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Acura Designers: ZDX Concept

Honda’s luxury brand does more design work in the U.S. Will it help?


Acura opened its new design studio at parent Honda’s main Torrance, California, campus in April, 2007. The Acura ZDX concept, based on the Acura MDX crossover and unveiled at the New York auto show, is a four-door SUV luxury wagon coupe crossover thingy with an all-glass ceiling, due to hit the market next year. It is the first project to go from pencil scratch to metal in this studio. Lead exterior designer Damon Schell explains the thinking behind it on the sidelines of the show.

Car and Driver: After seeing the new TSX and TL, many of our readers would like us to ask: What the %@*! were you thinking?

Damon Schell: In the past, maybe we’ve been known as Honda-plus, so we are really trying to get a character that makes Acura bold and aggressive. As designers, we like a little bit of polarization, some love/hate. If it’s all love, it’s not good; if it’s all hate, it’s not good.

C/D: So basically you’d rather have death threats than be ignored?

DS: I can’t speak to death threats; I don’t know much about that. Internally, what we’re pushing for is something that definitely carries a bold character.

C/D: What exactly is the ZDX?

DS: We’ve always thought of it as a four-door luxury sports coupe, very personal, very dynamic, with a lot of energy. Even though it’s on an SUV platform, we feel that can give a coupe a ton of capability and put us in a unique location where nobody else is.

C/D: Describe the theme.

DS: Suspenseful emotion. The idea is that this car creates a lot of energy, motion, and dynamic every time you see it. Exterior-wise, it’s motion surfacing, or pulled, directional, and tensioned. By pulled we mean a slingshot image being held back just before release. For directional, we used architecture (for inspiration), specifically a building in Harajuku, Japan, that even though it’s a gigantic, solid structure, it appears to be moving. It doesn’t look stationary when stationary. Lastly, tension, an image of a bullet being shot through a medium like water - that ripple effect.

C/D: Okay, but how does that manifest itself on the ZDX?

DS: From some of the earliest sketches, the wheels seem to be interacting with the shoulder, the shoulder interacts with the cabin, and the cabin is stretched around the rear of the vehicle, so that no surface is left untouched, all flowing together to make one pure design statement.

C/D: Who is the buyer?

DS: We tried not to limit ourselves too much, but throughout this (design process) we’ve always known it to be a couple celebrating their journey through life or their desire to experiment and experience new things.C/D: It certainly is, er, unusual.

DS: This kind of project comes along once in a career, something so blue-sky and white paper. Early on, this car was just a styling study, there really was no plan. But this car kind of solidified so that executives couldn’t live without it.

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Acura Designers: ZDX Concept
Acura Designers: ZDX Concept

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