When Acura unveiled the ZDX prototype at the New York auto show in 2009, the company glowingly described it as a type of vehicle never before seen, something completely unique in the marketplace.
Our first drive of the ZDX a few months later revealed Acura's newest creation to be highly luxurious and even quite good to drive. But we still wondered about its place in the automotive cosmos. Clearly, we would require more time with the ZDX if we were going to get our heads around it. So, we ordered one for a Four Seasons test.
The ZDX does follow convention (Acura convention, at least) in its model hierarchy. There are three trim levels: base, Technology, and Advance. Prices range from the mid-$40,000s to the mid-$50,000s, and they're about $4000 higher than those of an equivalent MDX, which is similar in size but is more spacious and has more traditional styling.
The ZDX Advance is Acura's most expensive offering. As you'd expect, it's fully loaded, with a glass roof, heated and cooled front seats, navigation with traffic and weather updates, a rearview camera, a premium sound system, adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, a blind-spot warning system, the Integrated Dynamic System (which varies suspension firmness and power-steering assist), and Milano leather. That's the version we chose, as the ZDX is supposed to be all about personal indulgence.
The ZDX interior certainly is indulgent. The suedelike headliner, loop-pile carpet, and ultrasoft, natural-grain leather are quite rich-looking. Unfortunately, the leather did not prove to be very durable. It began to show wear, both on the driver's seat and on the back seats, before the odometer reached 20,000 miles. Apparently, there's a reason most manufacturers don't use such soft hides.
The ZDX's materials and design may be unusual, but its interior is highly usable. "This might be the most functional center stack/console ever," said associate web editor Donny Nordlicht. "There are compartments in all the right places for cups and keys, a handy BlackBerry slot by the driver's right knee, and a power outlet exactly where it needs to be."
The navigation system, Bluetooth, and stereo also came in for praise. "The navigation interface looks rather tired compared with some of today's sharpest displays," said senior web editor Phil Floraday, "but the system actually chooses the best routes and can take traffic into account, which makes up for the dated graphics." We also loved the joystick operation (rather than a touch screen) and the high level of detail showing the names of smaller streets. The Bluetooth also worked very well, and the Panasonic ELS audio system was "nothing short of superb" -- although you need to use DVD audio discs to get the full benefit.
We enjoyed the stereo and even the navigation system, but the most vital electronics were probably the backup camera and the blind-spot warning system. Said editor-in-chief Jean Jennings: "As much as I hated the annoying warning beep every time I signaled to change lanes when a car was approaching in my blind spot (which is the entire rear of the car), I didn't turn off the system because I could not see anything behind me, due to the swooping C-pillars, the low roof, and the big headrests." Given the mail-slot rear window, the backup camera -- which, helpfully, offers a choice of top-down and wide views as well as the conventional straight-back perspective -- is another essential. Even when you're looking straight ahead, the view out of the ZDX is not great because of its shallow windshield and low-mounted rearview mirror.
The ZDX's design makes seeing out difficult, but it makes getting in and out even more so. Associate web editor Evan McCausland explains: "I have to throw my legs up and over a tall sill while simultaneously ducking to avoid bonking my head on the roof." That's to get into the driver's seat -- rear-seat access is far worse. "We're small people," notes assistant editor David Zenlea, "but that didn't prevent my dad (five-foot eight) and my sister (five-foot one, in heels) from banging their heads when climbing into the back seat."
Once inside, you find a low seating position and scant headroom, even in front. As to the seats' comfort, we defer to associate editor Eric Tingwall -- he characterized them as "supportive without being hard and uncomfortable" after a thirty-eight-hour round-trip to Florida for the 12 Hours of Sebring race.
Part of the idea of the ZDX seems to be that rear-seat access and accommodations aren't that important, because the car will be used principally as a two-person conveyance. What this body style offers over a conventional coupe (you know: a passenger car with two doors) is the versatility of additional luggage space, but the fastback roofline and inward-sloping sides impinge on a cargo hold whose load floor is quite high. There is, however, a handy lidded bin in the cargo floor that is particularly useful for groceries and also provides the only covered stowage. If you want a cover for the main cargo area, that's a $352 dealer accessory.
As compromised as the ZDX's packaging is, it doesn't make this Acura any less capable over the road. The 3.7-liter V-6 revs freely, and it smoothly spins out 300 hp. "This lively engine sounds good when you leg the throttle," said deputy editor Joe DeMatio. We averaged 20 mpg (on premium fuel) over 26,962 miles, slightly better than the EPA combined estimate of 19 mpg. The large tank made for a long spell between fill-ups. Curiously, although it's mechanically identical to the Acura MDX, the ZDX can tow only 1500 pounds, whereas the MDX is rated to pull 5000 pounds. With such a low limit, we didn't bother installing a hitch.
