(first posted 6/1/2016) I presume that being an automotive designer in 1950’s America, where design was king and you were allowed to let your imagination roam wild (even if it wasn’t always successful), was the best time and place to be an automotive designer. Those days are long, long gone.
Where in those yesteryears the only concern of management was seemingly that the car couldn’t actually function as a jet fighter and that it had doors instead of a sliding bubble top, today there’s hundreds upon hundreds of regulations to stifle the designers vision. His sweeping front end may look nice, but there’s no chance it will comply with headlight height regulations, much less pedestrian impact standards. “They should be able to survive being hit with three tons of steel doing at 35 miles per hour. Oh, and while we’re at it, we’re using the same cooling system than the rest of the cars on the lineup so you’ll have to redesign the front grill to be bigger. The good news is that apart from that the side profile is nice and we’re going to keep it exactly the way it is, apart from the crisscrossing character lines, do you have any idea what those would cost in tooling alone. Now moving on to the back…”
You get the point. Thankfully and despite all of this, designers still find ways to make their vision come through. We still have people like Bangle, Callum and Nakamura, constantly pushing the envelope on design. For every Audi that looks identical to every single other Audi there’s a Nissan Maxima to bring the uniqueness up a bit (even if the oily bits are not exactly 4DSC material). But like that “not always successful” tangent a couple of hundred words up, it’s not uncommon for this artistic vision to sway to the wrong side of the collective taste.
It can be small things, like the blacked-out C-pillar on the latest Jaguar XJ (which I dislike for other reasons.) or things like the always-fun-to-mock E65 7-series, whose design was so clashing with the beautiful E39 that came before that the only thing uglier than the exterior was the UI of the iDrive system. And then we have our B-subject (and framing device for the day) the Power Plenum.
Yes, That’s what Acura’s beak was actually called. The Power Plenum is the brainchild of a man called Dave Marek, currently Global Creative Director for Acura. He first penned the controversial design on the front of the 2006 Acura Advanced Sedan concept. With a front that looked like an angry man with a huge forehead and teeny tiny tailights, it was difficult to imagine that we were watching the origins of a new era in Acura design. It started conservatively with a reduced version, which was actually quite pleasant, on the 2007 MDX. By the time the 2009 TL rolled along it had (d?)evolved into the unfortunate giant slab of metal we know today. It was around this time when the ZDX also first rolled along.
It’s actually quite simple to see why the ZDX came to be. There was something in the water at auto shows. I say this because around at the same time that the ZDX would have started its conception, BMW was also parading its own vision of a tall AWD “coupe” in the form of the X6 concept. Someone at Acura must have looked at it and gone “Hmm…good idea”
And so, in 2009, the ZDX was released, the absolute zenith of Dave Marek’s vision in the form of this “Luxury Four-Door Sports Coupe” (they should just call them Four-Door Potato Salad Flamethrower for all the meaning that those words have). Based on the Honda Pilot platform, it was only available with All-wheel drive and powered by a 3.7-liter V6 with 295 horsepower. Everyone must have been extremely ´pleased with themselves when it went out to the dealerships.
And…nothing. Literally. To call the ZDX a slow seller is to call the NES a bit successful or the Concorde just a tad quick off the line. The reason I’ve pegged the one in the header image, posted to the Cohort by cjcz92, as a 2010 is because that was the year where the heft of them were sold. And by heft, I mean 3,259 units. Even the similar-but-totally-unrelated Accord Crosstour managed to sell eight times as many units (28,851). That comparison gets even worse when you realize that over its entire run, it wouldn’t even ship half that (13,097). That’s the rarity taken care of for being qualified as a classic. The fact that rare doesn’t equal desirable means that in time it’ll become a full-on curbside classic. The X6, on the other hand, has managed to survive and put decent sales numbers thanks in small part by more options to personalize, and in an incredibly large part because of the fact that it has a BMW badge and kidney grill on the front, and the Acura had the power plenum.
I’ll give it this, though; this was probably the best implementation of the full-on plenum in the lineup. It wasn’t that it had gotten any prettier over the years, at least in your author’s opinion. Simply put, the sheer size of the vehicle took most of the shield-like features of the front. This is all subjective of course; the TL still looked like if it had a huge shroud to help the engine get up to temperature on the winters, and although the TSX and the RL had smaller incarnations, it still seemed that they were just thoughtlessly tacked on under a mandate. In time, the plenum began to shrink in size again until the inevitable happened.
On this Year’s New York International Auto show, Acura released their new for 2017 MDX, now with 100% less avian characteristics. The production car that giveth doth taketh away. So what was the reaction of the public? That without the plenum it just ended up looking like any other compact luxury crossover. That’s the life of a designer, sometimes you create something fresh and loved by everyone, others people just find your work derivative. Either way, someone’s going to hate it.