Shopping for a new crossover? Acura has two models that might interest you.
The luxury arm at the House of Honda has been cranking out competitors for the likes of Lexus and Infiniti since the brand appeared on our shores about thirty years ago. Given the preferences of car shoppers in 2019, it should surprise exactly no one that today’s Acura has a lineup of crossovers and SUVs to suit a variety of needs and tastes.
Two of them, the RDX and MDX (Acura has long since binned fabulous real model names like Legend and Vigor), cover a swath of the market nearly as wide as the turnpikes they are designed to drive upon. The RDX is a two-row vehicle with sporting pretensions offered with a four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. The MDX is its bigger brother, capable of housing three rows of humans and seeing fit to offer a version with an electrified hybrid powerplant.
Which one is right for you? Let’s figure it out.
Acura RDX vs MDX
Acura RDX: Always a subjective measure, your author believes the 2020 RDX to be a handsome machine, especially in A-Spec trim which comes in eye-popping colors and an available jazzy red interior. Its center stack is dominated by an enormous Drive Select button, a bold styling choice that evokes what is found in the NSX halo car. Twin sewer cannons poke through the rear bumper cover and a variety of wheel styles are available from which to choose.
SEE ALSO: Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Review
Acura MDX: The MDX is also a good looking machine, with a bold and expressive grille bookended by snazzy Jewel Eye headlamps. As with the RDX, selecting the A-Spec trim unlocks a palette of bright colors to pair with other design flourishes including a matte black grille and gunmetal grey wheels. A rear diffuser of questionable necessity adds visual theatre.
Bottom Line: Both cars are extroverted foils to some of its staid and upright competition, a few of whom make watching paint dry a fun-filled adventure. You won’t lose either of these rigs in a crowded parking lot, especially if you select a good colur like Performance Red or Apex Blue.
Acura RDX: Exactly 40 inches of headroom is available the RDX front rows, with 38 inches of space afforded to those in the back seat. Legroom is a vast 42 inches up front, more than even the bigger corporate cousin Honda Pilot, demonstrating the RDX’s efficient packaging. The EPA pegs total passenger volume at 104 cubic feet.
Comparison shoppers should be aware of Acura’s, um, creative way of measuring interior space. Two sets of numbers are generally given, the larger of which includes space between seats and including any underfloor storage. Using this metric, the RDX has 31.1 cubic feet of cargo area behind its rear seat, 79.8 cubes with that row folded down and out of the way.
Acura MDX: Perhaps surprisingly, the larger MDX has slightly less headroom for front passengers than the RDX, so make sure to take an extended test drive before signing on the dotted line. Middle- and third-row noggin space is on par with the RDX’s back seat. Legroom is about the same in the front and middle seating areas but falls to an elf-like 28.1 inches in the third row. Passenger volume is 132 cubic feet.
Every version of the Acura MDX offers the same amount of cargo space, regardless of the number of driven wheels. Behind the third row, owner will be able to pack 15.8 cubic feet of gear. Folding that seat opens things up to the tune of 43.4 cubes, while a cavernous 90.9 cubic feet of space stands at the ready if all seats behind the driver and front seat passenger are stowed.
Bottom Line: If hauling more than five people is a frequent task, the MDX will suit the task if those relegated to the third row are not of NBA stature. However, thanks to a slightly newer design and great packaging choices, the RDX may actually be the better choice for couples or families whose numbers do not exceed four. When it comes to cargo capacity however, the MDX is more commodious in every measure thanks to a larger footprint.
Acura RDX: No matter how much cheddar you splash out on a 2020 Acura RDX, one will find a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine under its hood making 272 horsepower and 280lb.-ft of torque. It is mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission with flappy paddles on the steering wheel adding a bit of zing to the morning commute. Power going to all four corners is optional, branded under the most excellent banner of Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
Speaking of fuel, front-wheel drive versions of the 2020 RDX have earned a rating of 22mpg in city driving. Most models should find themselves getting 28mpg on the highway save for A-Spec trims which, thanks to different gearing, are dinged a 1mpg penalty. Adding all-wheel drive reduces fuel economy by a further mpg across the board.
