that powers several Caddies and Chevys — finds its place under the hood of the Acadia. Driving all the wheels is a 6-speed Hydra-Matic 6T7 transmission. It does not come with paddle shifters, but a ‘+/-’ button mounted awkwardly on the side of the shifter. Considering the number of times you may use it, it shouldn’t prove too much of a hassle. The transmission operates smoothly in swapping ratios, but can appear sluggish on the kick-down — it is a conventional auto after all.

Engine output is rated at a useful 288bhp at 6,300rpm, while torque peaks at 388Nm at 3,400rpm. GMC states that 90 per cent of the engine’s peak torque is available from 2,500rpm all the way to 6,000rpm, thanks mostly to direct injection. There is sufficient power to coast about, but when you put the pedal to the metal, you are not thrown forward, mostly due to the sluggish gearbox.

On the road, the Acadia prioritises ride comfort, which helps you sail across a sea of tarmac without making it a tiresome daily routine. On the flipside, speedy directional changes aren’t the vehicle’s forte due to its stature and 2,364kg mass. But, driving dynamics remain very competitive for its class. In a parking lot, pay due caution to the far-reaching corners of the Acadia — you wouldn’t want to scratch some of that Midnight Amethyst Metallic paint off the panels.

As for off-roading, the all-wheel drive system and elevated body helps you traverse sandy beaches and trails, but it is recommended to stay within the bounds of the city.

As suspicious as it may seem, the Acadia is equipped with slightly smaller brake discs at the front axle (325mm) versus the rotors at the rear (331mm). Spot a jaywalking crowd or a sudden red light at the junction and mash the brakes for a very linear and confident braking performance assisted by the standard ABS, hydraulic brake boost and panic brake assist. Unlike the first generation system, the AI-operated brakes intervene in a very intuitive manner.

Unlike many other SUVs in its class, this isn’t the earth harming oil spill of a crossover. Yes, even with AWD and a large mass to haul, it delivers 4.7L/100km in the city and 0.2L/100km on the highway. The Acadia also comes equipped with an 83.3L tank that adds distance between fuelling breaks. If you’d rather have improved efficiency over mildly improved traction, try the front-wheel drive variant.

Features & Functionality

The Denali scores decent in the entertainment category with a 10-speaker Bose 5.1 surround sound system. It is well worth the upgrade over the standard 6-speaker unit. If you have kids to entertain, the rear seat entertainment system with a DVD player and remote control and an overhead display should come in handy. It can be paired with a couple of wireless headphones; and there is a 3-prong household-type power outlet available for your devices.

The Gulf states warrant a powerful air-conditioner and in the few days we spent in-cabin, the tri-zone automatic climate control system aided by cooled front seats kept its cool even as the mercury hit 50°C. The big promise of driving a large-size crossover is fulfilled after a weekend of furniture shopping. Behind the third row is 682L of space, and dropping it down will get you a sofa-fitting 1,985L. And, if you choose to drop the second row as well, you get a massive 3,286L. Click a button on the keyfob and the available power lift gate makes opening and closing easy — parents with a handful of groceries or even an infant will find this very useful.

Most will also find the Acadia’s 2,358kg towing capacity to be more than sufficient, especially if you need to get your 8-person family and luggage past borders for the Eid break. GMC’s safety initiative comes in the form of a non-intrusive Side Blind Zone alert, a decent rear-view camera and Rear Cross Traffic Alert that warns you of vehicles passing behind you.

The centre console houses a small touch screen panel, which comes with a logical placement of menus and buttons — buttons that could have been larger for ease of use. IntelliLink adds stereo Bluetooth audio streaming and wireless control of smartphones, voice-activated CD player with MP3 playback, auxiliary-input and USB ports. The Acadia is most certainly a technological tour de force.


The 2015 GMC Acadia Denali is a spacious, adequately powered family tourer that is just short of being a motor home. At this price point, you’d be left with this and a few sparsely equipped crossovers. If GM improves cabin plastics and gives it a real transmission, its creators would be shelving accolades for years to come. 

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