If there was an automotive design award for the best effort in concealing the fact a vehicle has four doors, the prize for 2010 would have to go to the team at Acura's California studio that created the new ZDX crossover.
They did such a neat job of hiding the ZDX's rear doors that Acura marketers are quite shamelessly pitching it as a "sports coupe," of all things.
They also tout it as having a "commanding presence" though, which is closer to the mark for a vehicle that puts 4,887 mm between its bumpers and weighs more than two metric tonnes. The Canadian-made ZDX is actually a little longer, but a bit lighter than Acura's seven-seater MDX - on which it's based.
They also claim the nominally (but not practically) five-passenger ZDX offers "flexible utility" which, with 745 litres of space behind its rear seat and 1,580 litres with its seatback folded, is just about true enough. Not a match for the MDX's 2,364 litres though, and not much more than some compact hatchbacks can muster. You can't tow nearly as much with it as an MDX either.
But then the MDX would look positively dowdy parked next to the zoomy ZDX, which those same marketers also bill as a "passionate getaway" vehicle. This description presumably precludes the requirement to carry an additional five passengers and their worldly possessions.
All that aside, the $55,900 ZDX's dramatic styling drew more attention than most vehicles I've driven recently, virtually all of it positive and much of it focused on those novel rear doors. Those who have to enter and exit via them won't find them quite as amusing to squeeze through, however, always being conscious they don't bonk their heads on the doorframe. Room back there is just okay.
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The swept-back A-pillars and unusually wide sills make access up front contortionist-tight too (at least for us shorter folk), but this is the price you pay for that swept-back roofline. If you don't like it, buy the more practical MDX or one of its rivals.
Once ensconced, a driver and passenger heading out on one of those steamy getaways will find themselves in leather-clad seats that look good and support and locate your body comfortably.
In keeping with its sporty persona, the interior is more tech-y than traditionally rich-looking, despite leather trim on the dash and console. Up front, it is physically divided by a large and rather uninspired black plastic faced, V-shaped centre stack, topped by an info screen, that blends into the centre console.
The steering wheel is also leather-covered, thick-rimmed and frames a pair of main instrument pods (with info centre in between). Machined-look aluminum trim pieces provide the only bit of visual sparkle. Nice enough, but missing the mark a little in visual appeal.
Equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, power tilt/telescope wheel, power seats, mirrors etc. and a power tailgate (a navi system and audio upgrade come with the Technology package). The 235-watt audio system sounds fine and it is quiet enough at speed to enjoy it. The dual-zone climate control system keeps things comfortable.
Rear vision is a bit restricted, but good side mirrors let you see what you need to, as do the headlights. Multiple airbag systems, a rear-view camera system, electronic stability control, hill start assist and ABS brakes will help keep you safe.
To motivate its considerable heft in suitable "sport coupe" fashion, the ZDX is equipped with a 3.7-litre, single-overhead cam V-6 rated at 300 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic - that you can shift yourself with steering-wheel paddles - delivers power to Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive system, acknowledged to be one of the best in the business.
The motor revs smoothly and responsively (making a deep and pleasant sound when pulling hard) and the automatic mode in this transmission works smoothly, and downshifts fairly rapidly via the paddles, although upshifts are a tad tardy.
There's plenty of power and torque to deliver lively acceleration - passing and merging are quick and safe - along with easy and responsive around-town drivability. Fuel economy is rated at 12.7 litres/100 km city/8.8 highway; I averaged 11.2 litres/100 km after a lot of Highway 401 cruising, during which it averaged 10.8 litres/100 km. Premium fuel is required.
The multi-link rear and Macpherson strut front suspension plus torque-sensitive power steering (with realistic enough weight) don't deliver what I'd term "sports coupe" handling. You won't likely be tempted to indulge in days at the track. But they do deliver very good crossover vehicle handling, and despite its weight, it turns in with a degree of enthusiasm and corners flatly.
The combination of good power and handling make the ZDX a satisfying vehicle to drive and a comfortable one to ride in, as the suspension, while firm enough to move you over large lumps in the pavement, is also supple enough to take the sting out of smaller bumpy bits.
2010 Acura ZDX
Type: Luxury/sport crossover
Base Price: $55,990; as tested, $55,990
Engine: 3.7-litre, SOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 300 hp/ 270 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.7 city/8.8 highway (premium fuel).
Alternatives: Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Jeep Cherokee SRT8, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Land Rover LR3, Nissan Murano, Lincoln MKX, Cadillac SRX