What's more important -- looks or practicality?
It's a natural question for shoppers considering Acura's newest sport utility vehicle, the ZDX.
The new-for-2010 ZDX pushes the styling envelope with a sleek, coupe-like body that rides high above the pavement, SUV-style. But the tradeoffs include compromised visibility out the back and lengthy front doors that can bang into adjacent cars in parking lots when passengers try to exit the vehicle.
The ZDX, arriving in showrooms Dec. 15, comes with the most modernly luxurious interior of any Acura, including handsome, closed-loop carpeting and hand-applied leather strips on the dashboard. But back seat room is surprisingly cramped, and the ZDX roofline can cause some passengers to bump their heads as they enter.
With a starting manufacturer'd suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $46,305, the ZDX is $1,335 less than the base price of Acura's most expensive vehicle in base form, the RL sedan.
But where the RL's top model has a retail price of $55,060, the top ZDX, which was the test model, is $56,855.
Such lofty pricing puts the five-seat ZDX, which comes standard with a 300-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission, leather-trimmed seats and all-wheel drive, in the company of other high-brow luxury SUVs.
2010 Acura ZDX
- BASE PRICE: $45,495 for base model; $49,995 for ZDX with Technology Package; $56,045 for ZDX with Advance Package.
- AS TESTED: $56,855.
- TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger, luxury sport utility vehicle.
- ENGINE: 3.7-liter single overhead cam V-6 with VTEC.
- MILEAGE: Estimated 16 mpg (city), 22 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 130 mph.
- LENGTH: 192.4 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 108.3 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 4,462 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Japan.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $810.
The 300-horsepower, 2010 BMW X6, for example, has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $57,125. Meantime, the 2010 Infiniti FX35 with 303-horsepower V-6 starts at $43,265.
Acura officials reportedly only expect some 6,000 ZDX sales annually, which would make it the second-lowest-volume Acura after the RL, based on calendar 2008 sales results.
Despite its looks, this newest Acura uses some familiar Acura parts. The ZDX rides on the platform that'd used by the eight-passenger Acura MDX, and the ZDX is powered by the 3.7-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that's in the MDX.
The two SUVs, as well as the Acura RL, use the company's Super Handling all-wheel drive system that can distribute engine torque between front and rear wheels as well as between right-side and left-side wheels. The ZDX weighs almost as much as the MDX, too -- 4,424 pounds for the base ZDX, compared with the base MDX's 4,550 pounds.
And yet, the ZDX is less of an SUV. It can tow just 1,500 pounds, maximum, which is as much as the lighter-weight Honda CR-V with four-cylinder engine. In contrast, the MDX has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
The ZDX cargo capacity, even with the second-row seats folded down, is just 55.8 cubic feet. This compares with the nearly 60 cubic feet in BMW's X6 and the 62 cubic feet in Infiniti's FX35.
The test ZDX was comfortable, though still let in some road bumps, when its suspension was set on "comfort" mode. When moved to the "sport" mode, the firmness in the ride became pronounced, with passengers feeling some road bumps sharply. The different mode settings change damper settings on the suspension as well as steering. In "comfort" mode, the steering on the test ZDX had a light feel.
The interior was decently quiet, even as the ZDX rode on the biggest standard tires ever on an Acura -- 19-inch Michelin all-season tires. The vehicle's raked profile kept wind noise at a minimum. Like several other Honda vehicles, the ZDX includes an active noise control system to keep unwanted sounds away from passengers.
But it was awkward to step over the multiple sills at the doorway entrances of this SUV.
I also disliked the smallness of the side windows in the ZDX doors and both the thickness and positioning of the metal pillars around the windshield. The rear window was constricted, too, providing limited views of cars behind me.
In fact, when cars pulled up right behind my rear bumper, I couldn't see their headlights or hood, only their windshield and roof. The combination of blocked views made me feel a bit closed in inside the ZDX and hesitant about whether I was seeing everything around me.
As a result, I appreciated that the test model was the top-of-the-line ZDX that included amber blind-spot lights that illuminated at each front door to tell me if a vehicle was next to me.
I also had to use the rearview camera when backing up. There's simply no way to see much through the smallish rear window on the tailgate.
Still, I have to mention the well-done panoramic roof with two sunshades that's standard on the ZDX. With both roller shades moved out of the way, the roof provided a sunny ambience.
The tester was loaded with all kinds of other nifty features, including a large display screen with navigation map and Acura's premium ELS audio system.
The ZDX doesn't do well on fuel. Premium gasoline is required, and the government mileage rating is just 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
I had good power -- and needed it -- to move the hefty-feeling ZDX around town and on highways. Torque peaks at 270 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm. But I managed only 16.8 mpg in travel that was 70 percent city driving.
The ZDX, by the way, has Acura's first six-speed automatic transmission, and in the tester, there were times when it felt as if the tranny was wondering what gear it should be in. Then, it shifted noticeably.
The ZDX comes standard with most safety equipment, including curtain air bags, traction control, electronic stability control and even Trailer Stability Assist. The federal government has not posted ZDX crash test ratings.