We Weren’t Ready for the Original Acura ZDX
The SUV coupe only lasted from 2010 to 2013, but it was ahead of its time.
Here’s something no one could have possibly had on their 2022 Bingo cards: the Acura ZDX nameplate is back, and in a big way, soon. Scheduled to arrive in 2024, the new ZDX will be electric, co-developed with General Motors, have styling based on the new Precision SUV concept, and it’ll arrive with a performance-oriented Type S variant.
Those crumbs signal the reborn model will have some ties to the original ZDX, but it might not be as quirky and unexpected as the ahead-of-its-time original when it launched for the 2010 model year. The fact is, that crossover probably doesn’t get enough credit for being the groundbreaking, genre-bending machine it was.
Although the coupe-UV trend as we know it today began with the launch of the BMW X6 just a couple of years earlier (shoutout to the Infiniti FX35 muscle SUV, as well), the ZDX is a major point in the segment’s timeline and remains one of the most-debated vehicles from the past 20 years. It didn’t have the same success as the now-popular X6, however, and its production run only lasted for the 2010-2013 model years.
Let’s go back in time and examine just how interesting and misunderstood the ZDX actually was.
The old mid-sized five-passenger ZDX had a short and somewhat unexciting life that began when Acura unveiled a prototype model on April 8, 2009, at the New York International Auto Show. Acura billed it as a luxury “four-door sports coupe” that prioritized the driver and front passenger over any sort of utility, and that’s exactly what made it one of the most polarizing SUVs ever produced.
The ZDX used a 3.7-liter V6 that made 300 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. It paired with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission, and those were the only available choices.
Riding on 19- or 20-inch wheels, the ZDX had an independent suspension with MacPherson struts and coil springs up front and an independent multi-link suspension with trailing arms in the rear. It also had Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) as standard and an available Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) with an Active Damping System (ADS). According to Car and Driver’s testing, it could skip from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and could hold the road up to 0.85 g (a 2005 RSX Type S recorded zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and a skidpad number of 0.86 g, for what it’s worth). Overall, it was a solid performer in its time.
The original ZDX never received a true performance overhaul in the form of a Type S variant, as Acura didn’t do that to SUVs until the recently announced MDX Type S. In fact, it never really received any upgrades from year to year throughout its lifespan.
Unfortunately, its decent driving dynamics were not enough to sway pragmatic customers to lead their decision-making with passion.
Acura was at a bit of a low point in the late 2000s—that shield grille isn’t remembered terribly fondly today—but even by those standards, the ZDX wasn’t exactly a hit. According to goodcarbadcar.net and carsalesbase.com, Acura only sold 6,174 units in America in total, with the launch year being the best at 3,259, so it’s no wonder the ZDX didn’t have a long life. For reference, BMW has been continuously selling the X6 since its debut, and through June, the German company has moved 5,399 units this year alone in the midst of global supply chain issues.
That’s why enthusiasts treat it the same way they treat the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet—it’s controversial, but somewhat admirable in how daring and weird it was. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, it’s always an interesting day when you see one. Before sporty SUVs became popular, it was like seeing a video game glitch in real life. Does it legitimately bring good luck on sight? Maybe, maybe not, but they’re about as rare, if not more, as a four-leaf clover.
The low sales were a major strike against Acura’s risk—and it was definitely a risk to make this type of vehicle back in 2010—as the ZDX was the company’s first vehicle that was fully designed at the then-new Acura Design Studio in Southern California. It was then engineered in Ohio and produced in Alliston, Ontario, Canada.
That’s not to say the styling was bad; quite the contrary. Aside from the much-maligned Acura beak of that era, the ZDX’s bold body is its hook, and I think it looks fantastic by today’s standards. Based on the Honda Pilot/Acura MDX SUV, it lists at 192.4 inches long, 85.6 inches wide, and 62.8 inches tall with a wheelbase of 108.3 inches. In a lot of ways, it looks like a lifted Acura RSX coupe, with a pointy nose, a super-high beltline and small windows that make for a bunker-like cabin, a sloping roofline, and a chunky/stubby rear. Except it had four doors, not two.
However, this shape resulted in extremely tight interior packaging, which is exactly what made people question the purpose of the ZDX and all SUVs that prioritize style over space. The rear seats were small, and the hatch only provided 26.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the seats, 55.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down (though, it did have under-floor storage). For comparison, a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee lists at 193.5 inches long and has 37.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 70.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down.
Like the X6, the ZDX is a vehicle you buy because you like it and want it, not because it’s the most practical and value-filled choice. After all, even if it looks like a coupe, its 4,424-4,462 pounds are lifted high into the air.
The current MDX having a Type S variant is indicative of the change of heart toward performance-oriented crossovers and SUVs. While coupe and sports sedan sales have petered, sporty lifted vehicles have gained significant sales traction, and many manufacturers now make vehicles that blend streamlined styling and performance (to a degree) characteristics onto SUV and crossover bodies. Think Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes-AMG GLE63, and Audi Q8. Even Lotus and Lamborghini make utility vehicles now. And in terms of SUVs with odd shapes, there’s now also the BMW X4, the Porsche Cayenne Coupe, the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, the Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron, the Mercedes GLC Coupe, the Audi Q5 Sportback… need I say more? This is a whole thing now, and the Acura ZDX was one of the OGs that made that happen.
The original ZDX failed to catch on when it launched, but Acura is hoping now is the time and the market to take that chance again. With few details to go off of, it’s unclear what the shape and size of the new ZDX will look like, but Acura did say it will be electric and will take inspiration from the Precision concept.
It’s also going to get a Type S variant to add to Acura’s new Type S lineup that includes the Integra, MDX, TLX, and NSX. Considering the instant torque and low center of gravity that comes with electric vehicles, it would make perfect sense for a coupe SUV to be built this way. Maybe this is what the ZDX was destined to be all along, but I’ll hold judgment until we learn more, see what it looks like, and actually drive the thing.