2012 Acura ZDX Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
SEE ALSO: Acura Buyers Guide
2012 Acura ZDX - Advance Package
Acura is Honda's upscale luxury and performance division, but perhaps has suffered in prestige in the eyes of some possible customers because of that close association. So, how to differentiate the two?
Something different. Something not shared with Honda.
The ZDX is definitely different. Crossovers continue to be high fashion in the US market. The latest fashion in automotive styling is crossovers that are not the familiar "cross between an SUV and a car" -- Acura has covered that with the MDX and RDX -- but a cross between an SUV and a sports coupe. Short on practicality, perhaps, but they do demand attention. And both style and attention sell.
At a quick glance, you could be excused for thinking that the ZDX is the Acura version of the Honda Crosstour. After all, the Crosstour is a four-door fastback coupe/sedan with a raised suspension based on the (North American-spec) Honda Accord, and the ZDX has broadly similar lines and contours, but with the angular Acura design language. And platform-sharing is a fact of life in the industry.
You'd be wrong. The ZDX, designed and built in North America for the North American market, is based on the Acura MDX crossover, not the Accord. Any resemblance to the Crosstour is strictly accidental. It uses the latest iteration of Acura's 3.7-liter V6, with 300 horsepower and matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. That power reached the ground via the torque-vectoring "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" (hereafter referred to as SH-AWD®) system, which ensures maximum traction in all conditions from warm and dry to cold, wet, and slippery.
The ZDX is based on emotional appeal, not cold logic. Cold logic would look, and then say "less luggage space, less seating capacity, less towing ability" and head for the MDX. Emotion says "this looks interesting, it's different, I don't need to carry five or six or seven people and mountains of stuff" and head for the ZDX.
The style of a coupe is always appealing, but the (lack of) practicality inherent in a two-door design and low stance can be off-putting. As can be the contortions needed to get in and out of a low-slung coupe, especially for people in the ZDX's target market -- upscale "empty nesters", adults whose children are out of the house, who are active and have enjoyed a crossover like an MDX but no longer need that and would like something sportier and more engaging. So the lower passenger and luggage capacity is a non-issue, and the all-road, all-weather capability of the ZDX make it more attractive than a lower sports coupe or sedan.
Watch TACH's exclusive Acura ZDX promo video
There are three trim levels. The base ZDX is comprehensively equipped with a hand-stitched leather interior, a panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, high-quality audio system, Bluetooth® connectivity among its standard features.
At the beginning of my week with a ZDX with the Advance Package I was dubious. High ground clearance (7.9 inches empty, 6.5 fully loaded) and a 4500-pound weight don't usually indicate superior roadholding and maneuverability. Inertia is inertia, and mass is the enemy. This is not a small vehicle. The first attribute I noticed was comfort. Yes, it's a true luxury vehicle, quiet, relaxing, and comfortable. Surprisingly, roadholding and handling were much better than the ZDX's dimensions and weight would indicate. Numbers aren't everything. Good suspension design and calibration and especially the SH-AWD system's excellent control work together to give it an enjoyable and rather sporty driving experience.
APPEARANCE: There will be no confusion as to the ZDX's manufacturer. The distinctive "power plenum" beaked grille sees to that, as does the "Keen Edge" body design. It's a fastback coupe shape on steroids, with strong character lines separating planed surfaces. Slightly-flared wheel arches hint at performance, chrome trim around the side windows hints at luxury. It sits high on 19-inch wheels, and looks much smaller in pictures than it is in the sheetmetal.
COMFORT: Acura calls the ZDX's interior design philosophy "2+Freedom". Meaning that th/e driver and front-seat passenger are first, then rear storage capacity, and then rear seating. It makes sense given the target market, and despite how that sounds, the rear seat is spacious for two, with a flat floor allowing a third person for a while -- as in any similarly-sized sedan or even (five-passenger) crossover. But the front is definitely the place to be, with supportive, well-designed heated and cooled power-adjustable seats -- in leather, of course. As is the door and instrument panel trim, steering wheel rim, and shift knob. Soft-touch materials cover the rest of the IP and door surfaces, for a premium look and experience. The steering wheel is power-adjustable for both tilt and reach, and has phone, audio, cruise, and information system controls, with shift paddles behind, down left, up right. There's a moderate amount of interior storage, with front door pockets, a locking glove box, and moderately large covered console box with USB and minijack fittings and a power point. The main instruments are front and center under an anti-glare hood, and backlit for easy visibility in all light. The navigation screen gets its own hood at the top of the center stack. Nav and audio systems are controlled by means of a knob and hard buttons below the screen. The dual-zone climate control system is there, too -- no need to navigate through multiple submenus. Placement of the space-saver spare outside, underneath in the traditional SUV position allows an under-floor storage compartment at the rear of the cargo area. There is good space for luggage for two with the rear seat up. It may be folded 60/40 for more. Liftover is moderately high, and aluminum scuff plates help protect the floor entrance. Fob-operated remote control of the liftgate adds convenience.
SAFETY: Advanced Compatibility Engineering™, Honda/Acura's unibody structural design and construction methodology for maximizing control of crash deformation and integrity of the passenger cabin, helps protect occupants, as does a full complement of airbags, active front head restraints, Vehicle Stability Assist™ electronic stability control, and strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD). Rear quarter visibility is coupe-like (minimal) and so the Blind Spot Information system is a very good accessory. The backup camera has regular and ultra-wide rearward views plus a narrower straight-down view, good to prevent curb damage.
RIDE AND HANDLING: For a vehicle of its size and mass, the ZDX feels surprisingly light and agile. A well-designed and engineered unibody structure and fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension work together for a quiet luxury-class ride experience and good handling. That is improved further by the Advance Package's magneto-rheological shock dampers, which can quickly change damping level in real time to deal with road irregularities and driving style while providing a comfortable ride. The two settings are "Comfort" and "Sport"; comfort allows a bit more body motion. I kept it in Sport most of the time, and no complaints.
PERFORMANCE: Acura's 3.7-liter V6 makes a maximum of 300 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with 270 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm and plenty all the way to idle thanks to the VTEC variable valve lift and timing control system and a dual-stage intake manifold. It's matched with a six-speed automatic transmission with normal and sport modes, with sport mode keeping revs higher and gears lower (sixth is locked out entirely) for quicker reaction to driver inputs. The shift paddles allow temporary driver over-ride in D; in S they put the transmission into manual mode until shifted back to D. Given the engine's excellent torque, sport mode and manual shifting are entertaining but hardly necessary -- also credit the latest developments of the Grade Logic Control, Shift Hold Control, and Cornering G Shift Control systems to keep the transmission from shifting at inappropriate times. All of that power gets to the ground efficiently and securely via the SH-AWD system. Fuel economy is as expected for a 4500 pound, 300 horsepower vehicle, 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 overall according to the EPA. With minimal highway driving I got 18 mpg for the week.
CONCLUSIONS: Acura explores new areas of automotive morphospace with the ZDX.
2012 Acura ZDX Advance
Base Price $ 56,570
Price As Tested $ 57,455
Engine Type SOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with VTEC variable valve timing and lift control
Engine Size 3.7 liters / 224 cu. in.
Horsepower 300 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 270 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 108.3 in. / 192.4 in.
Curb Weight 4462 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.9
Fuel Capacity 21.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires P255/50 R19 103H Michelin Latitude m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink, magneto-rheological damping
Ground Clearance 7.9 in unladen, 6.5 fully loaded
Drivetrain transverse front engine, full-time automatic all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 23 / 18
0 to 60 mph 6.5 sec
Towing capacity 1500 lbs.
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination and handling $ 885