The 2010 Acura ZDX: ZD... Why?

Strong points
  • Good performance
  • Nimble handling
Weak points
  • Overall build quality of the interior
  • Strange looks
Full report

When it comes to pleasure purchases, people usually balk at the notion of buying something ugly. Avid sailors may be familiar with the phrase “why buy an ugly boat,” but it's a notion that escapes too many car buyers. Happily accepting visual compromise in the name of increased safety, efficiency and practicality, the golden days of automotive design are unquestionably behind us. One need only look as far as Acura's ZDX crossover to know that much.

Because this is one ugly car. Resembling a Japanese resurrection of the infamous Pontiac Aztek, it's only marginally more attractive than Godzilla himself, and that's not a good thing. An odd collection of sharp creases and smooth curves, there is no single view from which it looks undeniably attractive. From the front, the massive silver shield that now adorned (and damns) every Acura across the line dominates the ZDX's otherwise plain snout, while the rear three-quarter looks awkwardly rounded and just a bit too large. In profile, it's sloping roofline cuts a very high-speed, low-drag figure, an image that is emphasized by the sharply creased and muscular shoulder line. The single shining point of the design, the strong shoulder/fender flare is interestingly undisturbed in the rear as the designers had the foresight to move the rear door handle to just aft of the window. Perhaps the coolest part of the whole design, one can't help but wonder why they didn't bother coming up with an equally ingenious solution to the front door handles' location.

Stepping inside, things do improve a bit. In standard Honda tradition, there's a large center console festooned with well-rendered buttons and controls laid out in a tight, but easily-manipulated pattern, surrounded by a swooping dashboard that maximizes vertical space by essentially organizing separate displays and controls into distinct tiers. A style first seen in the Honda Civic, it works well in the ZDX as they've stacked the controls in order of importance, with those most often manipulated positioned at the top, minimizing the driver's need to avert his eyes from the roadway.

And it's luxurious... enough. There's plenty of leather swathed across the dashboard, all stitched together perfectly. Sadly, the underpinnings of the necessarily-soft dashboard are less reliable, and there are a few too many misaligned gaps and poor joinery. While this may frustrate perfectionists, it doesn't have any effect on the excellent seating position, which places the driver high enough to give a good view of the road ahead without feeling ponderous; a nice side effect of it's sporting profile. With a wide range of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat, most people will find the ZDX's captains chairs to be quite agreeable over even the greatest of distances, however, taller drivers should be prepared to sacrifice their view of the top half of the gauge cluster for a decent driving position.

Equipped with a 3.7L V6 producing 300 horsepower and Honda's excellent Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the ZDX's sporting proportions are more than matched by it's engineering excellence, mostly due to the SH-AWD system's innate ability to lend traction to even the most intractable vehicles. With plenty of power and torque on tap, the system shuttles power around all four corners seamlessly, allowing far more aggressive cornering attitudes than could normally be achieved. Although it's taller, softer suspension is certainly no match for something like the even-sportier SH-AWD-equipped TL, it's more than enough for most drivers.

And of course, as a Honda product, it's perfectly practical. With many of the same features as the MDX, it is to the bigger SUV as the BMW X6 is to the X5; a slightly sportier, but just as useful alternative. An electronic liftgate, massive rear cargo area, and plenty of seating space means it'd be perfect for the active, outdoorsy type that will appreciate the all-weather capability and performance of the ZDX. However, thanks to the rounded rear end, taller stance, and raked rear glass, it boasts a higher liftover than many conventional SUVs and doesn't boast the same amount of cargo space between floor and ceiling.

But as someone that believes in using the right tool for the job, and who has lived by the “why buy an ugly XXXX” mantra to a shameful degree, I simply can't understand the ZDX's existence. Although it may be slightly more sporting than the MDX, it doesn't offer equal parts performance for the practicality it sacrifices. Combine that with its downright hideous countenance, and one can't help but wonder how such a vehicle ever ran the gauntlet of Honda's development department. With a cheaper entry price, many of the same features , better build quality and undeniably superior looks, the MDX seems poised to continue its reign as Acura's preferred big vehicle, and from what I've seen, the ZDX isn't capable of changing that.

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