The blistering summer heat in the United Arab Emirates is best totally avoided by getting on a flight to colder climes and returning only once the mercury dips back to semi-acceptable levels. But, for Ronaldo Cruz, the unique nature of the geography here combined with these harsh temperatures means it’s time to go to work.
Ronaldo works for General Motors, testing and developing — sometimes to destruction — new vehicles in the region and, back in August, we joined him for a couple of days in his office, a pre-production GMC Acadia. Even on the weeks leading up to the launch of the car, development and fine tuning is still an ongoing process.
The pre-production model we were in was right at the end of its development stage but the collection of data from the myriad of sensors and analysis via Ronaldo’s plugged-in laptop continues right up until the new Acadia hits the production line in Spring Hill, Tennessee. At this stage, all of the big issues have already been ironed out but Ronaldo’s continued testing and abusing of this nearly finished product can still uncover some fine tuning required to the software.
Obviously, the key element of hot-weather testing is the heat and its effects on the various mechanical, electrical and air-conditioning components of a vehicle. During one ‘heat soak’ test on a 50°C day Ronaldo recorded an interior cabin temperature of 75°C, which sounds bad enough, but a sensor located where the windscreen meets the dashboard recorded 95°C! So the quality and durability of components such as the interior plastics are also analysed as well as the effectiveness of the HVAC air-conditioning system to return the cabin quickly to acceptable temperatures.
But it’s really pushing the vehicles hard on the roads where the majority of Ronaldo’s work is done. And, sometimes, it involves driving badly. We did a few runs up and down Jebel Hafeet with Ronaldo being quite hard on the poor Acadia. On the downhill runs, the car was left in automatic rather than using the gears for engine braking, which meant the stoppers were getting serious abuse. As he pointed out, while it would be nice to think that everyone who purchases the new Acadia will understand that cooking the brakes — especially on a hot day — is a bad thing, it is very unlikely.
Yes, it’s slightly ironic that Ronaldo is qualified for this job because he is a skilled driver yet spends a lot of time driving in an unskilled manner to replicate how the new Acadia ‘might be driven’ in the real world. But subjecting the vehicles to these scenarios naturally lead to a better General Motors product being offered to customers with the added bonus of increased safety for less-than-skilled drivers.
Our second stint in the Acadia took us down to the UAE’s very own section of Rub’ al Khali, aka the Empty Quarter. Few places on earth get as hot as this place and there is also a little bit of sand, which you would logically expect from the world’s largest contiguous sand desert. It’s a harsh and hostile environment and therefore frequented by Ronaldo quite often on his quest to punish machinery. And he doesn’t just stick to the roads…
Now, the new Acadia is neither being marketed as or pretending to be an off-roader. I am not even sure if it would even qualify for soft-roader status. It’s a comfortable mid-size crossover SUV and isn’t trying to be anything else. But, it is being offered with all-wheel drive, which means that some numpty at some stage will surely try to cross a desert in it. So, it’s now time to subject it to some off-road abuse.
Surprisingly, in Ronaldo’s capable hands, the Acadia isn’t half bad off-road and easily manages to crest some medium-sized dunes. Which is a really good thing as neither of us fancied digging a stuck Acadia out of the sand in the baking hot afternoon. And, despite the heat and the sand, and the continual abuse over a few days, the laptop states that all systems are within safe and normal parameters. Ronaldo’s work is done. Now, when do we get a drive?