The auto industry still seems to be a generation or two away from vehicles that check every box for being a ‘software-defined vehicle.’ That is, a vehicle — combined with an ultra-powerful central computer — that gets most of its defining performance characteristics, as well as safety, utility and user-experience offerings, via code rather than physical hardware. It’s has become the de rigueur term when talking about the future of mobility.
But for the latest generation of EVs, many of which are destined to share basic propulsion components such as batteries and traction motors, how about a new term: the ‘software-differentiated vehicle?’ Because Acura’s new 2024 ZDX Type S certainly seems to apply.
After its public debut at August 2023’s Monterey Car Week, Acura packed up some vehicles — mostly examples of Type S — and brought them to Detroit, where SAE Media and other media outlets spoke with designers, engineers and managers on the project. Because the Acura ZDX, Honda Prologue, Chevy Blazer EV and the coming Chevy Equinox EV are derived from the same EV architecture (General Motors’ Ultium), there are only a few component choices that are different. So for the ZDX Type S, other than 22-inch (559-mm) wheels that are 2 inches (51 mm) larger than the A-spec ZDX wheels, and front Brembo brakes that are 3-inches (76 mm) larger at 15.6 inches (396 mm), there wasn’t a whole lot of physical tweaking to be done.
John Wong, Acura’s development leader on the ZDX Type S project, said most of the performance differences were programmed. “For the acceleration goals,” he said, “most of the work was through software – that’s for acceleration. Braking was mostly software, also.” He added that other vehicle dynamics, such as steering feel, were done with both hardware and software changes, such as unique suspension bushings.
The Type S, which Acura says has 500 hp and AWD, will have an approximate range of 288 miles (463 km), versus 325 miles (523 km) for the single-motor ZDX A-spec and 315 miles (507 km) for a dual-motor version. All three use a 102-kWh Ultium battery.
The A-spec ZDX has a multilink fixed-coil suspension with amplitude-reactive dampers, while the Type S is a multilink air suspension setup with high-performance adaptive dampers. All ZDX models have a 121.8-inch (3094-mm) wheelbase, 197.7-inch (5022-mm) overall length and 77-inch (1956-mm) width. The maximum towing capacity for any ZDX is 3,500 lb. (1588 kg).
Two companies, one team?
Because the ZDX vehicles themselves are built by GM, Acura engineers and product planners had close collaboration their GM counterparts, a process Wong said was gratifying and not that unusual compared to the usual in-house development process. “To start, we transported some Acuras from our Ohio R&D site to the GM Proving Ground in Milford (Mich.). Then we drove them together and explained to them ‘This is what an Acura feels like. These are the impressions we want customers to have.’ Then we worked together on what now is available to tune. What can we change? Let's change this, let's change spring, damper or steering, weight, you know, something like a bushing, get that feeling, right. So that's kind of where we focused on, to give it that clear differentiation.”
While definitive numbers aren’t yet available, Wong said that the difference in performance from A-spec to Type S is similar to that of other IC-powered Acura models.
“I really liked those kinds of discussions,” Wong said. “Because that means each company or each brand has something they stand for, that they're proud of, and hey know the customers like – so really, it's fun, because then I know where GM stands and I know where Honda stands and we can be clear the differences. “Andy [Foster, GM’s senior design manager for ZDX Type S], created a great design, but it wouldn’t have looked as good if the General Motors stamping crew couldn’t have done it,” Wong said, adding that he worked so frequently at GM facilities that he had a double-sided badge holder to get him in to both companies’ work areas.
Acura’s design, GM’s tech needs
As for the design itself: The ZDX exterior largely is unchanged from the Precision EV concept Acura rolled out in 2022. The floating roof (no B-pillar) design and sculpting on uppermost surfaces remain, but the side surfaces have less eccentric curves than the concept did.
The Type S has a prominent shelf that extends rearward from the bottom of the back glass. Foster said that was to not only to signal performance, but to enhance aerodynamics. He also said that his team worked to use existing design elements, such as the “chicane” daytime running lights and taillights, while using a futuristic interpretation of the diamond pentagon grille with available back-lighting.
It has been reported that designers at Acura, Chevrolet and Cadillac were relieved that the different Ultium-platform vehicles look considerably different. None of the teams, even the crossover teams at Honda and GM, had access to other companies’ designs.
Foster said the vents — Acura calls them ‘heat sinks’ — at the corners of the front fascia provide key cooling airflow to the battery pack. Their design is picked up on the rear, with faux vents.
Inside, drivers and passengers get Acura’s first integration of Google Assistant built into the infotainment system while still having Android Auto and Apple CarPlay within reach. The 11.3-inch driver instrument cluster and 11-inch center display screen look similar to what is in the
Chevy Blazer EV. And the ZDX comes standard with AccuraWatch, a suite of driver-assistance technologies that includes Acura’s first-ever rear cross-traffic braking and blind-zone steering assist, as well has hands-free driving technology adapted from GM’s BlueCruise.
Asked if there is remaining power or efficiency to pull out of the Ultium platform for upgrades or future models, Wong said that some improvements already are planned, though it hasn’t been decided whether upgrades and changes will be over-the-air updates or introduced for future model years. He did say that such updates are becoming a basic expectation of the EV consumer. “The market, I think, is a little bit different. So we will be doing continuous improvements and updates,” he said.
The ZDX A-spec has yet to go on sale in the United States, but officials say it will be in early 2024. The Type S will arrive around the end of Q1.Continue reading »