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Road test: 2017 GMC Acadia

With each successive generation of new vehicle these days, there tends to be an inevitable bloat factor, whereby the latest and greatest offering is invariably bulkier and lardier than its predecessor. So it’s an eye-opener when a car brand – especially an American one – rolls out an all-new model that appears to have shrunk in the wash.

Say hello to all-new GMC Acadia, a revamped seven-seat SUV that’s shed no less than 320 kilograms in its latest guise. That’s the equivalent of ejecting four hefty chaps from the cabin, boosting performance and fuel economy.

The Acadia is now surprisingly rapid, partly down to its crash diet and also thanks to the latest-gen 3.6L V6, which punches out a beefy 314hp and 367Nm. I hand-timed a 0-to-100kph sprint in less than seven seconds – pretty sprightly for a big family wagon.

The V6 is decently smooth and quiet (it only gets vocal when caned), and the six-speed auto is similarly seamless, while still being quick to kick down to a lower gear when acceleration is required. The Denali variant comes with part-time all-wheel drive, selectable via a “Terrain Selection” knob next to the gear lever, but under normal conditions, drive is sent only to the front wheels (the rear driveshaft is decoupled as a fuel-saving measure).

Off-road ability? Er, no. There’s just 183 millimetres of ground clearance, and the AWD system is designed more for slippery road conditions than sand dunes. That said, it’s fine for tackling rutted tracks and gravel roads.

The Denali’s extensive safety arsenal includes pedestrian detection with automatic emergency braking, 360-degree “bird’s-eye-view” cameras, lane-keeping assist and forward-collision warning. You also get an eight-inch touchscreen, satnav, configurable virtual gauges and GM’s ­IntelliLink phone integration system, which supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Another novelty is the seat-­buzzing function that sends a vibrating message to your backside whenever one of the parking sensors is triggered. A clever idea, but I found it disconcerting.

The Acadia’s suspension settings are on the soft side, so it tends to feel a little floaty at times, but it’s no blancmange, and there’s an acceptable degree of body control and grip even if you fling it through a corner or two.

However, all-around visibility isn’t one of the Acadia’s strong suits. The chunky A-pillars obscure forward three-quarter vision, while the smallish glasshouse means lateral and rear views aren’t fantastic, either. Even the wing mirrors are a bit small.

The cabin is well-presented. My test car came with optional middle-­row captain’s chairs, with slide and recline functions, and they’re agreeably comfortable. The same can’t be said of the cramped pair of third-row seats, which are best left to the juniors.

The second-row seats fold flattish via the yank of a lever, while a tug on a pull cord and a shove on the seat backs achieves this for the third-row pews. Cargo volume is a modest 362 litres with all the seats in place, expanding to 1,181 litres if you dispense with the third row, and 2,237 litres if you fold down the second row as well.

All in all, the Acadia is a credible, competent seven-seat SUV. It’s not the most spacious or stylish contender in the segment, but its newfound pace, comfort and quality feel are gains that should snare it a decent slice of the pie.

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