Driving Northwest: The Acura ZDX

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 car expert

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KING5.com

Posted on February 11, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Humans like to put things in categories. The food pyramid has your proteins, grains, fruits and veggies all neatly divided. Houses come in craftsman, modern, tudor, or McMansion. Just about everything in our society is organized and categorized. Except maybe Pee Wee Herman.  

Common automobile tags are sedan, coupe, luxury rides, convertible, SUV, and pony car. All of these conjure up images of specific types of transportation. If you were to glimpse only certain styling elements of the new Acura ZDX- the sinister headlamps, sinewy lines and the name itself- your brain would most likely conjure up an aggressive performance car much like a Camaro. Viewed as a whole though it’s very clear that it’s unclear what category it belongs in.

What the marketing people call it

Let me quote the press release so I get it right- “a four-door sports coupe”. Right. And I’m Brad Pitt. Look, call me old fashioned but coupe generally means a vehicle with two doors. There are 4 here. Sure, I understand the greenhouse has a coupe-like profile but with its 7.9 inch ground clearance ZDX is more like its sibling the MDX crossover than their sporty TL sedan. This genre bending started when Mercedes christened their CLS a “4-door coupe” because of its svelte roofline.  Cute. Perhaps it’s gotten out of hand. ZDX is really a crossover SUV without the U since the clipped roof silhouette eliminates the MDXs third row of seating and much of the cargo space. Certainly the biggest gripe I have with ZDX is Acura’s description. 

I’ve vented at the marketing people, now let me praise the engineers. For singles or couples with no kids the vehicle itself is as desirable as it is unique. Similar in concept to the BMW X6, the Z feels just as solid and German on the road.  The ZDX structure feels like it is cast, not built. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system over spins the rear outside wheel for better cornering. In short, ZDX is surprisingly buttoned down for a larger vehicle.  It’s quiet and comfortable too. Brakes haul speed down rapidly with good modulation. The expected traction and stability controls are here along with Honda’s ACE body structure. Confident and safe.

300 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque from the 3.7-liter V-6 do a nice 8-cylinder impression when it comes to power.  The only gear box is a 6-speed automatic with manual control at the steering wheel. Using specified premium fuel, 0-60 runs take 6.5 seconds. Categorize that as mighty quick. Not surprisingly, the EPA rates mileage at 16 city 23 highway.

Big bold Z

ZDX continues the Acura design theme which some find severe. Personally I like the beefy stingray style but the shield grille remains a bit much. As a whole the ZDX grows more attractive every time it gets walked up to. In an admittedly unscientific poll, this crossover/hatchback/luxury sport machine seems to appeal more to men more than women. It certainly gets attention. Guys tend to look at it and go “wow, cool!” where as women simply question its practicality. Ironic since the Z was designed in California by Acura's first female designer, Michelle Christensen.  No doubt shoppers will compare it to MDX with practical folks eliminating it outright. The folks at Acura say it cuts in between the MDX and luxurious RL sedan but the 4-door I find it most like a high riding TL. 

Acura’s aiming ZDX at the checkbooks of singles or empty nesters. They could very likely live near ski slopes or on very rugged forest service type roads since SH-AWD is rated for such surfaces. Owners will enjoy their purchase, especially in the front seats. My tester is the Technology Package model priced at $46,305. It comes with a navigation system that gives traffic updates, Zagat restaurant reviews and weather forecasts.  There’s leather everywhere. It’s not the cheap kind and it’s not just covering the seats and door panels. The stitched cowhide sweeps from the center console all the way into the instrument panel. Very warm, very tasteful. The huge panoramic glass roof keeps the cockpit bright.

Lots and lots and lots of tech

Seats are well bolstered though they only get heat at this trim level. Phones are supported with Bluetooth. A “Song by Voice” feature uses voice recognition to help drivers find specific songs on the 15 gig hard disk drive or iPod. Ignition is keyless. The Acura/ELS DVD audio surround sound system is among my favorite. It alone could tempt an audiophile into buying the ZDX. Interior night time lighting is fine but not to the level found on a Mercedes E-Class or even Buick LaCrosse. The parking brake is pedal operated, an electric controller would be more civilized.

The back up camera is expected here but those with aspiration of being the next Spielberg have three views to choose from- standard view, a straight down mode good for precision parallel parking and a wide angle mode that will make the grille of a Lincoln MKT look positively terrifying. The GPS tracks the sun, telling the dual zone climate control which side old sol is shining on so it can ever so slightly compensate to keep the temperature stabile. 
Step up to the Advanced Package at $56,855 and there’s adaptive cruise control and Collision Mitigation Braking System. CMBS first warns a driver to pay attention if the radar senses a crash could happen. It then starts to slow the ZDX down to lessen the impact should the driver not pay attention. It also adds ventilated seats, blind spot warning system and an adjustable suspension system.  

A back seat that takes a back seat

Gripes? ZDX is basically a crossover so the sill is a bit high for a, ahem, sport coupe. Getting in is a bit of a chore, not what the average sport coupe buyer would expect. There are lots of identical buttons clustered together on the instrument panel. It takes a keen eye to find the one you need quickly.  The knob interface takes time to master, slower than a touch screen. Fortunately the voice recognition is pretty good.  Then there’s the back seat…

Most casual onlookers don’t even notice the exterior handles up near the rear pillar. Yank on them to open the smallish back doors. Like the BMW X6, you have to watch your head when getting into the back of the ZDX. Once in, adults won’t be all that happy. At 5’9” there’s just enough headroom for me but my noggin brushes against the side where the curtain airbags are located.  The center position is raised reducing headroom even more. Acura calls this arrangement a “2 + Freedom” design, going so far as to say this space takes a, uh, back seat to the cargo area. To further send the “occasional use” message there’s no climate zone or entertainment system in back. 

Standardized testing rules

Here’s where the TP Trunk Test really shines. It’s always done with the second row in the useable position. With its 3rd row folded, Acura’s MDX crossover holds 13 packs Kirkland brand bath tissue. ZDX doesn’t have a 3rd row. I’ll be generous and give the Z a score of 6, since 5 easily fit in the main cargo hold and there’s a space under the floor that nearly holds another.  A consolation? Most cars don’t have a cabin trimmed as nicely as the ZDX’s trunk. The carpet looks expensive and storage doors open and close with a satisfying heft. A split glass hatch similar to the one found in Honda’s Insight helps rear visibility. 

Starting at $46,305 grand, ZDX is more about making a statement than cargo runs.  Practical people need not apply here.  Acura understands that and says this model has limited availability. Just like the BMW X6. There’s some strong design happening here. This hard-to-categorize vehicle turns heads. Whether you call it a four-door sports coupe or a tall all-wheel drive luxo hatchback thingy, ZDX makes a statement. Open to new ideas? Categorically, ZDX is a beguiling package.

 

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