Acura ZDX – a battle between form and function

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The newly conceived Acura ZDX is a conundrum. On the one hand, it offers many things that make Acura vehicles desirable including solid performance and outstanding handling, a hushed interior with quality materials and stylish surroundings, and a cutting-edge audio and communications system.

On the other, it delivers a large dose of unfriendly form over function with styling quirks that have infected the industry polarizing buyers and auto reviewers, including us.

Taken as a whole and based on your needs and your likes and dislikes in automotive design, the ZDX may just be your kind of luxury automobile — a high-riding four-door that’s entertaining, bad-weather friendly, and unusual. Of all of the coupe shaped sedans including BMW’s X6 and the Honda Crosstour the Acura is certainly the most attractive. If the ZDX truly appeals to your sense of taste, you will probably never regret your choice because the driving experience will not let you down and we can’t see anyone tiring of the magnificent audio system.

But after a visit to an Acura showroom, you may leave shaking your head at how difficult it is to get into the back seat, how visibility is seriously compromised to the rear, and how cargo storage suffers when compared to the MDX crossover — the vehicle the ZDX is based upon. It might push you to move on to another model or another brand.

The high points of the fastback crossover are indeed high. First is styling. From whatever angle you view the fastback design, it comes off well. Several people went out of their way to comment on how much they liked “whatever that is you are driving” during our test week.

The roof tapers back to meet the raised rear haunches giving the four-door vehicle a sleek coupe-like look. The roof is covered in black glass panels to lend a striking design element, and the hidden rear door handles are a slick design trick. The rear-wheel bulges impart the muscle that you expect from a tough crossover such as its sibling, the MDX. Overall the ZDX design gurus found a way to make the new crossover appear less bulbous than others of the same ilk.

A sour note is the Acura blade grille, which we have finally admitted after a couple of years of trying to like it that we just can’t get around the in-your-face design element. It’s simply too off-putting, but perhaps less so in the ZDX than, say, the TL.

The high-riding stance together with standard all-wheel drive gives the ZDX the kind of bad-weather peace of mind that you usually don’t expect from a sleek coupe-like sedan. If you accept that the ZDX is not a family vehicle, but is designed more for the empty nester or the couple sans children who only occasionally carry others then the vehicle makes sense.

The rear hatch affords 26 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, about twice as much as provided in a typical sedan; however, while space behind the seats looks generous on paper, in practice it isn’t as much as it seems because the sloping hatchback prevents storage of taller objects. On the bright side, when necessary, the rear seatbacks can be folded flat to create 56 cubic feet of hauling capacity making it highly functional by carrying things and not people.

The low points are of real concern as form pushes functionality aside. The rakish rear portion of the roof forces even the shortest people to tilt their heads and then sort of slouch into the rear seating area. Once inside, leg room is not in abundance unless those in front compromise their position by moving their chairs at least half way forward on the tracks. With the front passenger seat moved fairly far forward to be accommodating we discovered entering even up front an exercise in head tilting to get past the severely sloping windshield. Putting the best spin on passenger comfort, the ZDX is at its best as a two-person vehicle.

Then there’s the visibility problem. The view through the split back window is like peering through a toaster and blind spots abound. Thankfully Acura has a useful backup camera available.

Other than the issues noted the cabin is very appealing with exquisite hand-stitched leather on the dashboard, center console and door panels. The center stack flows down to a large controller knob and the center console is outfitted in expensive-looking aluminum panels; both attractive and functional.

The driving position is excellent. The interior is quiet and the Acura ELS DVD surround system found in our Tech Package test vehicle is one of the best in the industry with its 435-watt 10-speaker 5.1 surround system.

The ZDX gets the same 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic as the MDX. The engine generates 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque and will realize an EPA estimated 16 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg out on the highway.

While the sleek ZDX certainly has adequate power you expect more then you remember that the ZDX is basically an MDX underneath and carries a curb weight of nearly 4,500 pounds and you scale back your slight disappointment.

We don’t think you will be disappointed on wet or winding roads thanks to Acura’s standard “Super Handling” all-wheel drive system that delivers varying amounts of power as needed to individual wheels maximizing traction.

A full safety package will bring more peace of mind with traction control, stability control, four-wheel ABS with emergency brake assist, hill descent control and a brake hill holder feature – all standard.

The ZDX comes in three trim levels — Base ($46,305), Base with Technology Package ($50,805) and Base with Advance Package ($56,855). Technology adds navigation, the wonderful surround sound system and a backup camera. The top trim adds electronically adjustable suspension dampers, a blind-spot warning system and adaptive cruise control.

Not as sexy, but significantly more practical for the same money is the standard crossover Acura MDX.

Base price: $46,305; as driven, $50,805
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 300 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 270 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 192.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,452 pounds
Turning circle: 38.4 feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 26.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 56 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 23 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 7 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: BMW X6, Honda Crosstour, Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

The Good:
• Appealing exterior design
• Tasteful, well-appointed cabin
• Many safety features including standard AWD

The Bad:
• Cramped, hard-to-get-into back seat
• Rear visibility compromised

The Ugly:
• Form over function