CLAYTON, Mo. -- Mingling with workday traffic moving along Hanley Road in Clayton, the high-rise suburb of St. Louis, we're strapped in the leather-clad driver's bucket of a substantial crossover utility vehicle from the GMC brand of General Motors and heading south into the Ozark Mountains of Missouri to test the road manners of a 2010 Acadia in deluxe SLT2 trim.
This big CUV, stretching almost 17 feet long and well over six feet wide, comes with a full-size passenger compartment stocking seats for six to eight passengers and a wagonload of fancy features.
Yet Acadia doesn't appear quite as large as the hard-point measurements actually indicate because the sleek shape of a sheetmetal shell seems to fool the eye and diminish the scale.
Focal point is the bold front-end carved in elegant lines of a sculpted block with a sharp rake to the windshield and down-sloping hood, with muscular shoulders and a fat-lipped prow flashing shiny streaks of chrome.
From the side view Acadia carries round-arch fender flares over the front and rear wheels, muted roof pillars which blend with the tinted window glass and polished aluminum rails on the roof.
Wheels are big, with 18-inch cast aluminum rollers the standard and 19-inchers available as well as 20-inch chrome-clad wheels.
Acadia's integral body-frame structure compares to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than the conventional SUV's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame truck platform.
A stretched wheelbase of 118.9 inches and a wheel track width of 67.3 inches form a long and broad platform that reduces the center of gravity for the vehicle and sets up a sure-footed ride quality.
There's a coil-over-strut design up front with direct-acting stabilizer bar, while in the rear the linked H-arm arrangement uses twin-tube shocks mounted on an isolated sub-frame to glide over bumps in the pavement.
As a result, Acadia exhibits the easy-to-drive attitude and smooth ride characteristics of a large-scale luxury car.
Acadia's nimble steering attributes stem from a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, and the brakes add a disc at every wheel with electronic link to an anti-lock brake system (ABS).
Further, all versions stock electronic traction control (ETC) and electronic stability control (ESC) devices packaged under the name of StabiliTrak.
All trim versions of Acadia stuff aboard lots of passive safety systems like frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted above outboard seats at all three rows.
Also on tap is GM's rollover sensing system, dubbed MRT (rollover mitigation technology). It automatically deploys the side-impact air bags and curtain-style air bags if on-board sensors detect a potential vehicular roll event.
Acadia presents the choice of FWD traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
The smart AWD equipment uses a computer and wheel sensors to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery pavement.
All versions of Acadia employ a V6 engine which displaces 3.6 liters and contains dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), direct injection (DI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT).
The V6 produces 288 hp at 6300 rpm plus torque of 270 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.
Sole transmission is GM's fuel-saving Hydra-Matic 6T75 six-speed automatic.
With the 6T75 in play, Acadia earns EPA fuel economy scores up to 24 mpg for highway cruising in the FWD edition, or 23 mpg with the AWD equipment.
Climb aboard the Acadia and you'll notice another benefit of the car-like structure: The designers managed to drop the cabin floor but still retained a reasonable chassis height for ground clearance.
As a result, you don't have to hike up to climb aboard, but simply slip in sideways like you would enter a sedan.
Acadia's passenger compartment has room for three rows of seats and a rear bay for cargo.
On the first row two wide bucket seats flank a floor console.
On the second row the standard configuration is a sliding bench to accommodate three passengers, although three top trim versions also offer two captain's chairs which slide to and fro.
On the third row, a folding bench split 60/40 can squeeze up to three additional riders aboard. Individual sections of the bench have bolsters for added comfort.
Access to the back bench is aided by extra width of the two rear portals plus second-row seats which move out of the way easily, thanks to a one-tap lever labeled Smart Slide.
With the back bench in place, a flat-floored cargo bay has 24.1 cubic feet of stow room. With the back bench folded down, the bay expands to 68.7 cubic feet, but with both second and third tiers of seats down, the bay stretches to 115.9 cubic feet.
Gear standard on Acadia SL ranges from single-zone manual climate controls and power buttons to move windows and door locks and mirrors to auto-on headlamps and daytime running lights, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, the driver's seat with four-way manual movements, a windshield wiper for the liftgate's window, a sound kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 player plus XM Satellite Radio and GM's OnStar telecommunications equipment.
Upgrading to the SLE brings more luxury goods, such as eight-way power controls for the driver's seats, air conditioning with rear controls, auto-dimmer for the cabin rearview mirror with integrated rearview camera system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Acadia SLT adds treats, like perforated and heated leather seats plus a deluxe audio kit with rear headphone jacks and USB port receptacle.
GMC sets 2010 MSRP figures at $31,740 for Acadia SE FWD and $33,740 for SE AWD. Acadia SLT2 FWD lists for $40,185 and SLT2 AWD goes to $42,185.