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Honda Pilot vs. Acura MDX: Compare Crossover SUVs

Are luxury models worth the price? This question has bedeviled car shoppers for years, especially between cars from the same family that share the same platform and similar hardware, such as in the Honda Pilot and upscale Acura MDX. These brothers from the same mother offer three rows of seats, available all-wheel drive, and the latest in connected car technology. So how are these three-row crossover SUVs different? 

The differences are stark. The redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot gets longer and roomier, seats up to eight passengers, and comes available with an off-road ready TrailSport trim. The 2023 Acura MDX leans into the more refined side of utility, with a sleeker design, seats for seven in its leather-lined interior, and a performance-minded Type S model with an air suspension that wrings the most out of its impressive handling. 

The difference between the base models is more than just $13,000, and the differences grow at the top end, with a price delta of more than $20,000 separating them. What follows is whether we think it’s worth it, and how the Pilot and MDX measure up. 

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

Honda Pilot vs. Acura MDX price and trims

  • Base Pilot LX costs about $38,000

  • Base Acura MDX costs about $51,000

  • Pilot AWD costs $2,100 extra; it’s $2,200 on the MDX

  • Best picks: Honda Pilot EX-L, Acura MDX A-Spec if AWD is a must

Which Honda Pilot should I buy?

Skip the base Pilot LX and its small touchscreen to at least the $40,495 Pilot Sport, with its heated front seats with power adjustments, as well as three-zone climate control. The best value for the most features is the EX-L, however. For $43,295, or $43,595 with second row captain’s chairs, the EX-L adds leather upholstery, a 9.0-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone compatibility and charging, a 9-speaker audio system, and a power tailgate. That’s nearly as good a get as the base Acura MDX that costs just over $50,000. 

If all-wheel drive is a must-have, it could be tempting to consider the $49,695 TrailSport edition or the range-topping the $53,375 Pilot Elite, which both have standard AWD. Otherwise, it’s a $2,100 upcharge. The TrailSport has off-road gear and a panoramic sunroof; Elite adds navigation, 20-inch wheels, a removable second-row middle seat, and 12-speaker Bose audio as well as a 10.2-inch digital instrument display, a surround-view camera system, and a head-up display. At that point, our eyes would stray to the MDX. 

Which Acura MDX should I buy?

For $50,745, including destination, the Acura MDX comes well equipped, even compared to other premium and luxury three-row crossover SUVs. It rides on 19-inch wheels, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch infotainment display screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, and a panoramic sunroof. There is a caveat, however: The infotainment screen relies on an imprecise console touchpad that might be safer in theory than reaching forward for a touchscreen. If you like playing with all the digital interfaces offered in modern cars, test your tolerance on this one before you buy the MDX. 

The base model strikes us as the best deal, but we could appreciate stepping over the $55,000 Technology Package, its leather upholstery and 12-speaker 550-watt ELS audio system for the MDX A-Spec. It absorbs the $2,200 upcharge for AWD by making it standard with its $61,000 tag. It’s mostly a cosmetic upgrade, with blacked-out trim pieces, as well as more firmly bolstered front seats that are heated and cooled. 

The $64,500 Advance Package adds 16-way power front seats, a surround-view camera system, a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear outboard seats, but for about $4,500 more, the MDX Type S really tempts with its turbo V-6 and air suspension. 

Does the Honda Pilot or Acura MDX have a better warranty?

The Acura MDX has a more comprehensive warranty. The 4-year/50,000-mile warranty includes two years or 24,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. The Pilot’s basic warranty is three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Advantage: The Pilot EX-L and the base MDX result in a draw. 

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

Honda Pilot vs. Acura MDX engine, AWD, and off-road  performance

  • TrailSport editions give the Pilot an off-road edge

  • Type S editions give the MDX a performance edge

  • Honda Pilot has a 285-hp 3.5-liter V-6 coupled with a 10-speed automatic

  • Acura MDX has a 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 with a 10-speed automatic

  • Acura MDX Type S uses a 355-hp 3.0-liter turbo V-6

  • Both models can tow up to 5,000 pounds with AWD

Do the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX have the same engine?

They’re similar, but the new V-6 employed in the redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot was designed to reduce emissions, even though the power output is nearly the same as its predecessor. The 285-hp 3.5-liter V-6 makes 262 lb-ft of torque and replaces the 280-hp V-6. It pairs with a seamless 10-speed automatic transmission. 

