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Introduction to a Niche within a Niche
Admittedly, we know that it is very likely quite possible that we have put together a back to back comparison test of two luxury models that might just possess the narrowest range of mainstream buyer appeal that the world has seen since the introduction of the Renault LeCar. Okay, we admit that making this sort of analogy may seem a tad bit extreme but allow us to explain our reasoning for the analogy here—if you tell someone that you just bought an SUV designed to look “sporty and sleek” at the expense of passenger and cargo room compared to the more mainstream luxury SUVs they are based on they would probably give you a look of concerned pity. Much like a person would have given a person who just bought the aforementioned LeCar.
It is quite odd or at least coincidental, however, that two luxury automakers would come up with two fastback niche SUVs with similar design briefs that were apparently designed from the beginning not to sell in huge numbers but rather serve as “flagship models.” Such is the curiously true tale of the oddballs of the luxury SUV realm—the 2012 Acura ZDX and 2012 BMW X6. It’s funny though, we thought the point of creating a new vehicle was that one day hopefully everybody would want to drive one. But Acura and BMW weren’t after “everyone.” Or poor people with bad credit but we’ll get to sticker prices in a moment.
You see, some people see luxury not as supple leather all over the interior, a seat mounted air conditioning fan that cools your bum on hot days or an ear splitting, 27-speaker audio system pumping out more watts of power than some nuclear power plants. Quite simply, they seek exclusivity and they want everyone to know that they are a breed apart from more mainstream X5 and MDX owners.
Now, having experienced these two somewhat compromised SUVs gave us a real insight into what they are like to live with on a day to day basis. While we expected that their limitations and positive attributes would be quite similar that was, unfortunately for one contestant here, not the case. Rarely does a new vehicle bother us this much but after spending some time with both the BMW X6 and Acura ZDX we learned that we really, really hated the X6. We’d actually prefer to own a LeCar, quite frankly.
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How many engines is too many?
1.—BMW offers three engine choices for the X6 including an utterly ridiculous 555 horsepower 4.4 liter V8 in the X6 M which proves that “M” Stands for “More Than You Need”
Now, the 2012 Acura ZDX makes do with a 3.7 liter 300 horsepower V6 VTEC motor that works in superbly crisp harmony with the standard 6-speed automatic to give this vehicle plenty of power at all times and an engine soundtrack that is truly delightful. The vehicle needs nothing more. But at BMW, you can always have more and more power since apparently their powertrain department has become the automotive equivalent of the Hometown Buffet.
The X6 is actually quite fun to drive with the base twin-turbo 3.0 liter 6-cylinder which also is rated at 300 horsepower when putting the power down through all four wheels through a smooth 8-speed automatic. We do miss the noise BMW inline 6-cylinders made before they all got turbochargers but given the decent 23 mile per gallon highway rating that it shares with the ZDX, it is definitely the smartest choice as far as engines go.
Second up the engine options list for this BMW SUV is the “only semi-ridiculous” 4.4 liter 400 horsepower twin-turbo V8 that comes standard with the X6 xDrive50i model. Now, while we are at it, who gave all BMW SUVs such stupid, nonsensical and impossible to remember names? The engine is a 4.4 liter too so why is the number 50 in there? Too much Oktoberfest in Bavaria, not enough time in math class.
Our test X6 was equipped with the 400 horsepower V8 and while it was noticeably quicker than the Acura ZDX, it felt far more nose heavy and much less agile to drive than either a 6-cylinder X6 or the ZDX. Also, since the turbo lag is near non-existent it can be challenging to drive this vehicle in a smooth and controlled manner if you are used to a car that doesn’t try to snap your neck as you accelerate from stoplights. Our tester also liked to gobble gas with a check of the trip computer showing a 14 mile per gallon average.
As for the X6 M, we most likely never will drive it nor are we even curious about doing so. The M-Power division should be working on building the best performance CARS for BMW because they do it with groundbreaking brilliance year after year. And no matter how much work you put into it, an SUV’s elevated ride height and the laws of physics will always keep it from being a true performance car.
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Proof of the Existence of Highway Robbery
2.—The BMW X6 is Much Pricier than the Acura ZDX and the Options List is a Quick Route to Personal Bankruptcy
Our mid-level trim 2012 ZDX Tech came to $51,405 equipped with all of the essential luxury goodies anyone could possibly want. There is a more basic version available for $46,120 if you can live without Acura’s awesome in-dash navigation system and positively scrumptious ELS Premium Audio system. For our money, we would definitely go for the Tech version we drove as it strikes the best balance of features per dollar.
