Seven Hours in a GMC Acadia: Is This my Last Long Drive for Months?

This drive of GMC’s revised for 2020 Acadia was supposed to be a look at its namesake. A tour of the part of Nova Scotia (not to forget Maine, New Brunswick, and PEI) that gave this big crossover its name. To try and see what life was like for the French settlers that started to arrive in 1604, and, unlike other groups of settlers, managed to form a bond with the original residents that continues to this day. But instead of the rise and fall of the Acadian people, we find ourselves in a time not unlike the Grand Dérangement. That’s the expulsion of the Acadians from Acadia. 

What does our current lockdown have in common with the expulsion of the Acadians? They found themselves–after decades of building a comfortable life for themselves, their families, and their communities–in the middle of a situation that was not of their doing, and was not in their control. Their lives turned upsidedown by events happening across the globe.

What does this have in common with a three-row GMC crossover, you’re probably wondering. Well, knowing that it could be my last long drive for weeks, if not months, I set off in the GMC Acadia for a full day inside the vehicle to ensure I had provisions for the coming uncertainty. Not getting out for any reason, but before travel restrictions could keep me close to home.

It was to be a seven-hour drive, on some not exactly well-maintained rural roads. A loop of 300 miles or so that would let me take advantage of the newly-available curbside pickup at one of my favorite craft breweries and, even more of an impressive new change, pick up a box of meat from a local butcher. Both without directly interacting with a soul, and making sure to stay far more than six feet from the service people trying to keep their small business humming when every day they’re turned upside down and shaken one more time.

Sounds easy, especially for a large crossover, but the challenge is not getting out. A good recliner is comfortable, but try sitting in it for seven hours straight without standing up. For anything. The Denali will need to be seriously comfortable or this shot at finding normalcy will end in a visit to the chiropractor, who is closed for the foreseeable future.

Like many experiences that sound easy these days, it’s deceptively difficult. For the Acadians, leaving their lands and moving on sounds simple enough, but it glosses over the reality of the situation. The Grand Dérangement was kicked off by the British, who decided that even though the Acadians were largely neutral in the ongoing conflict between France and England that would come to define North America, that they should be kicked out of their homes. Thousands died, more lost everything they had. Some fled to what was then the colony of Canada but is now Quebec, some to uncolonized empty spaces, but many went to then-Spanish Louisiana and had their name mutilated until they became the Cajuns.

One of the biggest changes to the Acadia for 2020 on the inside was the decision to get rid of the great big shift lever in place of GMC’s new button and toggle arrangement and it really was a good one. Yes, the shifter will take you a few minutes to get used to, but once you have it’s massively more intuitive than any rotary shift mechanism and it still lets you pick lower gears if you need to. The real benefit, though, is in the console space it frees up. This is a massive crossover, but it still had its cupholders lined up lengthwise, meaning that you always needed to be conscious of whose drink was in which position and then reach around the shifter to grab yours.

With the extra space, the drink drops are now side-by-side making them easier to reach, able to hold larger beverages, and leaving more space to put other stuff, like your phone. Or a bottle of hand sanitizer. And that’s important because when you’re spending seven hours in a vehicle and can’t get out, you need to make sure that you stay hydrated. But avoid the coffee and cola. The change also moved the heated and ventilated seat controls to a much more convenient spot, and if there’s one thing you want on a drive this long, it’s some breathability for your backside.

In this Denali, that center stack is surrounded by open-pore wood trim, and there’s aluminum (or at least aluminum-look) trim throughout the cabin. It looks good, and I found that looking at it (on occasion) on this long drive made me feel good. Like I was in something substantial.

Loads of massive buttons and a big, well-positioned touchscreen make it easy to change the climate control settings and the music as I wind through the hills and valleys that make up the long stretch of roads I’m taking to get to the other side of the province, to get a glimpse of our third exposure to the Atlantic today. Some of those buttons, though, in stark contrast to the metal that surrounds them, feel flimsy and brittle. That’s how many of us, myself included, are feeling lately, so maybe it’s appropriate. Even professional grade people can falter in a prolonged crisis, after all, but I don’t want my vehicle to feel anything but unwavering right now.

I’m on some of the most winding roads around now, as they follow those hills and valleys, and the Acadia’s nine-speed automatic is working seamlessly to keep the 3.6L V6 spinning. It has enough thrust to move this big beast along briskly, and the gearbox doesn’t hunt. I try out the chequered-flag-labeled Sport mode for a few minutes, but other than keeping the revs higher and engaging the AWD system, it doesn’t do much, so it gets quickly turned off again. You can leave the Acadia in AWD mode all winter long, I’m told by GM engineers, but why not leave it in front-drive and save some fuel.

Because seven hours of driving on a divided highway would probably leave me with an empty fuel tank, and a fuel stop away from home is something I want to avoid. Even though the tank wasn’t full when I left. On back roads and secondary highways, though, I’m seeing close to 30 mpg and not traveling as many miles, meaning that I have plenty of range remaining at the end of the day.

The town of Tatamagouche was my destination of sorts for the day, a bit of a halfway point before turning around to head home. Why there? The local brewery was doing curbside delivery, as was the butcher’s shop next door. Using the kick-to-open power tailgate and a telephone, I was able to restock my pantry without coming close to another soul and saved the overloaded store staff from so much as having to touch my vehicle’s tailgate.

Or at least that’s how smoothly it would have gone had I remembered to order ahead of time. I didn’t, so I had to drive around for another hour to wait for my orders to be prepared. That meant a drive around the Malagash Peninsula, which would be better-named the mal-a-road Peninsula because this was broken pavement that would have made John McAdam weep. I won’t say the Acadia shrugged it off like nothing, but it handled the assault and delivered in good form, with no untoward noises from the suspension or the cabin.

Supplies picked up, it’s now time for the long meander home. A trip made even longer with the knowledge that it could be weeks or even months before I can make this drive again. And possibly even longer before I can travel to the next province over and really stretch my tires.

It’s late, now, and I’m just about out of snacks, with the evidence stashed in the Acadia’s lower dash pocket and door panels. I’m now in for a long, silent drive, thanks to the Acadia’s quiet cabin. Back on the main highway, I appreciate the adaptive cruise control. I know that this is the part of the drive that’s most dangerous when you’re tired, haven’t stretched in hours, and are on familiar ground.

But the Acadia has kept me comfortable for all this time. My back feels more sprightly than my mind, which is wandering. Is our current situation anything like that faced by les Acadiens? Yes and no. Neither of us knew what the coming weeks had in store, but rather than waiting days for any news, we’re bombarded by it on a second-by-second basis. And, as I see an Acadian star flag on a road sign, I’m reminded that even through massive upheaval, those people were able to find a way to keep their culture and their history and stay strong nearly 300 years on. So while this pandemic will lead to massive change, heartbreak, and sadness, we’ll keep pushing on. Learning, adapting, changing.

It’s also given me plenty of time to stare at the door panel, where the black on brown on cream and black on blue of the window switches and door handles just screams at you. This was not the right place to save a few cents, GMC.

What does all of this have to do with a three-row crossover? I could try and say that vehicles like the Acadia are the station wagon adapting to its own new world, but this is just a car. It’s not that deep. I’ll just appreciate it for the solace it provided and the stability it gave me, even for just a day, in an increasingly unstable world.

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