Most Acura MDX models use a similar 3.5-liter V-6 tuned to 290 hp and 267 lb-ft, with the same 10-speed automatic. The MDX Type S has something the Pilot does not have: impressive acceleration from its 3.0-liter turbo V-6 that makes 355 hp and 354 lb-ft.  

How fast is the Acura MDX?

The Type S tops the performance charts of both models, and its turbocharged V-6 helps it shuttle to 60 mph in about six seconds, which is one second quicker than in the standard V-6. Normal, Comfort, Sport, and Snow modes in the MDX vary the throttle response and steering feel for a bit more variability between being a soft highway cruiser and a little more snap off the line. 

Is the Acura MDX 4WD?

It’s front-wheel drive, but most shoppers pony up the $2,200 for AWD, which is standard on A-Spec and Type S models. The biggest difference between the Type S and the base version of the MDX and the Pilot is its handling. The AWD system can send 70% of the power to the rear axle, to give any MDX a sporting characteristic as in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and the torque can then be split between the rear wheels for improved grip. It comes with standard all-wheel drive and builds off the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension that makes the regular MDX stand out among other three-row crossover SUVs. 

The Type S adds an adaptive air suspension that raises the SUV up to 2.0 inches from its standard ground clearance of 7.3 inches, or lowers it 0.6 inches in Sport+ mode. With the independent suspension controlling the lateral motions, and the adaptive damping in the air suspension controlling the vertical motions, the MDX Type S stays planted. 

Is the Honda Pilot 4WD?

Like the MDX, front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive costs $2,100 on all but TrailSport and Elite grades, where it is standard. It’s a similar AWD system as on the MDX, with a variable power split between the axles, and torque split between the rear wheels for more grip. In total, the Pilot is built more for comfort and quiet. It employs cheaper MacPherson struts up front that allow for more body lean in turns than the MDX. 

Ground clearance on the Pilot TrailSport increases an inch to 8.3 inches, 18-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires come standard, and it uses standard hill descent control to help control the vehicle on downhill treks. With skid plates and built-in recovery points, it delivers genuine off-road capability on moderate trails. It can also tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Advantage: The MDX, for a price. 

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot


Honda Pilot vs. MDX fuel economy

  • Acura MDX FWD gets 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined; AWD drops to 19/25/21 mpg

  • Acura MDX requests premium fuel

  • FWD Pilot gets 19/27/22 mpg; AWD drops to 19/25/21 mpg

  • Neither offers hybrid models

Is the Honda Pilot good on gas?

It’s cleaner than the outgoing V-6, with Honda estimating 40% less emissions. But without a hybrid option on either model, and a curb weight that averages about 4,500 pounds, neither the Pilot nor the MDX are very efficient. 

The extra weight, raised height, and beefier tires on Pilot TrailSport models lowers the EPA rating to 18/23/20 mpg. 

Is the Acura MDX good on gas?

Same story: Not really. The Type S sinks to 17/21/19 mpg, down 2 mpg from other AWD models. 

Advantage: Draw.

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX


MDX vs. Pilot interior and exterior design

  • The Pilot embraces boxy ends and a retro vibe

  • The MDX leans sleeker and sportier

  • The MDX interior outshines the staid Pilot, barely

Is the Acura MDX a good-looking SUV?

Acura spreads the wings of its flagship in a low, wide theme inside and out, as if trying to shrink its size in the fashion of luxury European brands. A shield-shaped grille stretches into LED headlights that wrap around the sides. Type S models sport a lower grille flanked by chunky air intakes that complement 21-inch wheels and twin dual exhaust pipes around back for a muscular presence that’s toned down but still present on other grades. 

Inside, the wide and low theme is less cohesive, with a wide center console busied with a touchpad for the infotainment system, a gear selector, and other drive functions. The 12.3-inch center display juts out of a dash trimmed in available leather and fake wood trim.

Is the Honda Pilot a good-looking SUV?

Longer and wider, the Pilot sizes upright, with boxy ends fronted by a honeycomb grille and thin LED running lights and backed by taillights that carve into a tailgate embossed with big Pilot letters. An upturned pair of pillars at the rear and blocky quarter windows mimic the bygone Isuzu Rodeo. 

