The 2013 model year is likely the last for the Acura ZDX, an all-wheel-drive luxury crossover that offers the versatility of an SUV with the silhouette of a hatchback.
New for 2013 are some mild exterior updates, the most noticeable of which is a redesigned front grille. More equipment has been added, including rear parking sensors, power folding side mirrors, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. The 2013 Acura ZDX is available in a single trim, with expanded standard features that include upgraded leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, and a premium 435-watt audio system. Blind spot monitoring and collision-mitigation systems, once optional on the ZDX, are not available on the 2013 ZDX.
First introduced for 2010, the ZDX is based on the Acura MDX midsize sport-utility, but looks more four-door coupe, with its sharply raked windshield, fastback roofline and hidden rear door handles that give it a two-door look. Although interesting in theory, the ZDX forces buyers to compromise, since it isn't as roomy as most crossover SUVs, nor as performance-oriented as a true hatchback.
Still, the ZDX is no slouch. It's powered by Honda's all-aluminum 3.7-liter V6, which makes 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a 6-speed automatic with a manual sport shift mode. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Honda ZDX come in at a modest 16/23 mpg City/Highway.
The 2013 ZDX cabin is richly appointed, with hand-stitched leather and special materials used for a bold appearance. Although billed as a five-seater, the ZDX is most comfortable for two. Front passengers have plenty of head- and legroom, but the car's sloping roofline makes for a cramped back seat, unless the rear passengers are children or shorter adults. Also, the short rear doors make access to the back seats less convenient.
Underway, ZDX glides along with a plush, well-controlled ride. Throttle response is immediate and authoritative, and the gearshifts are smooth and positive. Noise levels are low while cruising, the climate-control system effective and the entertainment systems bright and clear.
In normal driving, the ZDX steers keenly and stays on line with an intuitive accuracy, responding with moves that belie its considerable size and heft. But the ZDX is more about luxury than sporty handling, its priorities highlighted by slightly numb steering and unhurried transmission response.
Cargo space is a meager 26.3 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, less than many four-door sedans. With the rear seats folded down, total cargo space expands to 55.8 cubes, but the sharply sloping hatchback prevents taller items from fitting. On the bright side, the liftover height is low, making loading and unloading cargo easier.
Those considering the 2013 Acura ZDX might also want to look at more traditional crossovers like Acura's all-new MDX, which seats seven, or luxury wagons such as the Audi allroad or the BMW 3 Series Sport Wagon. If you're set on a crossover with a sleek, coupe-like roofline you might consider stepping up to a BMW X6 or Range Rover Evoque.
The ZDX is closely related to the MDX crossover, and this also reflected in its styling. For 2013, the ZDX gets a revised front grille that keeps the signature chevron look, but bears a closer resemblance to newer Acura models launched this year. In other places, the ZDX keeps its dramatic planes and contours. To get the aggressive haunches that distinguish this crossover, Acura produced a rear quarter panel that required extraordinary stamping procedures. With the deepest draw of any panel the company has ever produced, great care had to be taken with die design to avoid wrinkling or tearing of the metal skin.
A long panoramic glass roof features an integrated power moonroof. Dual powered sunshades provide shelter from the sun. Wide wheel arches, pronounced shoulders and angular creases provide surface tension to dispel any suggestion of the usual two-box SUV look. Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights are mounted inside asymmetrical housings up front.
At the rear, the designers again used distinct panel shapes, tail light outlines and integrated exhaust outlets to embellish the silhouette. A lower glass panel in the rear hatch helps improve rear visibility.
The Acura ZDX features a luxurious cabin with rich-looking hand-stitched leather on the dashboard, door panels and center console that has been executed with great care. Many leather finishes are buffed surfaces, necessary to remove flaws. These are carefully selected, unscarred hides from Hungary and China.
Fitting the leather panel on the sculpted dashboard is quite a challenge, due to the unusual concave shape, and requires special techniques. The result, particularly with the Umber and black combination, is striking, and the textures themselves are rich and pleasing to the touch.
The rest of the interior is modern in design, with electroluminescent gauges and a center console the Acura designers call the Monolith. Until its backlighting comes on when the ignition is switched on, the console remains blank and dark, with no evidence of the many switches and controls it contains.
Excellent ergonomics make the use of the many devices at hand easy to use. Critical controls are found on the steering wheel, while secondary switches are logically arranged on the dashboard and center console. Voice recognition makes the phone, radio and navigation systems very simple to operate.
Lighting inside the cabin is provided by the large glass roof during daylight hours, and by subtle LED lighting at night.
Cargo space measures a mere 26.3 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, but expands to 55.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down. Further expansion is possible (for long objects such as golf bags) by removing side panels in the cargo compartment. An underfloor area of about two cubic feet is also available for secure storage. Access is convenient via the automatic liftgate, and the liftover height is helpfully low.
The front passenger area is both spacious and attractive, but the sloping roofline makes inevitable inroads into rear headroom. Legroom is also not as good in the back, and access is hindered by the small doors and their proximity to the rear wheel well. Children and small-statured adults may still find the rear seats a pleasant place to be for short to moderate journeys.
Underway, the Acura ZDX feels smooth and refined. Noise and vibration are filtered out and the result is a very quiet and composed vehicle.
Assisted by Acura's SH-AWD intelligent all-wheel-drive system, the ZDX steers accurately and hangs on well in fast turns. The extensive ride-motion control strategy (using magneto-rheological damping fluid that varies its viscosity in response to an electric current to vary shock damping) helps the ZDX retain a plush ride in more sedate applications.
While it seems almost eerie to bend a large and heavy vehicle like the ZDX through the tortuous sections of a canyon road and have it stay on line and not wallow, the layer of relentless refinement still makes itself felt with a slightly remote steering feel and gearshifts, even when initiated manually, that are a touch sluggish in response.
The ZDX shock tuning is clearly on the comfort side of the equation, yet the ZDX still acquits itself well on tortuous roads for a 4500-pound vehicle. But comfort and isolation are this car's priorities, and drivers needing a more sharply honed experience should probably look at Acura's RDX, which is lighter and more responsive in challenging terrain.
The 3.7-liter V6 engine is smooth, its performance in most circumstances best described as mellifluous. Most of the power lives in the higher rev ranges, though the torque isn't bad in the mid-range either, thanks to the VTEC variable valve-event technology. Low-rev urge, however, isn't enough to overwhelm the two tons of luxury equipment without downshifting help from the obliging 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined.
The outgoing Acura ZDX is a four-door, coupe-like crossover with distinctive styling that's smooth and quiet. However, its unique shape sacrifices cargo and rear passenger space, and fuel economy is less than stellar.
Barry Winfield reported to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving the Acura ZDX around Beverly Hills and Malibu, California; with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.