You didn’t need to be quite as good as Rob MacCachren to get the best out of the first-generation Acadia, but, it wouldn’t have hurt. The term ‘soft-roader’ was coined for family-friendly models such as the GMC, even though it was available with all-wheel drive. But just getting your teeth stuck in doesn’t make you an off-road warrior. There’s more to it than that — and, there’s far more to the all-new Acadia, too. Thought they redesigned this one to keep soccer mums happy? Think again.

Things have changed — and drastically so. It isn’t just going to be seen at the school gates; it’ll be spotted at the top of dunes and will conquer all sorts of rocky trails, for this All Terrain has serious capability — even if it’s wearing 20in six-spoke alloys, with street tyres.

It has its game face on, and what a face that is; a new, smaller chrome-trimmed grille and wraparound LED headlights reinforce the confident, refined appearance. At first sight, you might be thinking it’s a baby Dodge Durango as the front end, profile and taillights have a way of leading you up the garden path. It’s lost that old boxy shape for a far more elegant exterior and isn’t truck-like anymore (it shares the same platform as the Cadillac XT5) but manages to be attractive without being over-styled. Our tester has ditched much of the bling that comes with the top-spec Denali and looks far better for it. However, the wraparound rear window hides rather fat D-pillars meaning rearward visibility isn’t great. Reversing is a tad tricky and if you’re not used to using a rear-view camera, you soon will be.

The image, which appears on the 8.0in touchscreen, is very clear and even works well in the dark, and as for the rest of the interior, it is very neatly laid out, and swathed in high-quality materials and lots of soft touch surfaces, which makes a nice change; older GM models were criticised for the sheer amount of hard, unsightly plastics — you can’t say that about this one. The brushed aluminium trim on the steering and dash looks good, and speaking of the latter, it isn’t overcrowded with buttons or knobs — even though the Acadia is very well appointed.

The infotainment system is intuitive and smooth, the Bluetooth pairing works seamlessly, and voice-call quality is good; it helps that the cabin remains serene even while travelling 120kph on the highway. There’s very little tyre or wind noise to be detected and on a practical front, the AC cools the large, roomy cabin quickly. Some of the standard safety features include several airbags in the front, side and rear, four-wheel ABS, driver alert package with rear-park assist, and lane-change alert with blind-zone warning. That’ll impress the techies but it reveals its party trick when you engage Drive.

On the road, it feels car-like and it’s only the tall ride height that serves as a constant reminder that this is a CUV and not a saloon.

The really big news is that this second-generation model has dropped a whopping 318kg in weight. And, when you throw a 310 horsepower 3.6-litre V6 mated to a Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic sending power to all four wheels into the mix, it makes the now smaller than before Acadia (it’s over 183mm shorter and 89mm narrower than the outgoing model), a formidable force in the competitive crossover segment.

On the road, it feels car-like and it’s only the tall ride height that serves as a constant reminder that this is a CUV and not a saloon. It offers a similar sensation as the Mazda CX-5, a model we’ve raved about before. It feels more nimble now (the electronically assisted steering offers decent feedback) and corners better than before; not totally flat, but with a MacPherson strut front suspension and five-link rear, body roll is under control and it enables greater manoeuvrability. That is impressive for a truck-oriented brand.

The Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot will be looking on with envy, and a lot of that is down to that direct-injection V6. With less weight to push around, the motor is able to display a wide range of ability — both on the road and off it. It gets off the line pretty quickly when you nail the throttle and shines on the blacktop making overtaking easy — and it even has a Sport mode. This doesn’t transform it into a sportscar, but it does firm up the suspension, stiffen the steering and the AWD system gets more rear bias making it interesting to throw around a bit but the biggest smile that it puts on your face is when you take it off the beaten track.

The all-wheel-drive system gives it really good capability; with a twin-clutch unit from the XT5 that maximises traction by diverting torque to the wheel that has the best grip in testing conditions and a drive mode with 2x4 (AWD disconnect), 4x4, Sport, All Terrain and Trailer/Tow settings (but annoyingly, the instrument cluster doesn’t show you which mode you are in...), this crossover doesn’t falter even on very soft ground, although due to the lack of ground clearance up front, you might want to treat rocky terrains with
a bit more respect rather than slam right on.

The almost decade-old Acadia sure has benefited from a smart redesign that isn’t just skin deep; it’s lighter, better looking, nicer to drive and luxurious to boot. But, its off-road ability — coupled with its excellent road manners — makes this a very versatile model that can tackle curves and beat dunes into submission. You’ve got to give it a serious look if you’re on the hunt for a new mid-size crossover.