Acura MDX: Non-hybrid versions of the MDX are powered by a 290 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine hooked to a 9-speed gearbox. With this mill, all-wheel drive is optional. That feature is standard on the hybrid model, a vehicle which is good for a healthy 321 horses from its 3.0L V6 and electric motors. The hybrid beats the gasoline version in the torque wars as well, with the former making 289 lb-ft of twist, 22 more than the non-electrified MDX.
Front-wheel drive versions are rated by the EPA at 20mpg in city driving and 27mpg on the highway. Like the RDX, adding power to all four wheels subtracts a single mpg from both figures. Hybrid versions have also earned a 27mpg rating for its highway cycle but does much better in the city at 26mpg.
Bottom Line: It would appear that the vitamin-packed youth carries the day, producing nearly as much power as its larger and older sibling but in a smaller package. Both cars are recommended to swill premium 91 octane fuel.
The smaller of our two contenders handily wins the overall fuel economy race but both are surprisingly equal while cruising the open road. Customers who plan to spend a lot of their time plying city streets would be well served to sample the hybrid MDX and its stellar city rating.
Acura RDX: Ground clearance is surprisingly robust in the car-based RDX, measuring 8.2 inches in both front- and all-wheel drive examples. For comparison, this equals or exceeds most versions of the mighty Jeep Cherokee. Towing capacity is capped at just 1500lbs. An approach angle of 17.2 degrees is nothing to write home about but its departure angle of 22.7 degrees will help keep you off that snowbank near the back of your parking lot.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Acura RDX Review
Acura MDX: As a function of riding on an older platform, all versions of the MDX make do with just 7.3 inches of ground clearance. Front-drive models can tow 3500lbs, all-wheel drive whips are good for an even 5000lbs, while the hybrid isn’t recommended for towing at all. MDX gives up quite a bit when it comes to approach and departure angles, measuring just 14.9 and 17.4 degrees respectively. Take care when approaching those concrete parking lot dividers.
Bottom Line: Straight up, the small RDX is a better choice for customers who may find themselves trying to punch their way through a January snowstorm on their way to work or seeking to park their ride a bit closer to the shoreline on a summer’s day. The extra ground clearance will help, too.
Acura RDX: Packing in a wide variety of driver aids such as forward collision warning and a multi-view camera system, all but the most ardent gadgetphiles will be happy with their 2020 RDX. Be sure to spec the tremendous Acura/ELS Studio 3D premium audio system, a piece of kit with no fewer that sixteen speakers (including four in the roof) and the ability to make you believe your favorite artist is performing right there on the dashboard.
Acura MDX: All manner of safety nannies, such as lane keeping and adaptive cruise control, are standard on every 2020 MDX. Luxury appointments ranging from power seats with umpteen adjustments to tri-zone climate control coddle every passenger. Parking sensors and navigation should be standard at this price level but aren’t.
Acura RDX: Starting well under $40,000 for a front-wheel drive entry-level model, this year’s RDX allows customers to choose the $3000 A-Spec trim without popping for the $2000 all-wheel drive feature. A-Spec does require the addition of a $3200 Tech package, putting it suggested price at $45,800.
Acura MDX: For 2020, the MDX starts at $44,400 onto which one can add niceties like all-wheel drive and the snazzy A-Spec package. The former will set you back an extra $2000 while the A-Spec, while listed at $3500, also requires a $5000 Tech package (sound familiar?) and the aforementioned all-wheel drive. The dearest non-hybrid MDX will hoover $60,150 from your bank account. A hybrid model is $500 cheaper and cannot be had with A-Spec.
Bottom Line: Given its extra functionality in terms of practical concerns like ground clearance, not to mention slightly more space for front-seat passengers, the cheaper RDX wins this round.
The Verdict: Acura RDX vs MDX
In a case of the little brother showing up big bro at soccer practice, RDX – despite its smaller dimensions and lower price, arguably provides a better overall package for the money. It is also has better ground clearance, which everyone can appreciate on a snowy day, and a bolder interior. Unless you absolutely need to have that third row of seats in the MDX, the RDX is likely to satisfy while leaving a smaller hole in your wallet.