The Honda Pilot is all-new for 2023 after manufacturing began on the fourth-generation model last year. The mid-size crossover has been built in Lincoln, Alabama, since the first-generation machine was introduced back in 2003.
The Pilot is Honda’s largest SUV with seating for up to eight passengers across three rows. It has five trim grades, with the Sport trim starting at $50,650 and offering a balance of value and features. The EX-L trim starts at $54,450 and adds more luxury features, while the TrailSport trim starts at $57,450 and targets a more adventurous driver who spends plenty of time on the trails. The Pilot’s Touring trim starts at $61,350 and offers even more luxury features designed for long-distance travel. Finally, the range-topping Pilot Black Edition trim starts at $62,850 and offers a unique appearance package.
With the 2023 Acura MDX starting at $59,300 for a brand-new unit, there’s some overlap between the higher grades of the 2023 Honda Pilot and the lower grades of the more luxurious MDX. Note, however, that the MDX’s starting trim for 2024 is the MDX Tech, priced from the mid-$60,000s.
Using the midpoint of the 2024 Honda Pilot’s price range (about $55,000), let’s answer a popular question: for the same money, should you buy a brand-new Honda Pilot or a used Acura MDX?
The Brand New $55,000 Honda Pilot
For about $55,000, you’re in the ballpark of a brand-new 2023 Honda Pilot EX-L with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, two rows of heated seats, a 9.0-inch colour touchscreen with premium audio system, Honda Sensing safety and a 3.5-litre 285-horsepower V6. Second-generation Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel drive (AWD) is included.
The Used $55,000 Acura MDX
A search of AutoTrader used car listings for Acura MDXs across the country reveals that shoppers can expect to find a 2022 or 2023 model with about 40,000 to 50,000 kilometres on it for about the same $55,000 as that brand-new Pilot EX-L.
For 2022, the MDX’s 3.5-litre V6 made 290 horsepower, and the model debuted Acura’s latest fourth-generation AWD system, which is standard on all units.
At our $55,000 price point, you’re likely shopping for a standard-issue 2022 MDX with Technology Package, since the sportier A-Spec and top-line Platinum Elite grades run used pricing up past the $60,000 mark pretty quickly.
Lifecycles and Platforms
The Honda Pilot entered its all-new, fourth generation for model year 2023, making this the first year of the Pilot’s most recent generation.
The MDX, which shares some of its components with the Pilot, entered its fourth generation last year for model year 2022, with a similar ground-up redesign applied.
Both models are built on Honda’s Global Light Truck Platform. The MDX is built in the East Liberty plant in Anna, Ohio; and the Honda Pilot is built in Lincoln, Alabama.
Both machines run a 3.5-litre V6 engine with 290 horsepower, teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Honda Pilot runs the same configuration, but its engine makes slightly less horsepower, with 285.
Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 lb for both models when equipped with AWD (though front-drive versions of the Pilot can still tow 3,500 lb).
Both SUVs do the zero-to-100-km/h run in the mid-to-high six-second range and both engines will run just fine on regular-grade gas, though the MDX recommends premium-grade fuel, which will give you a little more power.
Though the numbers reveal little in the way of performance differences, one factor to consider is the AWD system. Acura’s AWD system offers enhanced handling capabilities and no shortage of agile traction on snow and ice. For enthusiast drivers active in northern climates, the MDX will deliver a more engaging driving experience. Working with a good set of winter tires and the proper drive mode for the situation, the MDX’s AWD system turns the SUV into a real beast in the snow, thanks to the latest generation of the system, introduced for 2022 in the MDX.
There’s a slight difference in fuel economy between these two SUVs.
Despite weighing about 300 pounds more (and delivering a slight power advantage), the MDX is also slightly easier on fuel than the Pilot when comparing models equipped with AWD.
The Pilot uses 11.5 L/100 km combined, while the MDX uses 11.2 L/100 km. The MDX, however, recommends using premium fuel, so the cost difference due to the more expensive fuel over time might not be worth it for some drivers. If you use regular gas in the MDX, you’ll see slightly more savings.
