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Expert Reviews 1 of 7
By Joe Wiesenfelder
March 15, 2010
The 2010 Acura ZDX is the third model we've tested that combines crossover characteristics with those of a coupe, which triples the surprise. First, I was surprised anyone at BMW thought its X6 would find buyers, which made it even more surprising when Honda introduced the Accord Crosstour. Now there's the ZDX, which enjoyed something those other two lacked during our test period: more fans than detractors. Soon we'll be testing the BMW 550i Gran Turismo, based on the 5 Series sedan, which proves BMW is bullish enough to double down on the coupe/crossover design, though its $63,900 base price puts it in a league of its own.
Styling matters in all cars, but aesthetic acceptance is especially critical in one like the ZDX, which sacrifices interior space and versatility for its daring design. If you don't like how it looks, there are many more usable and versatile options. Exterior & Styling Honda is Acura's parent company, but the ZDX isn't a dolled-up Accord Crosstour. It's 4.4 inches shorter from bumper to bumper and 3.8 inches wider, sharing its platform with the MDX, Acura's roomier but less expensive seven-seater. The table below shows how the ZDX fits into Acura's crossover lineup.
2010 Acura Crossovers
Passenger volume (cu. ft.)
Cargo volume behind backseat (cu. ft.)
Cargo volume, backseat folded (cu. ft.)
Front headroom (in.)
Front legroom (in.)
Backseat headroom (in.)
Backseat legroom (in.)
EPA-estimated mpg (city/highway)
*Volume behind second-row seat with third row folded; space behind third row is 15.0. Source: Acura
The ZDX is almost an inch longer than the MDX and roughly 10 inches longer and 5 inches wider than the five-seat RDX, which is Acura's entry-level crossover. See a side-by-side comparison of all the features and specs here.
I haven't been wild about Acura's styling direction lately, especially its silver shield grilles, which look their most gaudy against dark paint. Yet somehow our black ZDX looked great. The grille isn't quite as dominant, and the matching trim around the fog lights offsets it nicely. Most important, with the exception of exhaust finishers low on the rear bumper, the rear end bears no other brightwork, which does the TL sedan no favors.
When we drove the other coupe/crossover crossbreeds, reactions to the X6 were mixed, with more emotion on the negative side. The Crosstour got some credit for uniqueness, but most people didn't "get it." The ZDX, on the other hand, practically emptied out the local coffee shop, which took me by surprise. Few new models do that — even when they're the first ones anybody has seen. The consensus was positive. Robbing Peter If Peter's the guy inside the ZDX, he's definitely been robbed to pay Paul, who's outside appreciating the car's sleek lines. To understand how much space you get inside, note that the ZDX has less passenger and cargo volume than the RDX, as well as less headroom in the front and rear seats. Front legroom is the only dimension that's greater in the ZDX, by 0.8 inch. Backseat passengers pay the highest price, with 6.6 inches less legroom than in the RDX. In most dimensions, the MDX beats the other two models by a wide margin.
In actual use, I found the front seats plenty accommodating, with supportive cushioning and relatively aggressive side bolsters that larger occupants might find too restrictive. The backseat is another matter entirely. The first obstacle is the roofline, which is low even at its highest point, so you have to duck and fold yourself just to get through the doorway. Once inside, I was surprised my head didn't touch the ceiling; the headliner is domed right where it needs to be, behind the standard rear skylight. The legroom is workable, too, but it's only because the floor is high, which raises the knees — a position that numbs your hindquarters and gets uncomfortable pretty quickly.
Out of curiosity, I compared the ZDX with the TSX, Acura's smallest passenger car, which gives occupants almost the same front-seat legroom as the crossover and substantially greater backseat legroom and headroom. The TSX also has 3 cubic feet more passenger volume overall. No matter how serviceable you might find it, you have to acknowledge the disconnect between the ZDX's interior and its large exterior.
The same is true of cargo capacity. At first glance, the cargo area looks too small for golf clubs when the backseat is raised, though opening doors on the side walls reveals indentations that allow two bags to fit crosswise. It's a reasonable workaround, but once again its necessity shows how limited the space is for a large vehicle. The low roofline also makes for a short cargo area, so large items might not fit even with the backseat folded flat. There's a storage bin under the floor, too, but it doesn't increase the overall height: You can't leave the cover raised because it blocks the already limited rear visibility. The ZDX clearly lacks the versatility we take for granted in crossovers. If you think a trailer would make up for the skimpy accommodations, know that the ZDX's limit is 1,500 pounds. Obstructed Views Huge D-pillars restrict rear visibility to a narrow, relatively high rear window, and the view over the driver's left shoulder is fully obstructed. A blind spot warning system is optional in the Advance Package, which costs $10,550 and adds many features you might not want. In this car, such a safety feature should be standard or at least a stand-alone option. A backup camera is standard, which at least helps with parking and such. The display is in the rearview mirror, unless you get the optional navigation system and its larger dashboard screen. Sporty Character The ZDX's styling suggests a sporty driving character, and it delivers. The 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic provide robust acceleration with a nice growl at full throttle. Standard Super Handling All-Wheel Drive makes sure the power gets to the road, and the low-riding body feels grounded. SH-AWD is designed to drive the outside rear wheel faster than the other wheels when cornering, which maintains balance and improves roadholding.