Honda cleans up the Pilot’s interior, and we wouldn’t blame you if the simpler, cleaner design appeals more than in the busy bling of the MDX. Base models have a 7.0-inch touchscreen that stands atop the dash’s slim band of vents, but upper models adopt a 9.0-inch touchscreen over a thin band of vents and welcome dials and buttons for the climate control. Pockets for smartphones, a wireless charging pad, and twin-needle stitching dress up various versions. 

Advantage: MDX, by a wink. 

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

2023 Honda Pilot

Pilot vs. MDX size, seating comfort, and cargo capacity

  • Both have three rows of seats

  • The Acura MDX seats up to seven passengers

  • The Honda Pilot seats up to eight passengers

  • The Pilot is larger and roomier, with a versatile removable middle seat

How big is the Honda Pilot?

  • 22.4 cubic feet behind the third row; 60.1 cubes behind the second row; 112 cubic feet with both rear rows folded flat

  • Second-row legroom measures 40.8 inches; third-row legroom shrinks to 32.5 inches

It’s big. At 199.9 inches, it’s 1.5 inches longer than the MDX, nearly four inches taller, but it has the same wheelbase. The boxy shape makes it much more utilitarian and practical than the sleeker MDX, and Honda excels at optimizing the interior package. 

The 2023 Pilot can hold up to eight passengers, with a couple of pieces of luggage in tow. Front passengers get supportive seats with power adjustment that, on all but the base version, also come with lumbar support and heating. Leather upholstery is available, and so is a wireless smartphone charger that sits ahead of the shift lever. Honda also molds in a storage shelf in front of the passenger for their smartphone and sunglasses.

In row two the Pilot offers a bench seat split into three sections, but on EX-L trims and above, twin captain’s chairs can be had. Touring and Elite versions have a removable middle seat that stows in the cargo compartment and weighs about 25 pounds, so it’s much less cumbersome than removing the whole seat in say the Honda Odyssey. It enables walk-through access to the third row of seats, where two adults can fit in reasonable comfort.

How big is the Acura MDX? 

  • Up to 18.1 cubic feet behind the third row; 48.4 cubes behind the second row; 95 cubic feet with both rear rows folded flat

  • Second-row legroom measures 38.5 inches; third-row legroom shrinks to 29.1 inches

The Acura MDX seats up to seven, with a clever middle seat in the second row that folds down to become a console with cupholders. Most shoppers swap out the middle-row bench for captain’s chairs. It’s comfier than the Pilot, and comes standard with comfy creature features such as heated front seats come with 12-way power adjustability that includes power lumbar support and leather upholstery on all but the base model. That’s better than most entry-level SUVs in this class, and 6-footers have plenty of headroom beneath the standard sunroof.

The middle-row seats slide nearly six inches to better accommodate six passengers, but the third row doesn’t have the same headroom as the Pilot, so it’s best for kids. In both models, push-button second-row seats make getting in back easy. 

Advantage: The Pilot seats more people and swallows more cargo.

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX

MDX vs. Pilot safety

  • The MDX gest a five-star crash rating and Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS

  • Automatic emergency braking comes standard on both

  • The Pilot doesn’t yet have crash-test scores

How safe is the Acura MDX?

The MDX aces official safety ratings, with a five-star result from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. It comes with more standard driver-assist tech than the Pilot, with features such as automatic emergency braking front and rear, low-speed braking control, traffic-jam assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and a driver attention monitor. Options include a head-up display and a surround-view camera system.

How safe is the Honda Pilot?

Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has checked in with crash-test ratings yet, but the Pilot has been a consistent top scorer. We’ll update this section when ratings have been published. All versions have automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and automatic high beams. Base models lack blind-spot monitors, and the base LX and the Sport version also don’t get parking sensors.

Advantage: MDX.

2023 Acura MDX

2023 Acura MDX


Which is better: Honda Pilot or Acura MDX?

The Pilot has many strengths, including its boxy style, its roomier interior, and its good standard safety features. Its TCC Rating of 6.6 out of 10 will improve once crash testing is complete. But it’ll be hard to match the MDX’s TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10 for its loaded features, the creature comforts in the cabin, and its superior handling, even without the Type S. (Read more about how we rate cars.) But the $13,000 difference is a big jump, more than 30%, so we’d really have to love it to buy it over the Pilot. Our editorial team is split between the practical and the indulgent, much like many car shopping couples. 

Winner: The MDX for its style and loaded feature set. Honda Pilot vs. Acura MDX: Compare Crossover SUVs

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