The 2020 Pilot gains a new ‘Black Edition’
Both vehicles carry IIHS Top Safety Pick designations
Since their inception in the early 2000s, the Honda Pilot and the Acura MDX have been built on the same platform, sharing their basic architectures and offering similar powertrains. The same holds true for the 2020 models, and both continue to offer similar dimensions and three rows of seats. That said, because the Pilot competes in the mainstream segment and the MDX is a luxury vehicle, the two vehicles differ in a variety of ways. We’ll compare the two below in a variety of areas to highlight their differences.
While the MDX debuted in 2001, the Pilot came out two years later, coming to the market for the 2003 model year. The Pilot was fully redesigned for the 2016 model year and received a mid-cycle update for 2019. The MDX was last all-new for 2014 and was updated for 2017. While the Pilot and the MDX share their basic powertrains, the MDX offers a unique hybrid model, which Acura bills as a performance model.
Factoring in fees, the 2020 Pilot starts at $32,645 for a basic front-wheel-drive LX model and reaches $50,715 for the new range-topping Black Edition, which is based on the top-spec Elite trim. The MDX has a starting price of $45,395 and reaches $61,145 in its most expensive configuration, including destination fees.
The Pilot wears a conservative, egg-shaped design. Touring and Elite models gained new LED headlights as part of the Pilot’s 2019 update, while a new Black Edition joins for 2020, introducing black wheels, black accents, and ‘Black Edition’ badging. The Black Edition is offered exclusively in the Pilot’s Crystal Black Pearl exterior color. A strong belt line crease runs the length of the vehicle and turns upward at the rear, while the Pilot’s roof line slopes downward toward the back. The Pilot’s hind quarters are pretty plain, save for a sharp-looking rear spoiler. Touring, Elite and Black Edition models wear 20-in wheels, while the rest of the lineup comes with 18s. See the 2020 Honda Pilot models for sale near you
The first thing you notice about the MDX is its massive "shield" grille, which is one of Acura’s trademark design elements. The MDX also offers sharp looking LED headlights and fog lights. The vehicle’s overall shape is similar to that of the Pilot, but it wears more chrome and incorporates sharper creases overall. While the Pilot de-emphasizes its exhaust pipes, the MDX has large chrome exhaust outlets at its rear. Eighteen-in wheels are standard, and 20-in wheels are available as well. A sporty A-Spec trim joined the MDX lineup for 2019. The A-Spec gets unique wheels, a unique front and rear fascias with blacked out trim and prominent circular rear exhaust tips. See the 2020 Acura MDX models for sale near you
The MDX’s interior is nicer than what you get with the Pilot — though the Pilot wears a smart design on the inside as well. The Pilot comes with black and brushed aluminum accents, a sizable center infotainment screen and available perforated leather seats. The new 2020 Black Edition gets unique black leather seats with maroon inserts, red interior accent stitching and red LED cabin lighting. Instead of a traditional gear-shift lever, the Pilot uses a collection of buttons in its place, which makes the center console feel more open. Honda has clearly targeted minivan buyers with the Pilot, and the vehicle’s interior is littered with storage shelves and compartments. The Pilot is designed for people with kids, and it appears to offer excellent durability as well.
The MDX uses a controversial 2-tiered infotainment screen design. The upper screen displays navigation and settings information, while the lower screen is used for radio and HVAC controls. Overall, this bold layout doesn’t work, and Acura’s choice to omit hard buttons for items like fan speed and heated and ventilated seat controls makes the MDX frustrating to live with day-to-day. The MDX uses the same gear shift controls as the Pilot. Black, tan, gray and brown interiors are offered, while the A-Spec offers a unique red-and-black option.
Both the 2020 Honda Pilot and the Acura MDX use the same basic 3.5-liter V6 engine and are available with either FWD or all-wheel drive. In the Pilot, this engine puts out 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque and earns 18 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg in combined driving. The standard MDX makes 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque with the same 3.5-liter V6. With AWD, the non-hybrid MDX returns 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined. Lower trim levels of the Pilot come with a 6-speed automatic, while the Pilot Touring and Elite models come with a 9-speed auto. The non-hybrid MDX uses a 9-speed automatic.
