We Were Unprepared for the Initial Acura ZDX

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By Car Brand Experts

There’s something that no one might have anticipated in their 2022 plans: the resurgence of the Acura ZDX name, which will make a significant comeback soon. The upcoming ZDX, set to launch in 2024, will be electric, created in collaboration with General Motors, inspired by the new Precision SUV concept in terms of design, and will introduce a performance-focused Type S version. 

These clues suggest that the revived model will share some connections with the original ZDX, although it may not possess the same level of eccentricity and surprise as the groundbreaking original did when it debuted for the 2010 model year. Undoubtedly, that crossover deserves more recognition for the innovative and unconventional machine it was.

While the coupe-UV trend we witness today started with the introduction of the BMW X6 just a couple of years earlier (with a nod to the Infiniti FX35 muscle SUV), the ZDX stands out as a crucial moment in the segment’s history and remains one of the most debated vehicles of the past two decades. Despite not achieving the same level of success as the now-popular X6, its production spanned only from 2010 to 2013. 

Let’s rewind the clock and delve into the fascinating and often misunderstood legacy of the ZDX.

The production model didn't change much from the concept.
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The production model didn’t change much from the concept.

The original mid-sized five-passenger ZDX had a brief and somewhat lackluster existence that commenced with the unveiling of a prototype by Acura on April 8, 2009, at the New York International Auto Show. Marketed as a luxurious “four-door sports coupe” with a focus on the driver and front passenger rather than utility, it quickly became one of the most divisive SUVs ever produced. 

The ZDX was powered by a 3.7-liter V6 engine generating 300 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. It was mated to a brand-new six-speed automatic transmission, offering no other choices in the lineup. 

Equipped with 19- or 20-inch wheels, the ZDX featured an independent suspension with MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front, along with an independent multi-link suspension with trailing arms at the rear. Standard with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and an optional Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) incorporating an Active Damping System (ADS), the ZDX could accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and achieve a lateral grip of up to 0.85 g, as per testing by Car and Driver. For comparison, the 2005 RSX Type S clocked zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and boasted a skidpad figure of 0.86 g. In its era, the ZDX performed admirably. 

The original ZDX never received a significant performance upgrade like a Type S variant, a move Acura only recently made with SUVs like the MDX Type S. Moreover, it remained unchanged year after year without receiving any enhancements during its lifespan. 

Regrettably, its satisfactory driving dynamics failed to persuade practical buyers to make emotional decisions.

Acura faced challenges in the late 2000s—the divisive shield grille isn’t remembered fondly today—and even by those standards, the ZDX didn’t capture much attention. According to goodcarbadcar.net and carsalesbase.com, Acura only managed to sell a total of 6,174 units in the U.S., with the launch year being the most successful at 3,259 units, explaining the short existence of the ZDX. For perspective, BMW has continuously sold the X6 since its introduction, with the German automaker selling 5,399 units just this year up to June amid a global pandemic. 

logistics challenges.

That’s why car enthusiasts perceive it similarly to how they view the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet—it’s divisive, yet somewhat commendable in its audacity and peculiarity. Regardless of your affinity or aversion towards it, encountering one always adds an element of intrigue. Prior to the surge in popularity of performance-oriented SUVs, spotting a ZDX was akin to witnessing a real-life video game anomaly. Does its presence truly bring good fortune? Perhaps, perhaps not, but they’re as rare, if not more so, than a four-leaf clover.

The ZDX’s limited sales figures dealt a significant blow to Acura’s gamble—and it was indeed a gamble to introduce this kind of vehicle back in 2010—as the ZDX marked Acura’s first model entirely conceived at the then-fresh Acura Design Studio in Southern California. Subsequently, it underwent engineering in Ohio and manufacturing in Alliston, Ontario, Canada.

This isn’t to imply that its design was subpar; quite the contrary. Beyond the controversial Acura “beak” characteristic of that era, the ZDX’s daring physique is its defining trait, and in present times, I believe it exudes an appealing aesthetic. Based on the Honda Pilot/Acura MDX SUV platform, it measures 192.4 inches in length, 85.6 inches in width, and 62.8 inches in height, with a 108.3-inch wheelbase. In many respects, it resembles a lifted Acura RSX coupe, featuring a sharp front end, an exceptionally high beltline, small windows creating a fortress-like cabin, a sloping roofline, and a stout rear end. However, it sported four doors instead of two.

Nevertheless, this form factor translated into extremely constrained interior space, prompting many to question the rationale behind the ZDX and all SUVs that prioritize style over roominess. The rear seating was cramped, and the rear cargo area only offered 26.3 cubic feet of storage behind the seats, expanding to 55.8 cubic feet with the seats folded (albeit with under-floor storage option). For instance, a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee, at 193.5 inches long, provides 37.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 70.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Similar to the X6, the ZDX is a vehicle one purchases out of admiration and desire, not for its practicality or value proposition. Despite its coupe-like appearance, its weight ranging from 4,424 to 4,462 pounds is perched high above the ground.

The introduction of a Type S variant for the current MDX signifies a shift towards performance-focused crossovers and SUVs. While sales of coupes and sports sedans have dwindled, sporty elevated vehicles have garnered substantial market traction, leading many automakers to develop models that merge sleek styling and performance attributes (to some extent) onto SUV and crossover platforms. Examples include the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes-AMG GLE63, and Audi Q8. Even brands like Lotus and Lamborghini now offer utility vehicles. Moreover, in the realm of SUVs with unconventional designs, models like the BMW X4, Porsche Cayenne Coupe, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron, Mercedes GLC Coupe, Audi Q5 Sportback, and more have emerged. It’s a significant trend, and the Acura ZDX was among the pioneering models that paved the way for this movement.

Upon its debut, the original ZDX did not gain traction, yet Acura is now considering the possibility of introducing it again. There are limited specifics available presently, making it uncertain how the forthcoming ZDX will be designed and its dimensions. Nevertheless, Acura has stated that the new model will operate on electric power and draw influence from the Precision concept.

Moreover, a Type S version is in the pipeline to expand Acura’s latest Type S series, which already features the Integra, MDX, TLX, and NSX. Given the rapid response and stable center of gravity characteristic of electric vehicles, it seems logical to construct a coupe SUV in this manner. Perhaps this is the destiny the ZDX was always meant to fulfill, but the final judgment will be reserved until we accumulate more information, get a glimpse of its appearance, and actually test the vehicle.

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