Luxist Drives the Acura ZDX, Replies "Y-e-s."
Well this was unexpected: we spent a week in the Acura ZDX and it was terrific. We hadn't given any thought to the quizzical SUV-meets-flying-saucer-looking ride, and that emptiness of mind continued right up to the moment we opened the front door and realized that the roof of the ZDX sits above the driver's seat almost like the roof on the Aston Martin DBS Carbon Black we were just in. Except for the cabin being about a foot higher off the ground, which completely screwed up our reference points. But even though we're still not exactly sure of what it is, we know we liked it, and that's what this thing called life is really all about, no?
Gallery: Luxist Drives the Acura ZDX
Let's start by piecing the ZDX together from the inside, out, starting with its very well done cabin – perhaps Acura's finest cabin to date. The company has created a dual cockpit without gimmickry. There is no angled center console; rather, gunwales along the center tunnel run into twin arcs that curve across the dash and into the doors, embracing both the driver and passenger. In other instances this kind of thing is attempted with an angled center console, which actually creates a feeling of having a driver's cockpit and a place for some dead weight next to him. In the ZDX, there really is a sense of a cabin for two.
Acura went all the way on detailing for the effect as well: hand-stitched leather wraps multi-dimensional contours, so that both the leather colors and sheer relief stand out from the other panel elements. Lighter colors reveal the seams in the well bolstered seats, and with a fleeting glance the bucket area of the seats resembles the pocket of a baseball mitt, which is not a bad association.
Behind those front seats are two smaller chairs, best left to those who don't exceed 5' 11". It has 35.3 inches of rear headroom, about two inches less than the BMW X6 and an 1.5 inches less than the BMW 328i Coupe. We'll get to this later, but it's the latter number that's more important, because the Acura wants you to think of the ZDX as a sports coupe.
The ZDX has about 2.5 inches less legroom in the back than the 3 Coupe as well, but don't let the number deceive: we're 5' 11" and with the front seat in our preferred driving position, there was still a good couple of inches between our knees and the back of the front seat. Would we want to ride in the back of the ZDX to our Spring Break hotel in Daytona Beach? No. But we wouldn't want to do that in a 328 Coupe or an X6, either, if we could help it.
And Acura doesn't pitch the car that way, the same way BMW doesn't stress the 3 Coupe having seating for four. The ZDX is aimed at you "DINK"s – Dual Income No Kids – who don't need to carry extra people but want a decent spot of room when that duty calls. Although Acura says the ZDX is a five-seater, it can seat five, but with those deeply scalloped sides eating up three-wide shoulder room in back, if you can put that fifth person somewhere other than that middle seat you might want to think about it.
On another marketing note, the ZDX is for DINKs to go on "Passionate Getaways," which, in the words of Acura, is "the idea that the car is perfect for two people who want to get away for the weekend. Enough cargo space for their luggage and whatever they buy along the way." You'll want to save the passion for your hotel room, though – certain other frivolities are no-can-do in the ZDX.
While there might be no room for passion, there will be plenty of room for luggage: 26.3 cubic feet of swallow-space with the rear seats up, 56 cubic feet with them flat, both those numbers just slightly less than you'll find in the BMW X6.
In front of that cabin is a 3.7-liter, all-aluminum six-cylinder VTEC with 300 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. At 4,452 pounds those 300 horses won't snap your neck when you mash the gas, but they're certainly brisk enough to give you the right answer to "Can I squirt into that gap in traffic?" Those horses really need the spurs to get going, but once they know you mean it the six-speed transmission will drop as many gears as necessary to get you where you want to go.
Underneath that cabin is Acura's Super Handling-All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). There's a ton of science and engineering and physics involved, but we can spare that lecture here. All you need to know is that it sends torque to the proper outside wheel to counteract understeer, that it's fantastic, and that Acura should get a lot more credit and a lot more press for its achievement.
On top of that, our car had the Integrated Dynamic System with active dampers, which meant that as the ZDX was sharply steering its way through tight, fast corners it remained flat and level. It drives like a properly sorted, sporty sedan – not at all like a tall, heavy SUV.
Now to the main event: the item wrapped around that cabin. That would be the body, and that is what has caused people to look at the ZDX and Acura and wonder, "Uh... wut?"
First, there's Acura's design language. We have never heard anyone yet describe it as "meh." You dig it totally. Or you don't. At all. You can make your own decisions, but we do believe that this is the best application of the language that was introduced on the 2009 TSX. Given the size, space and complimentary curves to properly coalesce, the aesthetics have a clear voice and we understand those who dig it totally.
Second is the design itself, outside of the shield surfacing. It was penned by 25-year-old Michelle Christensen, an American, at the Acura Design Studio in Los Angeles, and her intent was to sketch out the combination of an SUV and a sports coupe. This kind of genetic recombination, still in its infancy, is of course going to produce something new to the eye, and the ZDX presents all kinds of new aspects from various angles.
From the front it's wide, cut up by numerous angles, and you can sense its intensely protruding curvature coming at you. From the side it's long in front, truncated in the rear. From the back it's narrow up top, sliding swiftly and decisively outward into width and strong haunches that anchor the base of the vehicle. It's half an inch longer and half an inch wider than an X6, but the X6 is four inches taller. The three-quarter view is probably the closest you'll get to anything "normal," but even then you need to turn your head and squint a bit.
If due to a sudden cataclysm it left some sort of fossil-like imprint on a rock, we could see archeologists in the distant future asking, "Was it some kind of dinosaur?" Nothing else looks like it, not only in the automotive world, but anywhere.
Acura's VP of sales said this about their creation: "The ZDX is truly a luxury performance coupe – plus." It's that "plus" part that's kept folks guessing. The floor of the ZDX sits high, but the driver's seat sits low. You get in expecting to hoist yourself up into an SUV-level throne, but then take a position somewhere between a sedan and an SUV. Meanwhile, the roof is pulled taut over the cabin, so close to your follicles that the first thing you'll think is, "Oh, hey, that's the roof... right there." With the high door sill, low seat and low roofline, it really is like climbing inside a jacked-up sports car – which, again, was the point. Imagine getting in a Porsche 911 with a ten-inch lift, that's what the cabin is like.
But what... is it?
As far as we're concerned, there's no guessing to be done with this vehicle. It is a ZDX, and we think any honest answer should stop there. Stories on Acura's latest always get around to the 'It's odd and we don't really know where it belongs or who buys it' issue. Some suggest it's not practical, that it doesn't have enough space, that rear headroom is dear, that it isn't... well, what is it again?
We think that's the wrong question. We could answer "It is a vehicle with solid pep, a hot cabin, great handling and plenty of room for two-plus and oodles of gear."
But beyond that, a categorical answer is irrelevant. Who cares what you want to call it or what category it might or might not fit into. It is the ZDX. It has enough headroom, space, and practicality for the ZDX. If you need more space, then you should check out the MDX or the TSX SportWagon.
But a blanket statement like "The ZDX isn't practical" is the same as saying "A Komodo Dragon isn't practical." Isn't practical for what? If you looking for cuddly company that might make a great excuse to meet your hot neighbor, then no, a Komodo Dragon isn't for you. If you're an Indonesian forest and you need something to get rid of rampant buffalo and deer, then a Komodo Dragon is exactly what you need. Practicality, space, headroom, and yes, Komodo Dragons, they're all relative.
What you like, on the other hand, isn't.
And once you know this is a ZDX, the only other question should be, "Do I like it?" If the answer is "Yes," then damn the torpedoes. And the Komodo Dragons. You know what to do.