Review: Acura ZDX

By Jonathan Spira on 1 April 2010
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At the Acura ZDX’  introduction at the New York Auto Show last year, Acura vice president Jeff Conrad opined that the car “takes the best attributes of a stylish coupe, a versatile sedan, and a flexible SUV,  and successfully blends them into a head-turning vehicle for active and adventurous individuals to explore their passions.”

My introduction to the 2010 Acura ZDX was a bit different – and more painful. The car’s plunging roofline, an increasingly popular yet still daring design, greatly inhibits entry via the rear doors.  The design of the door, which thanks to the stealth door handles that are just in front of the C pillars, creates an illusion of more space to enter than actually exists.  This in turn can easily result in a bump on the head, as I quickly found out.

The rear seat occupants get more than just a headache.  They get a glass panel in the roof that doesn’t open at all (the sunroof up front opens a mere ten inches, apparently due to the roof’s slope), and there’s not much room in the back either.  (In Acura’s defense, the car is marketed as a two-plus-three: the front is the “primary passenger zone” and the rear is intended for occasional and presumably diminutive passengers or gear.)

There is, however, plenty of room in the front. This is a good thing because much of that space is needed for the 64 buttons and dials that Acura places before the driver on the dashboard, center stack and console, and steering wheel.  As a result, it took me a while to find the heated seats button and using the awkwardly located cockpit controller, placed on the center stack instead of the center console, was occasionally maddening.

Button overload notwithstanding, the elegant cabin has a warm feel thanks to the premium natural leather and high-quality plastics used in the interior appointments.  Our vehicle came with the optional Advance package, which includes ventilated seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) which allows the driver to change suspension settings from sport to comfort, and ELS premium audio.

The car’s iPod connectivity is particularly noteworthy as Acura has implemented a speech-to-text system that allows the driver to speak the name of a track, album, or artist while driving.  It worked well but it also spoke track names when the driver would select them manually.  Bluetooth telephone integration worked well although the system didn’t automatically load my mobile’s phone book each time I started the car; instead, it was a manual process.

The Advance package also includes multiple safety and driver assistance features including a blind-spot warning system (very useful given the limits on visibility thanks to the design), adaptive (radar) cruise control, Collision Mitigating Braking System (CMBS), a multi-view camera, and navigation with traffic and weather updates.

Conrad was right about the head turning, which is something ZDX drivers will have to get used to when parking and maneuvering in tight quarters, despite the included rear-view camera.  Visibility is so constrained in the rear thanks to the ultra-thick C pillars that Acura added a tinted glass panel at the bottom of the tailgate, a feature also found in the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Crosstour, and one that I don’t like in any of these vehicles because in my opinion it impedes rear visibility more than it helps (and is annoying to look at through the rear view mirror).  The rear windshield, incidentally, has no windshield wiper even though the slope of the glass would seem to make it mandatory.
The Acura is the latest representative of a class of cars that could best be described as truck-like coupe, a trend started by BMW with the X6 (reviewed in our November? 2008 issue).  Depending on the angle, especially from the side, the look is striking and coupe-like, with a blacked-out all-glass roof, hidden door handles, and muscular, strong fenders.

The Acura weighs 4,462 pounds, almost 540 pounds less than a comparably-equipped BMW X6, but the X6 has far more coupe-like road manners, thanks in part to its 50-50 weight distribution (the Acura’s is 58-42).  On the other hand, a similarly-equipped Acura will cost at least $10,000 less than the X6.

On the plus side, although it is not very engaging, the ZDX doesn’t demand terribly much from the driver either.  It was very well composed in all driving situations from city streets to windy roads but, regardless of the IDS setting (which alters suspension damping and steering effort) the amount of road feel transmitted to the steering wheel was almost zero.

The Acura came with 19” Michelin all-season tires which  reached their limits quickly when being driven hard.  The new six-speed automatic transmission shifts almost imperceptibly and is very well-matched to the 3.7-liter V-6 and the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that dynamically distributes torque to where it’s needed.

Acura’s parent Honda recently introduced the Honda Crosstour, a similarly-styled vehicle based on the Honda Accord (the ZDX is based on the Acura MDX) that is longer and taller (but not wider) than the ZDX.  Unlike the ZDX, however, the rear seat isn’t cramped and the doors are sufficient for easy entry and exit.  With a starting price of $29,670 for the Crosstour (the ZDX starts at $45, 495), penny-pinchers seeking to combine the flexibility of an SUV with the versatility of a sedan and the styling of a coupe should go to their Honda dealership.


2009 Acura ZDX Advance
Base price/price-as-tested $56,845/$56,855
Drivetrain Front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine 3.7-liter/300 hp/V-6
Transmission Sequential SportShift 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (lbs) 4462
Wheelbase (inches) 108.3
Length x width x height (inches) 192.4 x 78.5 x 68.8
0-60 mph (seconds) 6.5
EPA city/highway fuel economy (mpg) 16/23

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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