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Driven: 2010 Acura ZDX

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A week with a ZDX still wasn't enough to help me make up my mind about a few key questions: Is this a good-looking vehicle? And does the whole package work?

Ask me at various points in the week, and depending on the angle I was viewing it from at the moment my responses could be very different.

It's a car that at one moment will seem ungainly, then the next moment seems like car porn. And it's one of the few vehicles in recent months that I caught myself snapping arty shots of.

Curves and surfaces to behold

From-a-distance shots don't always do the design justice; there's a lot going on with surfaces on the ZDX, and while there aren't a lot of creases and character lines, it's a curvy beast—accentuated by glossy, convex-mirror-like black paint on the test vehicle. Which makes the sharp, angular look of its front and rear details clash a bit when you see them together with the organic, flowing middle of the vehicle. Again, sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's not.

The ZDX shares its underpinnings with the MDX crossover, yet that more carlike profile might even lead some to think it's related to the Honda Accord Crosstour. To compare the two, the ZDX is a few inches shorter, lower and wider than the Crosstour. The other vehicle that the ZDX compares most to is the BMW X6; it's about exactly as long and wide, but several inches taller than the Acura. Squint a little bit at the ZDX, and you might be able to filter out the 'hidden' back door and see a coupe—that's the affect designers were attempting.

Mostly, we're pretty thrilled with the way the ZDX drives. Under the hood, there's the same 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 as in the MDX, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. You get steering-wheel paddle shifters. All is well with the way the ZDX steers and handles; for having MDX underpinnings, it's surprisingly sporty and composed, even when the road isn't.

Fun to drive fast, but busy ride

Ride quality, however, is the tradeoff; while the ZDX rides with sort of muted heft, the ride is still quite jiggly, even in the Comfort mode of the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), which changes the steering calibration slightly and smoothes out the response of the active (magneto-rheological) damper system. Changing from comfort to sport didn't really affect ride quality that much, except over the largest heaves, such as speed bumps and in corners where the ZDX was really pushed to lean.

About the only other driving issue we dwelled on it that there's a little bit of a flat spot at moderate throttle; we couldn't tell if it was the engine or the transmission, but if you need just a little more power, going past that point invites drama and downshifting. But floor the gas from a standstill or pretty much anywhere, and the drivetrain is remarkably quick yet unobtrusive, with the transmission then shifting crisply but muted, right up at 6,700 rpm, and the SH-AWD system expertly finding traction without even a screech.

The ZDX gets an EPA-rated 16 mpg city, 23 highway—which isn't all that impressive, but if our driving experience was any indication, you're likely to see the upper end of that. We saw 19 mpg over a week and about 100 miles of short trips and around-town stop-and-go.

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