The MDX Hybrid puts out 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque via a 3.0-liter V6 mated with a hybrid system. AWD is standard on the hybrid, and the rear wheels are powered by electric motors. Power is routed to the road through a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. With the hybrid powertrain, the MDX gets 26 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.
The Pilot and the MDX have similar dimensions on the inside, but again, the Pilot is much more liberal with regard to storage cubbies. The Pilot’s third row has room for three across, which makes room for up to eight people, while the row in the MDX seats two, making room for up to seven people in total. On higher trims, either vehicle is available with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces seating capacity by one, leaving the Pilot with room for seven and the MDX with room for six.
The Pilot has more cargo space than the MDX. Behind the second row, the Pilot offers 50 cu ft. of room. With the third row extended, the Pilot offers 17 cu ft., and with both the second and third rows folded flat, the Pilot offers a cavernous 81 cu ft. of room.
The MDX offers 38 cu ft. of space behind its second row, or 15 cu ft. with its standard third row extended. With both rows folded, the MDX tops out at 68 cu ft. of room.
On its upper trim levels, the Pilot is available with such niceties as a power sliding second row, tri-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, second row sun shades, a power rear liftgate and a single-pane moonroof, with an optional additional panoramic sunroof at the rear.
The MDX offers all of the upscale features you’ll find on the Pilot, but available additions include an active suspension damping system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power-folding/auto-dimming side-view mirrors, a surround-view camera, high-end Milano leather and remote start.
Both vehicles can be had with an entertainment system that includes several USB ports, auxiliary ports for connecting headphones, up to three 12-volt outlets, a home-style 115-volt outlet and an HDMI port — the latter two of which allow for the connecting of a video game system.
Infotainment isn’t the strong point of either of these vehicles, which should be frustrating to buyers given how often we interact with audio and navigation technology while we’re behind the wheel.
The MDX’s 2-tiered screen system is confounding and relies too much on touchscreen controls. Due to an effort to simplify the vehicle’s cabin and rid it of hard buttons, drivers now have to cycle through multiple menus in order to adjust things like heated seats and fan speed, which is frustrating to say the least. For many, this could be a deal breaker.
While base-model Pilots get a simple 5-in infotainment screen that offers only basic functionality, EX models and higher get a sharp-looking high-resolution 8-in screen. While Honda opted to discard the physical volume knob on earlier iterations of the third-gen Pilot in favor of frustrating touch controls, the physical volume knob made a return for the 2019 model year.
Both the Pilot and the MDX come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, which should help to alleviate some of the shortcomings of their infotainment systems.
The Pilot and the MDX both earn Top Safety Pick designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both vehicles also offer a fairly comprehensive suite of driver-assistance safety features as standard. These features include 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.
It probably goes without saying, but overall safety is a huge selling point for both of these family SUVs.
Given that both vehicles have Honda DNA, Pilot and MDX buyers should both see above average reliability. Part of the package with a luxury brand is a better warranty than what you get from a mainstream marque, and the MDX comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile basic and a 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.
The main differences between these two family SUVs is pretty simple: The parent company Honda has designed the Pilot to be a practical, easy-to-live-with substitute for the often dreaded minivan, offering good value and a variety of family-oriented features. While the MDX offers ample cargo room and three rows of seats as well, it’s been designed to offer style and comfort but sacrifices a small amount of practicality in the process.
In addition, the MDX has an available hybrid powertrain that offers improvements with regard to both efficiency and performance for a $3,500 price premium — although the hybrid sales volume is presumably pretty low. Also, the MDX’s infotainment and HVAC controls will likely turn some people away. At the end of the day, choosing between these two vehicles will probably come down to your budget, as the MDX costs around $12,000 more than the Pilot in all comparable configurations. Overall, the Pilot offers good value compared to the MDX, while the MDX offers good value compared to more luxurious competitors, like the Audi Q7 or the BMW X7. Find a Honda Pilot for sale or Find an Acura MDX for sale