Tech geeks can also shell out $56,670 for a ZDX Advance with heated/ventilated seats offering six levels of cool or hot, a blind spot warning detection system, adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system that can apply the brakes for you if an accident is expected or you are just lazy, ambient interior lighting and the Integrated Dynamics system which adds levels of adjustability to the suspension.
Admittedly, of all the features we just talked about it is the Integrated Dynamics System that we most enjoyed during time behind the wheel of this top of the line ZDX. In the sportiest setting, this system truly closes any perceptible gap one may detect between the ZDX and X6 in regard to tight handling and a truly buttoned down driving experience.
Okay, BMW’s have always been expensive but here are the base prices for all three X6 models. The base 6-cylinder starts at “just” $59,800, the mid-level 8-cylinder skyrockets the price to $70,400, whereas the X6 M is available to greedy investment bankers and Russian mobsters for only $92,900 and remember this is all before BMW socks it to you with their options list. Really, BMW wants $1,000 for “special” blue or black paint?
Now, we could spend all week going over the prices found in any BMW product’s options sheet but we do actually appreciate that they finally stopped charging for Bluetooth 3 years after Kia and Hyundai did exactly that. Way to keep up. Here we are comparing the ZDX pricing with an X6 with the 6-cylinder so first off if you want a back-up camera and navigation in the BMW (these are essential) you should add $3,300 for the Premium Package.
Other packages are similarly pricey but the following charges are inexcusably greedy—satellite radio for one year is $350, a 3 passenger rear bench seat costs another $350, a plug for full connectivity to your iPhone is $249 and there is a $7,700 BMW Special Composition Package which apparently only nets you nicer leather on the seats and dash, an especially soft headliner material, increased power seat adjustability, some X6 door sill inserts and Eucalyptus RedBrown Wood Trim. That wood had better come from a really rare, endangered tree to make it worth that price.
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Think Twice Before Ordering Dubs
3.—The 2012 Acura ZDX has a more characterful sounding V6 and a more compliant ride than the X6
Both the X6 and ZDX are sportier feeling from behind the wheel than their more mainstream platform mates the MDX and X5. The biggest difference can be found in the ZDX which has a much more communicative and responsive steering rack and affords the driver with greater cornering confidence possibly due to its lower center of gravity. But as with every Acura engine, the noise it makes will have drivers pushing that 3.7 liter V6 to the redline time and time again. Also, the other Acura ability to consistently and expertly calibrate ride and handling characteristics carries over to this SUV.
Yes, we said earlier that since turning to turbocharging a few years back, a bit of the character inherent in BMW’s engines seemed to vanish overnight. Sure, these engines offer instant power and should please most luxury car buyers who never owned a BMW before. Also, sadly, our X6 tester suffered from a very harsh and annoying ride (possibly due to the 20-inch rims?) where every uneven piece of pavement and eacj California pothole could be felt by our backside.
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Now is this my X6 or did I get in the X5 Again?
4.—The 2012 Acura ZDX not only has a uniquely rendered interior whereas from inside the X6 you could easily be in a more plebian X5
Simply put, the interior of the Acura ZDX is not shared with any other model from that brand and it really does feel like a “special” design thanks to the sweep of leather trim arching across the dash and moving all the way down the center console to the rear seats. Even the cupholder has a unique chrome covered sliding design element that is simply gorgeous. The ZDX’s interior makes you feel okay about buying an SUV that is more expensive than the MDX which is still admittedly the more practical buy.
Hop into the 2012 BMW X6 and you will quickly realize that you are looking at the exact same dash you had in the old family X5 whose lease you traded in early for your new midlife crisis SUV. You do spend most of your time inside of your SUV so wouldn’t it be nice to have at least one reminder that you are special. It’s too bad because to get that feeling you will have to look at the X6’s exterior or buy a ZDX.
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Lord Vader, your BMW X6 is Ready
5.—When looked at from the front, all black X6 models look scarily similar to Darth Vader’s helmet. From every other angle it just looks frumpy and awkward. Lord Vader would not be pleased.
The 2012 Acura ZDX may be a love it or hate it design but then some of the greatest art has that exact same characteristic. We happen to like the rear doors with their stylishly hidden handles, the ample sweep of the tail lamp design and how from the headlamps back the entire vehicle looks like it was designed by the same team. The X6 has so many different design elements going on from each angle that you have to wonder if the BMW designers in charge never met in person before cobbling together the ugliest vehicle this company has ever built. Not taking into account the 5-Series GT hatchback, of course.
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