2013 Acura ZDX

June 25, 2013

The Acura ZDX's wild looks draw stares from young and old, but the flash can't cover up the fact that this SUV is impractical and, worse yet, not that fun to drive.

These unfortunate attributes are likely the reason the ZDX has failed to sell well since it was introduced as a 2010 model, and why it will no longer be built after the last 2013s leave dealer lots.

Are there redeeming qualities about the ZDX? Yes, but as I discovered during my time with it, as much as I wanted to love this strange beast, it let me down … often.

Performance

In the world of automotive performance, sometimes numbers can be deceiving. For example, a 200-horsepower engine can feel very fast if it's attached to a light car. And while a 300-hp, 3.7-liter engine powers the ZDX, there's no escaping the Acura's hefty curb weight of more than 4,400 pounds.

That's lighter than Acura's larger MDX SUV, but the ZDX doesn't feel sprightlier. In fact, at times it feels like it's driving over flypaper as you mash down on the accelerator; it just doesn't feel like it wants to get anywhere in a hurry. Other editors noticed the same lack of guts.

So … maybe the wide track and all-wheel drive make the ZDX a blast on twisty roads?

Nope. While there's plenty of grip to go around, the power-assisted hydraulic steering is imprecise at speeds above 30 mph. The wheel feels too light in your hands and doesn't respond appropriately. At low speeds, the steering feel actually gets heavier, making it more laborious to navigate parking lots. Typically, you want steering to do the opposite. (Audi is well-known for this, responding with a light touch when you need it and firmer responses at higher speeds.)

These two gripes ruin what could otherwise be a decent daily driver. The ride isn't overly firm, as you might expect from an SUV with sporty intentions, and the ZDX is relatively quiet considering all that rubber — 255/50 tires on standard 19-inch wheels. The ZDX's brakes, like the accelerator, take more effort to engage than I'd like.

As you'd expect from the exterior design, visibility isn't terrific, either. The side windows rake upward, thinning to a point that leaves a significant blind spot over your right shoulder. The split rear window is similar to the Toyota Prius and a few other hatchbacks on the market, and you do acclimate to it over time.

Mileage is rated 16/23 mpg city/highway, 19 mpg combined, which is on par with the 19 mpg combined rating of the BMW X6 xDrive35i and one up on the Acura MDX and Infiniti's FX37 all-wheel drive's mileage. I would say the only one of the bunch that feels energizing to drive is the Infiniti, but it, too, is showing its age in terms of interior and features.

Interior & Cargo

Because it's nearing the end of the road, it's unfortunate the ZDX won't receive the button-cleansing revamps many other Acuras are going through, like the RLX and MDX. Instead, you're still welcomed to the driver's seat by a steering wheel adorned with 14 buttons and a center control panel swarmed by 32 more, along with two knobs and a couple of rocker switches to control the temperature.

The controls are arrayed in a logical fashion, but that doesn't necessarily make them logical to use. The large knob at the center manipulates navigation, stereo and other functions on the LCD touch-screen above it. The knob is rather large, which is nice, but the back button directly above it is hard to reach with so much bulk in the way.

The front seats are wide and well-bolstered, and I found them quite comfortable over extended commutes and drives of more than 90 minutes. There's less room in back than you'd find in the MDX, but it's perfectly acceptable for short trips for adult passengers or longer ones for children in car seats, like mine enjoyed.

Cargo space is rated at 27.5 cubic feet, which is a step beyond the X6 at 25.6 cubic feet and the FX at 24.8 cubic feet. Many shoppers interested in the ZDX probably were converted to the practicality of the MDX and its 42.9 cubic feet of storage behind the second row. It has three rows of seats, while the ZDX, X6 and FX have just two rows. You can compare all four here.

The ZDX also has some nifty compartments in the cargo area, with hard plastic panels carpeted to match the floor. Removing two of them on the sides reveals a large cutout for a golf bag. There's also extensive underfloor storage. The problem with the cargo area isn't the size; it's the height. The ZDX's cargo floor was gut-high on me, and I'm 5-foot-10. My medium-sized boxer was barely able to leap into the back on her own, and she can really jump. Hauling loads from Costco or the garden center would become a tiring chore pretty quickly.

Safety

The ZDX comes with a standard suite of airbags, including side-impact ones for the driver and front passenger. It has a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but hasn't been fully tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

ZDX in the Market

Since the ZDX is leaving the market, there's little to say besides we're sad to see its funky styling leave our streets. I loved the looks of the test car in my driveway; what can I say? But the public has spoken, and they're not buying.

After testing it, I can see why it will be hard to find anyone new willing to take a chance on the ZDX as it leaves the world of new cars to enter the annals of automotive history, along with other fondly remembered but awkward vehicles like the Isuzu Vehicross and Subaru SVX.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

There is no denying the ZDX is an oddity on the roads in terms of looks. But as wild as it may be I found myself drawn to the aesthetics. With all the hidden compartments and flush rear door handles it definitely feels like a ride for a secret agent.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Twenty-inch wheels come standard and add a bit of ruggedness to an otherwise streamlined style.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

I found the interior comfortable if not overly luxurious like the ZDX's price may suggest.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

With 35 buttons — not to mention a few knobs — the center console is awash in choices for the fingertips. After several days you get used to the set-up but you still haven't memorized where everything is. 

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Thirteen buttons are found on the steering wheel, but other automakers have just as many in this location.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

I found the display and navigation screens not up to par with some competitors or even newer models from Honda.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Seat comfort is something Acura has done right for many years. The ZDX is a comfortable companion for road trips.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Despite the rakish roofline the ZDX has plenty of room in the backseat. The door openings are narrow though.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The cargo area is average in size, but I found the load floor too high for offloading heavy gear.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Not surprisingly the wild design greatly reduces visibility, especially over the right shoulder.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

I told my kids that the door handles were ''secret'' and to try and find them. They had a hard time finding them, but I got a kick out of opening the rear doors every time. 

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