If towing capacity is a non sequitur for the ZDX, then off-road ability is even more irrelevant -- but we tested it anyway. Off-road enthusiast Floraday organized an excursion to some dirt trails in upper Michigan. "I was blown away by the ZDX's prowess on the obstacles we tackled," he reported. "This car is capable of far more than any sane owner would actually attempt with it." In more real-world tasks, like dealing with deep snow and ice, the ZDX's standard all-wheel-drive system (aided by a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks) was virtually unstoppable.
The chassis also lived up to its promise to provide sport-coupe handling -- despite the ZDX's height and considerable weight (4465 pounds). And it did so while still offering ride quality that most drivers praised. The top-spec ZDX's active dampers help here; they're part of Acura's IDS feature, which provides sport and comfort settings for the suspension and the steering. Everyone agreed that "the suspension loves to carve tight corners," and the steering was described as "incredibly communicative and surprisingly quick."
But McCausland was one who questioned whether the ZDX was really any better in this department than Acura's own MDX, which he asserted "handles just as well yet still offers the practicality of a large cargo hold, a comfortable rear bench, and a third row of seats."
Ah, the questions of packaging and purpose. With the ZDX, they're never far away.
"If nothing else, Honda engineers have proven that they're as capable as their compatriots at BMW (with the X6) and Nissan (with the Infiniti FX) when it comes to making a big, silly vehicle drive like a sporty coupe," said Zenlea. "Of course, that brings up the most salient questions with this vehicle: Why isn't it a sporty coupe? What reason was there to raise the ride height on a vehicle that will never go off-road? Why employ a heavy crossover platform for a vehicle that can barely tow anything? Who needs rear doors to access back seats that are basically useless for most adults?"
Even after a year, we don't have good answers to these questions. The ZDX is a vehicle with some impressive capabilities but many frustrating limitations. Acura says it "defies categorization." We'd say it defies explanation.
2010 Acura ZDX
Rating 3.5 stars out of 5
Body Style: 4-door crossover
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: SOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement: 3.7 liters (224 cubic inches)
Power: 300 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Steering: Electrohydraulically assisted
Lock-to-lock: 3.4 turns
Turning Circle: 38.4 ft
Suspension, Front: Strut type; coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multi-link; coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented disc/disc; ABS
Tires: Michelin Latitiude Tour HP
Tire Size: 255/50HR-19
Headroom F/R: 38.0/35.3 in
Legroom F/R: 42.6/31.1 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 59.7/55.4 in
Hip Room F/R: 57.3/55.3 in
L x W x H: 192.4 x 78.5 x 62.8 in
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Track F/R: 67.7/67.7 in
Weight: 4465 lb
Weight Dist. F/R: 57.9/42.1%
Cargo Capacity: 26.3/55.8 cu ft (rear seats up/down)
Fuel Capacity: 21.0 gal
Est. Range: 400 miles
Fuel Grade: 91 octane
Our Test Results
0-60 mph: 7.2 sec
0-100 mph: 19.5 sec
1/4-mile: 15.5 sec @ 92 mph
30-70 mph Passing: 7.8 sec
Peak Acceleration: 0.51 g
Speed in Gears: 1) 36; 2) 64; 3) 91; 4) 127; 5) 127; 6) 120 mph
Cornering L/R: 0.90/0.87 g
70-0 mph Braking: 182 ft
Peak Braking: 0.98 g
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; all-wheel drive; dual-zone automatic climate control; adaptive cruise control; power windows, door locks, liftgate, and heated side mirrors; power heated and cooled seats; premium leather upholstery; Bluetooth; navigation system with fifteen-gigabyte hard drive; panoramic glass roof; bixenon headlights; foglights; premium ten-speaker stereo with auxiliary input and USB port; rearview camera; blind-spot warning system; collision mitigation braking system; front, side, and side curtain air bags
*Estimate based on information from intellichoice.com
8290 mi: $58.44
16,352 mi: $44.34
26,055 mi: $460.96
16,431 mi: Power tailgate motor replaced
16,894 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 winter tires, $1119.69
25,890 mi: Remount stock Michelin Latitude Tour HP all-season tires, $144.98
EPA city/hwy/combined 16/23/19 mpg
Observed 20 mpg
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.23 ($0.98 including depreciation)