Acura ZDX Review

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Here’s an interesting crossover vehicle from Honda’s luxury brand in the USA ‘Acura’, as reviewed by our North American correspondent, Mark Hacking.

Los Angeles, Calif.—The term “crossover” was first introduced in the mid-2000s as marketing-speak to describe any car-based vehicle that looks like it should, really, belong in some other, more commonly understood category.

But the marketing gurus—they need to justify salaries and support families, too. So, years ago, when some indeterminate study (marketing-based, it goes without saying) determined that consumers weren’t interested in buying anything called a “minivan,” everything that was, technically, a minivan suddenly became a crossover utility vehicle (CUV)—crossover for short.

Similarly, a more recent study identified another automotive category that just wasn’t resonating with the motoring public anymore—the station wagon. As a result, you can’t find many station wagons in dealerships in certain markets, but you can find CUVs that bear a striking resemblance to station wagons. But even the term crossover—a catch-all if ever there was one—has been found wanting recently.

Case in point: the 2010 Acura ZDX, which the manufacturer is positioning as a “crossover sport coupe.” Fair enough—it’s a car-based CUV that has four doors, but looks like it only has two. But what is it about the ZDX, deep below the surface, that justifies this new kind of classification? To find out, I jockeyed the Acura through the cut-and-thrust of urban LA before heading for the hills and the corresponding canyon roads of Malibu.

Truth is, I know these roads well. On weekends, people with all types of super-fast sports cars and even quicker sport bikes race back and forth, testing the limits of adhesion and common sense. Out here, I’ve witnessed plenty of accident damage and even more reckless driving citations—it’s a bit of a free-for-all, an escape for Angelinos more accustomed to bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10, the 101, the 110 and the 405.

Armed with this local knowledge, I set about determining whether the ZDX had the cajones needed to justify the “sport coupe” aspect of its designation. I moved the shift lever in the centre console to the sport mode setting, placed my hands on the paddle shifters, selected first gear and coaxed the 300-horsepower, 3.7-litre V6 to do its utmost to impress me.

Together, we powered up the steep canyon inclines, me rowing through the six-speed transmission—the first for Acura—and the ZDX responding with a fair amount of gusto and decent quickness. It’s not fast, to be sure, but the thing definitely has the measure of some of the less expensive sport coupes out there. The engine is true to the tradition of Acura: It only comes alive at about 5500 rpm, where the note becomes decidedly more sinister and the performance begins in earnest.

If the engine and transmission were suitably impressive, the all-wheel drive system and fully independent suspension were even more so.

The former is the same pavement-chewing AWD found on many other Acura models (dubbed Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive) including the TL sport sedan; the system’s torque-vectoring feature helps the ZDX corner by shifting power to the outside rear wheel. In theory, it’s a brilliant idea—in practice, it worked like a charm, giving the ZDX genuine tenacity around the Malibu bends, even though it was saddled with all-season tires that eschew outright grip in favour of all-around versatility.

As to the suspension, it seemed a decent compromise, too—this time between sheer aggression and ultimate comfort. When confronted with dips in the road, the ZDX dipped as well, but it quickly settled and readied itself for the next obstacle in road. Did it handle like a sport coupe? Maybe a soft one. But considering the ZDX is, in fact, a crossover, it showed a good level of composure and it proved to be fun to drive. And that’s the main thing.

Apart from giving the ZDX a sporty look and some credible underpinnings, the manufacturer has also decided to position their new offering as a serious high-end ride. The evidence: The leather on the dashboard and centre console is hand-stitched. The carpeting is thick and luxurious and extends all the way back to the cargo compartment. In said compartment, the skid plates and grab handles are made of metal, not the usual plastic.

But the defining characteristic of the ZDX interior (and the exterior, it must be said) is a glass roof that stretches from the very top of the windshield to the very bottom of the tailgate. Within this dramatic design element, there is a power moonroof for front-seat passengers and a fixed glass panel that hovers above those occupying the rear seat. The net effect of all this glass is a very bright and airy cabin, full of style and grace.

There are, of course, drawbacks to the ZDX—as with all vehicles. Acura continues to place a strong emphasis on technology in their passenger cabins; normally fine, but the sheer number of buttons and switches remains excessive. With the ZDX, they have mitigated this somewhat with ambient lighting that strikes only the controls that are in use. But still: They refer to the centre console as the “monolith,” and that speaks volumes all by itself.

The exterior design will also elicit differing opinions. To be frank, Acura has struggled in making their most recent offerings resonate with the general public, but the ZDX may be the vehicle that cracks the code. Suffice it to say that, from certain angles, it’s a very striking design. The coupe-like shape has also been very well wrought; there’s room in the back seat for six-foot-tall adults (if they duck their heads when entering), and enough interior space overall for a foursome of adults and their golf bags. Well done.

As all the features and benefits of the 2010 Acura ZDX were described to the gathered media, another term was introduced: “the passionate getaway.” The idea here: If an upwardly mobile urban couple decides to take off for the weekend—for romance or golf or a bit of both—this new crossover represents the perfect conveyance. Seems possible. One wonders, though, if the ZDX—like similar “SUV coupes” such as the BMW X6—is compelling enough to steal customers away from more traditional crossovers. Only time will tell.

Please note, Honda Australia has no plans to bring the ZDX down under.