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2018 Honda Pilot vs. 2018 Acura MDX: What's the Difference?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill August 2018
  • The 2018 Honda Pilot offers ample interior space.

  • The 2018 Acura MDX gains Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

  • Both vehicles are named an IIHS Top Safety Pick and offer ample driver assistance features.

Given that they're both engineered and built by Honda, the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX have historically shared their basic architectures and many components. The 2018 Honda Pilot and Acura MDX are no different. As both offer three rows of seats and share a similar overall shape, understanding the tangible differences between the two might not seem so simple. Below, we've attempted to highlight the areas in which the two vehicles differ.

The MDX was introduced for the 2001 model year while its sibling, the Pilot, came out for 2003. The Pilot was last redesigned for the 2016 model year and is scheduled to receive an update for 2019. The MDX was last redesigned for 2014 and was updated for the 2017 model year. Both the MDX and Pilot offer three rows of seating and ample cargo space. The MDX is available with an optional range-topping hybrid model, serving to differentiate it from the Pilot, which only offers one powertrain.

The 2018 Honda Pilot starts at $30,900 and tops out at $47,470, while the cost of an entry-level MDX is $44,300 and reaches close to $60,000 in fully-loaded configuration.

Exterior

The Pilot offers a very conservative overall design. Up front, the 3-bar grille extends into the headlights and the hood features a number of creases. Higher-end models feature fog lights and subtle chrome accents. A simple crease runs from the front fender to the rear quarter panel, and the greenhouse is rounded toward the back. Around back, the Pilot features a rear spoiler on an otherwise simple and plain tailgate. Base models come with 18-inch wheels, while Touring and Elite models get 20-in wheels.

The MDX incorporates Acura's new "shield" grille design, a welcome replacement for the notorious "beak" grille that adorned Acura models for much of the past decade. The MDX offers available "Jewel Eye LED" headlights which give the leading end of the vehicle a high-tech, futuristic appearance. LED fog lights are available. The MDX's midsection is more sculpted than that of the Pilot, and the MDX features chrome trim around its windows. Around back, the MDX wears more chrome, a spoiler and dual exhaust outlets. 18-in wheels come standard, while 20-in wheels are available.

A newly introduced A-Spec package for the MDX introduces unique, aggressive front and rear bumpers, replaces all chrome with black accents and introduces unique 20-in wheels.

Interior

The MDX features a more upscale interior than the Pilot.

The Pilot still offers a rather stately design, with black and brushed aluminum accents, available perforated leather seats and a sizable center-mounted infotainment screen. The Pilot also eschews a traditional gear shift lever in favor of a collection of buttons for changing between park, drive and reverse. Given the low profile design of these controls, this frees up considerable space around the center console.

Perhaps the MDX's most notable interior feature is its infotainment setup that utilizes two screens stacked on top of one another. One is a touchscreen, featuring most of the controls you'd expect from an infotainment system, while the other is reserved for vehicle information and maps. The MDX features similar gear selection controls to the Pilot, helping to free up space along the center console, which in the MDX is covered in a brushed aluminum finish.

Non-A-Spec models are offered with your choice of black, tan, gray and brown interiors, while the A-Spec package adds into the mix a unique red-accented interior.

Mechanicals

The Pilot has a rather simple powertrain offering, with only one available engine -- a 3.5-liter V6 good for 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Touring and Elite trim levels come with a new 9-speed automatic, while all other trim levels get a 6-automatic. Front-wheel drive comes standard on all but the Elite trim level, although 4-wheel drive is optional across the board. All-wheel drive models earn 18 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, while front-wheel-drive models gain an extra mile per gallon in all categories.

The MDX offers buyers a choice between two powertrains. The more common of the two is a 3.5-liter V6 making 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque; 10 hp and five lb-ft more than the Pilot. Buyers looking for added performance and efficiency can opt for the MDX Sport Hybrid, which combines a 3.0-liter V6 with a hybrid system for a combined output of 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. The MDX Sport Hybrid comes with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and a unique version of Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. With the non-hybrid powertrain, the MDX achieves around 22 mpg combined, while the Hybrid earns around 27 mpg combined -- pretty impressive, given that it also offers improved performance credentials.

Space

The Pilot and MDX offer very similar interior dimensions. The Pilot has room for up to eight passengers, while the MDX offers room for seven. On higher trim levels, both vehicles can be optioned with second-row captain's chairs, reducing seating capacity by one.

With the third row in the up position, the Pilot offers 17 cu ft. of cargo room; with the third row folded, it offers 50 cu ft.; with both the second and third rows folded, 81 cu ft.

The MDX offers 15 cu ft. behind the third row, 38 cu ft. of cargo room behind the second row with the third row folded and 68 cu ft. with both the second and third rows folded.

Features

Upper trim levels of the Pilot add such features as power sliding second row seats, 3-zone climate control, two different moonroof options -- either a traditional or panoramic design -- and a power liftgate.

The Pilot's available entertainment system includes a number of USB ports, aux jacks for headphones, up to three 12V outlets, a 3-prong 115V outlet and an HDMI port. The 115V outlet and HDMI port combine to enable the connecting of a video game console.

In addition to offering most of the features found on high-end Pilots, the MDX is available with rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated and ventilated perforated leather seats, heated second row seats, a heated steering wheel, power driver and passenger seat, power folding sideview mirrors, rain sensing windshield wipers and remote start. The advance package adds high-end leather, auto dimming side mirrors, roof rails, second row sunshades, LED fog lights, USB ports in the third row and a surround view camera.

Infotainment

Neither the Pilot nor the MDX offers a great infotainment system, but both offer the main features customers should look for in 2018.

Base model Pilots get a simple 5.0-in infotainment screen offering only the basics. Starting with the EX trim level, all Pilots get an 8.0-in touchscreen offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Honda's infotainment system is criticized for being slow, and the Pilot garners additional criticism for its lack of a physical volume knob.

The MDX employs a unique 2-tier dual LCD infotainment design. Like in the Pilot, the menus are said to be slow and dated, but the MDX gains standard Android Auto and Apple Carplay compatibility for 2018, which enables to you circumvent the native infotainment system to a degree.

Safety

Both the 2018 Pilot and MDX have been named Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning Good scores across the board in all major categories.

The Pilot and MDX are available with virtually the same driver assistance features. The MDX offers some of these features as standard, while the 2018 Pilot offers the same features standard on all but its base model. Both the Pilot and MDX can be had with lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning and front and rear parking sensors. Altogether, this represents a pretty comprehensive offering.

Quality

Thanks to their shared Honda DNA, both the Pilot and MDX should offer above average quality. As luxury automakers tend to offer better warranties, the MDX comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile basic and 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, while the Pilot offers a 3-year/36,000-mile basic and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Conclusions

The differences between the Pilot and MDX are pretty simple. While both are mid- to large-sized family SUVs offering three rows of seats, the MDX is a far more luxurious vehicle than the mainstream Pilot. This is evident with regard to performance capability and driving dynamics, interior and exterior design and available features. The question really comes down to your budget. While the MDX is a sound choice, the Pilot also offers great features in its upper trim levels, and both vehicles are offered with the same driver assistance safety features and infotainment systems. In the end, the Pilot might be the better value, but you can't deny that the MDX offers more in the way of features and luxury.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Honda Pilot vs. 2018 Acura MDX: What's the Difference? - Autotrader