HY­BRID-LIKE SUV PRO­VIDES AN ES­PE­CIALLY QUIET RIDE

Ve­hi­cle sets stage for smooth trav­els, but drab in­te­rior doesn’t jus­tify hefty price tag

Calgary Herald - - DRIVING - DEREK MC­NAUGHTON Driv­ing.ca

The en­gine started with a quiet hum. But as our 2018 GMC Aca­dia De­nali tester pulled away, the V-6 en­gine re­verted to elec­tric mode, the for­ward propul­sion as quiet as every other EV I’ve driven. I didn’t even know GMC built an Aca­dia hy­brid, and I felt dumb for not know­ing.

Or did it? The brakes didn’t feel hy­brid-touchy. En­gine re­sponse was quick and ac­cel­er­a­tion sharp. The ca­cophony of clicks, ticks and whirrs that so com­monly ac­com­pany a hy­brid were ab­sent. Fuel econ­omy, how­ever, showed a “best” of 7.5 L/100 km, so this had to be a hy­brid, right?

Well, no. But that is how quiet the Aca­dia De­nali truly is when­ever gen­tle throt­tle is ap­plied. Sure, there’s a muted snarl from the en­gine and ex­haust when the pedal gets smashed, but the over­all sen­sa­tion of driv­ing the new Aca­dia is one of re­mark­able quiet. On the high­way, some hum from the Miche­lin tires on 20-inch wheels could be de­tected, but that’s the only time any un­wanted sounds fil­tered into an other­wise se­ri­ously co­cooned cabin.

The en­gine, a 3.6-litre V-6 with 310 horse­power and 271 pound­feet of torque, wasn’t quite hy­brid-like in its fuel econ­omy, but was quite re­spectable at 9.6 L/100 km in high­way driv­ing and about 13 in the city. That was helped by an ac­tive fuel-man­age­ment sys­tem and cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion that, un­like ear­lier ver­sions, is never de­tectable. That’s not bad, given the size of this SUV, and the 83-L tank displayed a range of more than 900 km when full. Fuel econ­omy could have been even bet­ter if GM had opted for an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion over the stan­dard six-speed unit. It hov­ered around 2,000 rpm at 120 km/ h, but the six-speed works ef­fort­lessly and it can tow 4,000 lbs. on the fac­tory hitch.

Pass­ing power could use a pinch more punch, though never did the Aca­dia feel un­der­pow­ered. Some torque steer can be felt through the wheel in 2WD mode at full throt­tle, but it’s mit­i­gated by quick and sur­pris­ingly pre­cise elec­tronic steer­ing. Around bends and cor­ners, the steer­ing feels mostly ac­cu­rate with some feed­back, and it soaks up bumps and cracks with aplomb.

The sus­pen­sion, too, was very good at ab­sorb­ing the endless aber­ra­tions in as­phalt of Ot­tawa and Eastern On­tario. Our test unit came with op­tional “con­tin­u­ously vari­able ride con­trol” that ad­justs damp­ing forces every two mil­lisec­onds. It seems to work, as the ride was pleas­ing re­gard­less of road con­di­tion. The Aca­dia even held cor­ners bet­ter than ex­pected of a 4,154-lb. ve­hi­cle, which is 700 lbs. less than the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Aca­dia.

Part of that weight loss came from cut­ting di­men­sions: The new Aca­dia is about 15 cen­time­tres shorter than the old, and it no longer looks like a large rhino. The new shape still doesn’t give the Aca­dia the most com­mand­ing pres­ence; the look is like a large sta­tion wagon, though it’s way more pleas­ing to the eye than any Aca­dia be­fore, es­pe­cially when in De­nali trim. How­ever, the op­tional “moulded as­sist steps” and roof rack cross­bars are def­i­nite eye­sores, and the steps only seem to hin­der ac­cess. My 85-year-old mother-in-law didn’t even bother to use the tiny steps when she ex­ited from the third row.

That she could fit in the third row shows those seats aren’t just for lit­tle kids, al­though ac­cess to them isn’t as good as a Nis­san Pathfinder, Toy­ota High­lander or Subaru As­cent. Mid­dle-row seats can be op­tioned as cap­tain’s chairs for a 2+2+2 con­fig­u­ra­tion.

Cargo room is good. With all seats folded, 2,237 L is am­ple, as is the 1,181 L be­hind the sec­ond row. Rear seat legroom is more than ad­e­quate, and a heigh­tad­justable power tail­gate is handy.

The seats are com­fort­able and the leather of good qual­ity, but the driver seat squeaked a lit­tle. Front seats are heated and cooled, while the rear seats are heated, and rear pas­sen­gers get their own cli­mate con­trols. Up front, the A-pil­lars are par­tic­u­larly big, hin­der­ing vis­i­bil­ity a bit in the cor­ners. Con­trols are ei­ther by touch on the eight­inch in­fo­tain­ment screen that re­sponds quickly most of the time, or by clearly vis­i­ble and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble but­tons and knobs.

Ap­ple CarPlay and built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi is nice. A drive mode se­lec­tor, in the form of a dial just for­ward of the cen­tre arm­rest, switches the driv­e­train from 2WD to AWD, or to suit var­i­ous con­di­tions of road, such as snow or sand. But the dis­play is al­most im­pos­si­ble to see be­cause the let­ter­ing is small and poorly il­lu­mi­nated.

Digital in­stru­men­ta­tion more than makes up for it, though. The pri­mary dis­play is at­trac­tive, clear and in­for­ma­tive. Wood trim is ap­par­ently real — but it doesn’t look or feel like it — and the in­te­rior over­all is not nearly as ap­peal­ing as the ride and hy­brid-like quiet, es­pe­cially for a ve­hi­cle that stick­ers at $63,210 be­fore fees.

PHO­TOS: DEREK MC­NAUGHTON

The 2018 GMC Aca­dia De­nali drives as smooth as can be, but isn’t per­fect.

The 2018 GMC Aca­dia De­nali in­te­rior leaves much to be de­sired.

The 2018 GMC Aca­dia De­nali dash­board dis­play is clear and in­for­ma­tive.

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