Thumbs Up: Chances are you won’t see another in your neighborhood
Thumbs Down: Ineffective A/C, a design that asks for too many concessions to style
Buy This Car If: The idea of a hatchback coupe styled crossover appeals to you
The duck billed platypus, it’s been said, is an animal designed by committee. It’s got a beaver-like tail, but its snout more closely resembles the beak of a giant bird, smashed flat in a hydraulic press. It’s got webbed feet, but males also get a poison-injecting spur on their hind ankle. It’s a mammal, yet its offspring are hatched from eggs. Finally, it relies on electrolocation, not eyesight, to locate and track its prey. In other words, the platypus seems to defy convention, proving that the universe doesn’t always like order.
If there was an automotive equivalent to the duck billed platypus, it would be Acura’s ZDX crossover. From the outside, it looks like a coupe, down to the hidden handles for the two rear doors. It’s got an almost SUV-like ground clearance, yet the plunging roofline greatly impacts interior space. It’s got a magnetic ride control suspension (included with the Advance Package), yet it fails to be sporty in either acceleration or handling. It’s got the nicest interior we’ve seen to date in an Acura, yet it’s missing expected features like front passenger lumbar support and heated rear seats.
It’s unconventional, to be sure, but it’s still built with Acura’s expected levels of fit and finish. From material choices to amenities, the ZDX is more impressive than most vehicles we’ve tested in recent years, yet it asks buyers to make one too many concessions to style to be practical. Even getting in or out of the front seat takes practice, since you need to mind your head while stepping up and over a fairly wide sill. Rear seat passengers have it worse, since the falling roofline requires more than a bit of human origami to climb into the backseat without smashing your head on the roof. Once inside, the rear seat sits uncomfortably low on the floor, presumably to make up some lost headroom.
Exterior styling is, in a word, polarizing. Acura penned the ZDX to compete with BMW’s coupe-styled crossover, the X6, but the Acura lacks the BMW’s graceful lines. The ZDX is bulbous in odd places (like the rear fenders), and chrome trim isn’t always used to the best effect. On the front of Advance Package ZDX models, for example, chrome is used to accent the fog lights and lower air intakes, yet this gives the front end an insectile appearance. The ZDX’s shield-grill front styling hasn’t helped win it fans, either, and we think the ZDX looks best in side profile.
From the rear or rear three-quarter view, the back end looks oddly meaty, as if there were some serious horsepower to be be delivered through the rear wheels. There’s not, since the ZDX only makes what we’d call sufficient horsepower, and that’s delivered via Acura’s outstanding Super Handling All Wheel Drive system to all four wheels. Perhaps it’s best to sum up the ZDX’s styling like this: some will love it, some will hate it, but very few will be left with no opinion whatsoever.
The ZDX’s interior, for the most part, is brilliant and shows great attention to detail. The sculpted dash is topped in coarse-grain soft-touch vinyl, trimmed in leather, and accented by patterned metallic trim. The large infotainment display dominates the center stack, with the intuitive controller located below the HVAC display. It’s clear that Acura takes luxury seriously in the ZDX, and we find the car’s dash to be among the nicest in Acura’s catalog.
We weren’t so pleased with Acura’s GPS-linked climate control, which proved to be barely adequate to cool the car in Florida’s summer heat. Part of the problem seems to come from the ZDX’s dual sunroofs, which are covered only by a thin and non-insulated layer of fabric. Although the sunroof panels are darkly tinted, they still let in a lot of heat, and the HVAC system simply isn’t up to the task of cooling the car in a reasonable amount of time, especially in stop and go city driving. This may not be a problem in most of the country, but if you live where triple-digit heat is a summer reality, we’d suggest sticking to light-colored ZDX models (ours was a heat-absorbing dark gray) and finding a way to insulate the sunroof panels.
Instruments are typical Acura fare, consisting of a tachometer and speedometer flanked by temperature and fuel gauges. In between, there’s a driver information display (which can be configured to show power distribution to all four wheels, among other things) and a gear indicator. If you’re shifting for yourself via the wheel-mounted paddles, the gear selected is displayed below the tach. Instruments are trimmed in metallic silver, and even the font chosen for the display numbers conveys a sense of sport.
Front seats are also among the best in the Acura parts bin. Both front chairs are wrapped in perforated leather, and both get the benefit of heating and cooling. Only the driver gets an adjustable lumbar support, which is likely a concession made to keep costs down.
Rear seats are a bit sub-par. Climbing into the rear requires a bit of dexterity to avoid smashing your head on the steeply-plunging roofline, and there isn’t much headroom available to rear seat passengers. To add to what headroom there is, Acura lowered the height of the rear seat in relation to the floor. In other words, passengers with longer legs, or those taller than six feet, won’t find the second row comfortable for very long. While the rear seats are wrapped in perforated leather, they’re not heated, which again seems like a concession made to cost.
The steeply sloped roof impacts available cargo space, too, so the ZDX isn’t meant for buyers who routinely haul oversized or tall cargo. For day-to-day use, the ZDX includes well-thought out cargo bins large enough to keep items like camera bags and laptop bags out of sight. For those of us who carry things like first aid kits and tools, the cargo bins give you plenty of room to haul your gear without intruding on interior room.
All ZDX models come powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, rated at 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available gearbox, and paddle shifters are included for those who like to row their own gears. Acura’s Super-Handling-All-Wheel-Drive comes standard across the ZDX range, and while this helps with traction, it extracts a price in fuel economy. The EPA estimates the ZDX will return 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, and we saw an indicated 17.6 mpg in mostly-city driving. As for performance, expect the ZDX to complete the run from 0-60 mph in just under 7.5 seconds.
Our Advance Package ZDX came with a magnetic ride control suspension (as used on the Cadillac TS-V and the Ferrari 458 Italia), but to be honest it was overkill in the ZDX. In comfort mode, the ZDX rode like a typical luxury crossover, with a fair amount of body roll in the corners. With the suspension set to Sport, the ride seemed overly harsh, although the ZDX’s handling limits seemed to be raised appreciably. No matter how the suspension is set up, the ZDX is hampered by its weight (over 4,400 pounds), numb steering and a transmission whose paddle-directed shifts are best described as “leisurely.” If you’re expecting the ZDX to be entertaining, you’re likely going to be disappointed. If you’re expecting the ZDX to be practical, you probably won’t be impressed, either. In its defense, we will say that the ZDX is unique in its styling, and that it delivers a comfortable highway ride with handling that delivers peace of mind across a wide variety of weather and road conditions.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more sport, the Acura TL sedan with the Advance Package will probably be more to your liking. If you want better practicality, the Acura MDX (on which the ZDX is based) will be a better choice. If the ZDX’s styling appeals to you, and you’re happy with the crossover’s limitations, we’re sure it will serve up years of reliable transportation.
Acura provided the 2012 ZDX for our evaluation. Our press fleet tester came with the Technology Package (voice-guided navigation, backup camera, real-time traffic and weather, sport seats, ELS surround sound audio, push button start, GPS-linked dual zone climate control, keyless entry) and the Advance Package (Integrated Dynamic System suspension, Collision Mitigation Braking, blind spot detection, cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control) for a total sticker price of $57,455, including a destination charge of $885.
For comparison, a similarly equipped BMW X6 would sticker at $73,445, while a comparable Infiniti EX35 Journey would list for $48,500.