A 2022 Acura MDX will roll on 20-inch wheels when equipped with the Technology package, and 19-inch wheels without. The 2023 Pilot’s $55,000 EX-L grade rolls on 18-inch wheels instead. This means that winter tires and replacement tires for the Pilot will likely run a few hundred dollars less per set. Note that the Pilot’s 18-inch wheel size may be more appropriate for maximum ride comfort when drivers are frequently active in rough road or trail settings, too.
Those 19- or 20-inch wheels look great, but they can cause ride comfort to take a significant hit on bumpy roads and it will be more expensive to replace the tires when the time comes.
Be sure to get an insurance quote for each SUV as you compare your alternatives. The pricier, premium-branded MDX may be more expensive to insure, though many factors will affect your specific rate. It pays to know before you decide.
Size and Dimensions
Though built on the same platform, the MDX and Pilot are not exactly the same size. Though the wheelbase of each model is identical, the Pilot is about 37 mm longer than the MDX, and slightly narrower, too. The Pilot is also nearly 100 mm taller than the MDX.
The difference in shape also leads to differences inside. The Pilot has room for up to eight passengers, while the MDX only offers seven-passenger seating. With all seats folded, the Pilot delivers about 9 per cent more cargo space, with an additional 3 per cent advantage in cargo space available behind the third row.
The 2023 Honda Pilot has more headroom, shoulder room, and legroom in all three rows compared to the 2022 Acura MDX. The largest difference is in third-row legroom, where the Honda Pilot has an 88-mm advantage. Second-row headroom is 53 mm superior in the Pilot as well.
In terms of shoulder room, the 2023 Honda Pilot offers more space in the second and third rows compared to the 2022 Acura MDX. The largest difference is in the third-row shoulder room, where the Honda Pilot is 110 mm more spacious than the MDX.
The second-row shoulder room also has a significant difference, with the Honda Pilot offering 36 mm more space than the Acura MDX. The front shoulder room has the smallest difference, with the Honda Pilot offering only 1 mm less space than the Acura MDX.
If you’ll frequently transport larger passengers in the second or third rows of your new SUV, they’ll find more space in the Pilot.
When it comes to safety equipment, there’s little separating the two choices here. Both the Honda Pilot and the 2022 Acura MDX and feature a standard array of must-have safety tech, with the latest Pilot gaining features like traffic jam assist and traffic sign recognition first seen in the MDX last year.
Both vehicles have earned the highest possible rating of Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but neither has been tested by the NHTSA at this writing.
Making a Decision
With little separating these two machines in terms of performance and safety equipment, shoppers with a priority on cargo volume and overall height may lean towards the slightly larger Pilot, while fans of an upscale and luxurious interior with rich detail and a more stylish exterior will likely lean towards the MDX.
With its smaller wheels and thicker sidewalls, the Pilot EX-L is likely the best choice for shoppers frequently travelling over very rough terrain, though the MDX’s winter-crushing AWD system will be the favourite with driving enthusiasts.
With plenty of overlap in pricing, sizing, features, and functionality, a brand-new Honda Pilot EX-L brings owners the satisfaction of a brand-new vehicle, though buying a used MDX means you won’t need to pay the freight and PDI charge, saving you about $2,000. Perhaps you could put the savings towards an extended warranty package or certified pre-owned (CPO) model.
While the Honda Pilot’s powertrain warranty is for five years/100,000 km, a CPO MDX also comes with extended powertrain coverage to seven years or 160,000 kilometres. The new Pilot has three years of roadside assistance coverage with no distance limit, but a CPO MDX comes with roadside assistance for the duration of the powertrain warranty, leaving the Pilot in the dust with seven years or 160,000 kilometres.
Just don’t forget to consider some other alternatives as well including the Hyundai Palisade, Volkswagen Atlas, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Explorer.
It’s always nice to have choices.