Though I like the system, it has a shortcoming: If you go barreling into a turn too light on the accelerator, the ZDX exhibits understeer — its nose pushes wide like that of a dog that wants to check out the grass at the side of the road. Giving it more gas is like yanking the leash: The outer rear wheel digs in, the weight shifts and the snout gets back in line. Unfortunately, this is more reactive than proactive. It compels you to charge into turns heavy on the gas — which it typically handles impressively, but probably isn't the safest way to drive.
Vehicles whose weight distribution is more balanced than the ZDX's 57.7/42.3 percent (front/rear) — and/or that send more torque to the rear wheels at any speed — tend to transition more seamlessly into and out of high-speed curves. To be clear, this stuff happens only when you drive really aggressively. You don't notice a thing during normal driving.
Some vehicles feel smaller or lighter on the road than they actually are. The ZDX isn't one of them. It doesn't feel larger or heavier, but the fact remains it is relatively large and heavy. The steering has a pretty good feel to it, but it definitely doesn't provide enough power assist at roughly 5 mph and below. Our 12-story parking garage provided quite a workout. A Cabin of Monolithic Impact The interior is a high point. The main innovation is the center control panel, which Acura calls the monolith. Its dark pillar is definitely monolithic, in the "2001: A Space Odyssey" sense, but the innovation comes in the form of buttons whose labels disappear completely when you turn off the stereo. The optional navigation system's screen is high and forward on the dashboard, close to your view of the road, so it employs a multifunction controller knob instead of a touch-screen. I'm now resigned to the proliferation of these things, but they need to be closer to where you rest your hand, as they are in German luxury cars. The ZDX's is at the base of the monolith, which becomes tiresome.
Our test car had upgraded materials from the Advance Package (which also includes the Technology Package), such as perforated premium leather seats, a brushed tricot ceiling liner and additional trim. The metallic accents are nicely done; the inside door handles won't be winning any awards, but the trim on the dashboard and doors looks authentic. I thought the center console and its covered cupholder weren't bad either, though one of our editors dissented. Acura says it uses a combination of real and faux metal. I've seen authentic materials that look fake, so I care mostly about results, which are good here. Safety The ZDX has the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top rating, Good, in a frontal crash test. It hasn't been tested yet for side or rear impacts or for roof strength.
A notable safety option, Collision Mitigation Braking System, uses the adaptive cruise control's grille-mounted radar sensor to monitor the road ahead. If the ZDX is closing too quickly on another vehicle or obstacle, the system alerts the driver with visual, audible and tactile signals, and can also apply emergency braking automatically.
There's a downside to this and/or the optional blind spot warning system: They set off radar detectors. Though many vehicles now employ radar, Audi is the only other brand I've known to trigger low-level alerts. As in the Audis, turning off the ZDX's blind spot feature didn't stop the racket. If you like using a detector, you'll be maddened to find you're setting it off yourself. I felt like I was in a horror film: "The call is coming from inside the house!" (For the record, radar detectors are controversial, but they are legal in all states except Virginia and the District of Columbia.) ZDX in the Market I don't know if many people would cross-shop Acura and BMW, but the only car that compares philosophically to the ZDX is the X6. With a starting price of $45,495, the ZDX has an $11,000 advantage over the base X6 xDrive35i. Even so, it comes with some features that aren't standard on the base X6: HomeLink, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, a six-CD changer and Bluetooth. It also beats the X6's 15/21 mpg rating. Our test ZDX's $10,550 Advance Package closed the gap with the base X6, but it obviously adds even more features. If I have a complaint about the ZDX, it's that the options come only in packages, the cheaper of which is $4,500 — not very buyer-friendly.
I'm not alone in wondering if the coupe/crossover is the answer to a question nobody asked. I don't know if Acura, BMW or Honda will sell enough of these things to justify having built them in the first place, but that's their problem. If you like the ZDX's look and don't mind the sacrifices, by all means, make your move.