Preview Drive: 2010 Acura ZDX

Brand-new crossover model from Honda's luxury divison earns "four-door coupe" designation

by James M. Flammang

2010 Acura ZDX

NEW YORK CITY - Once upon a time, coupes had two doors. Sedans might have either two or four; wagons, also. But coupes were strictly two-door models with a sportier aura.

Not anymore. Over the past couple of years, several manufacturers - led by Mercedes-Benz with its CLS-Class - have introduced new models that they dub "four-door sport coupes." Acura is the latest to join that trend, which is generally limited (thus far) to luxury and near-luxury makes. Ready for sale late in 2009 as the all-new Acura ZDX, billed as providing "provocative luxury." Steve Center, Acura's vice-president for advertising and public relations, says the ZDX "defines its own segment," mixing the merits of a coupe, sedan, and flexible SUV in a single vehcie that's "built for active, adventurous individuals." Center also asserts that there's "nothing like the ZDX on the road today," though a competitor or two might beg to differ on that score.

Built in Allison, Ontario, Canada on an SUV chassis, the ZDX features what Acura designates as "keen edge" styling in a "2+freedome" package. The overall design was developed with what exterior stylist Damon Schell calls motion surfacing: Pulled; Directional; Tension, with a low hood line that suggests it's about to leap. The ZDX's sloping rear profile stands in strong contrast to conventional SUV rooflines, and "deep sexy quarter panels" employ one-piece construction.

Under the ZDX hood sits a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that develops 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque: respectable figures for performance, but not quite as impressive in frugality (especially on urban streets). With its new six-speed Sportshift automatic transmission, the ZDX gets an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 16 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. Steering-wheel paddles let the transmission operate in two modes. You can simply touch the paddle to shift, when in Drive. Or, the paddles may be used in S-range for full control of shift points. Double-kickdown response to gas-pedal pressure is possible.

Chief engineer Gary Evert promises "a little bit of exciting flavor in the upper rpm areas," emanating from the intake and exhaust. Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system is standard. Front/rear torque distribution ranges from 90/100 to 30/70, depending on conditions. Left/right distribution ranges from 100/0 to 0/100: all to nothing, in short, for each side.

Two suspension settings are avaialble: Comfort or Sport mode, with 15 sensors that react to road conditions. Each ZDX rolls on 255/50x19 tires.

Though set up for five-passenger seating, principal engineer Jason Widmer emphasizes the ZDX's two-passenger comfort; or, space for a couple and their belongings. Upholstery features natural grain, while Acura points out that most car leathers have their flaws buffed off, and artificial graining applied.

Acura claims that the ZDX's panoramic glass roof offers the world's first continuous glass surface from hood to bumper. A power roller sun shade allows 3 percent of light to shine through; otherwise, it's 20 percent. Long front doors enhance the coupelike flavor. So do the semi-hidden rear door handles. A power tailgate is standard.

Exhibiting a clearly firm - if supple - ride, the ZDX hits an occasional bump rather hard. Of course, that's essentially approprirate for an SUV-based vehicle, even if it's called a sports coupe in this instance. Better yet, the suspension recovers smartly from any excess reaction. SUV-type underpinnings are too evident for the ZDX to deliver a carlike road experience.

Acura's SH-AWD system adds to the ZDX's handling prowess, which includes appealing steering feel with very nice feedback. Enthusiastic it is when accelerating, with the expected sporty essence, but overall performance doesn't exactly qualify as startling.

Getting in and out requires a substantial climb up/down. Substantial side bolstering cradles the driver snugly in a an extra-comfortable, serious seat. Not only are seats abundantly cushioned, they provide superior thigh support. Although the rear seat is more comfortable and roomy than expected, substantial head-ducking may be needed to slip inside. Over-the-shoulder views are not so good, making regular use of the outside mirrors essential. Furthermore, the direct rear view is split by a thick horizontal bar. Almost everything is seen through the upper pane, which is adequate but squat.

Sales begin on December 15, starting at $46,305 (including destination charge). That puts the ZDX between Acura's MDX sport-utility vehicle and the RL sedan. Three versions will be offered: a base model, ZDX with Technology Package, and an Advance Package.

Available features include Acura's navigation system with Real Time Traffic information and Navigation Lane Guidance (which can show which lane to be in); a Blind Spot Information System; and Active Cruise Control with Crash Mitigation Braking. Standard on all ZDX models is a Multi View Camera that shows a normal, wide, or top view. Competitors include the BMW X6 and Infiniti FX, as well as the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and new BMW 5-Series GT.

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© All contents copyright 2009 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang