First impressions of the 2011 Acura ZDX hint at muscular performance and sharp handling. The ZDX's chiseled, curved and bulging body panels give it a certain appeal rare among crossover SUVs. But form, unfortunately, comes at the expense of function, especially when you consider that the ZDX is essentially a rebodied Acura MDX.
On the plus side, the 2011 Acura ZDX features an interior that artfully blends luxury and modernity. There's a unique "Monolith" center stack that fades to black when powered down, and sumptuous hand-stitched leather graces a surprising amount of surfaces. But that is tempered by the cargo and rear-seat comfort issues, along with the ZDX's meager 1,500-pound tow rating (which compares to the MDX's 5,000-pound limit).
The ZDX's dramatically sloping roof line shaves off more than 3 inches of rear-seat headroom, challenging even average-sized adults to find comfort. It also eliminates about a third of the maximum cargo space found in the MDX. Being about 5 inches shorter than the MDX, and with a lower center of gravity, the ZDX should be blessed with better handling. But in testing, the MDX either meets or beats the ZDX in every performance metric.
Taking everything into consideration, the 2011 Acura ZDX seems to place style over substance, much like the conceptually similar 2011 BMW X6 (although the Acura costs about $10,000 less than the BMW). It's an interesting idea to create a sporty, all-weather utility vehicle that is about driving instead of hauling. But we also think this makes the ZDX a fringe vehicle compared to more conventional choices like the 2011 Acura MDX, 2011 BMW X5 or 2011 Land Rover LR4.
The 2011 Acura ZDX is a midsize five-passenger crossover SUV. Standard equipment includes 19-inch wheels, automatic xenon headlights, foglights, heated outside mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, ambient cabin lighting, a back-up camera with a rearview mirror display, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, power heated front seats (10-way-adjustable driver seat with memory, eight-way for the front passenger), leather upholstery and interior trim, a trip computer, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and a power liftgate. An eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer, satellite radio and a USB/auxiliary audio jack is also standard.
There are two significant option packages for the ZDX. The Technology package adds keyless ignition and entry, perforated premium leather seats, a navigation system with real-time traffic and weather, a multiview back-up camera, added Bluetooth phone functions with streaming audio and an upgraded Acura/ELS surround-sound stereo with a built-in 15GB hard drive. The Advance package includes these features plus electronically adjustable suspension dampers, a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, a collision warning and mitigation system, heated and ventilated front seats and a sport steering wheel.
The 2011 Acura ZDX features an appealing cockpit, notable for its intriguing design and liberal use of leather. Controls are arranged much like as in other Acuras, but the monolithic center stack that fades to black when the car is powered down is unique to the ZDX. There is an abundance of buttons within reach of the driver, but for the most part, operation is fairly simple. Adding in the Technology or Advanced packages tends to clutter the center stack's appearance, though. Hand-stitched leather graces the dash pad, center console and door panels for an upmarket look and feel.
Front-seat passengers are treated to comfortable and supportive seats, but those relegated to the rear will likely find accommodations less hospitable. The sloping roof line reduces headroom to the point that even average-sized adults will brush up against the headliner. Legroom is also notably lacking, exacerbated by seat cushions mounted uncomfortably close to the floor.
The ZDX also comes up short in useful cargo space. Behind the rear seats, up to 26 cubic feet can be stuffed to the glass. With the seats folded flat, maximum cargo space is only increased to 56 cubes, well short of other midsize luxury SUVs.
Powering the 2011 ZDX is a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only available transmission. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg in combined driving. The ZDX's maximum towing capacity is an underwhelming 1,500 pounds.
The ZDX features the same Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system found in other Acuras, capable of transferring different levels of power to individual wheels to maximize traction and grip through turns and in inclement weather.
In recent testing, the ZDX accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, which is about a second slower than the BMW X5 or X6.
Despite its sporty, rakish appearance, the 2011 Acura ZDX doesn't perform any better than the MDX crossover -- one of the most athletic SUVs on the market -- on which it's based. The SH-AWD system provides a surprising level of cornering grip by distributing torque to the wheels that need it most. Opting for the Advance package and its adjustable suspension may seem like an intriguing performance upgrade, but we didn't find enough of an advantage to justify the added (and substantial) cost.
The 3.7-liter V6 provides an inspiring soundtrack, but the power it generates lacks low-end torque and falls just short of impressive. The six-speed automatic transmission executes upshifts quickly and smoothly, however, but downshifts tend to be sluggish.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Acura ZDX includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Opting for the Advance package adds blind-spot monitoring and a collision mitigation braking system paired to the adaptive cruise control. This system detects the likelihood of a front-end collision and alerts the driver with visual and audible warnings. If the driver takes no action, the system engages the brakes and tightens the driver's seatbelt. If the system deems a collision inevitable, it increases braking force and tightens both front seatbelts.
The Acura ZDX has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in a perfect five-star rating in front- and side-impact protection for all passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the ZDX its highest score of "Good" in frontal-offset crash tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, the ZDX came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, slightly longer than average for cars in this class.
The 2011 Acura ZDX carries over unchanged from its inaugural year.