Acura MDX vs. Toyota Highlander: Which One Is Best For Me?
If you are in the market for a brand-new SUV built for families, there are two cars that will likely show up in repeated searches: the Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander. Both of these SUVs seat seven people and have excellent safety records, as well as above-average reliability scores. Both of these brands are prominent and have a large following. So, which one is right for you?
The choice between these two excellent Japanese-designed SUVs is going to come down to how much you value luxury and how big your budget is. The Toyota Highlander is a functional family car with some great standard features but few upgrades in the way of modern luxury. The Acura MDX is a luxury car built from the ground up to provide comfort and modern sensibility that comes at a steep cost. Both of these excellent SUVs would be a great choice for any large or growing family.
This comparison will break down the specs, pros, cons, and comparisons between these two sporty SUVs, so that you can make the best decision possible for yourself and your family.
At a Glance
Let’s look at the key points of each product.
Overview of Acura MDX
The MDX is the flagship SUV of the luxury Acura brand, and it shows. The 2023 Acura MDX looks sharp, drives great, and when you sit down behind the wheel, you feel like you are in the lap of luxury. The front seats are comfortable and heated. The interior details are a mixture of wood and leather with contrasting classic colors and textures. The infotainment system is modern. The AC has variable climate control and separate heating and cooling zones. The MDX looks the part outside and inside.
Under the hood, the MDX features a 3.5L V6 engine that outputs 290 horsepower. The engine is a Honda engine at its core, which means it is reliable and easy to fix up. While the base engine isn’t anything special, the MDX does feature an updated 10-speed transmission, which offers a better feel and control over the old nine-speed transmissions. The car is fun to drive for a vehicle of its size, and it handles better than typical SUVs. This small dose of extra zip does come at the expense of gas mileage, which lags behind the Highlander by a couple of miles per gallon.
When it comes to the value, people’s mileage will vary. The MDX is undoubtedly sleeker and nicer on the inside than the Highlander, but under the hood, they are very much the same. These two cars feature very similar DNA and bones. Think of the MDX as a sibling that got a makeover.
Overview of Toyota Highlander
The 2023 Toyota Highlander is a reliable SUV that knows what it is and focuses on what it does best. It is large and roomy on the inside. It delivers unparalleled safety on the roads. It has an excellent track record in terms of durability. The Highlander was made to take families from Point A to Point B as reliably as possible without causing much of a fuss.
The engine is nearly identical to that of the MDX, except this one is designed by Toyota instead of Honda. The Highlander also features a 3.5L V6 that puts out just under 300 horsepower. The Highlander gets better gas mileage both on the highway and in the city. There is also a hybrid model available that can boost those numbers even higher for an extra fee.
Toyota has also added a lot of new standard features to the 2023 model, including safety technology and driver assist at no additional cost, which adds value to an already reasonably priced SUV. All of this is packaged in an interior that measures over 140 cubic feet of passenger space and an industry-average 16 cubic feet of cargo space.
The only downsides are that the Highlander’s back row is a little smaller than most would like, and the instrument panel leaves a lot to be desired. The Highlander isn’t going to set any land speed records, and it is not going to appeal to pure mechanical drivers, but it gets the job done.
How Do They Compare? Going Head-To-Head
Edge: Acura MDX
Both the Toyota Highlander and the Acura MDX feature very similar base model engines. Both SUVs come with typical 3.5L V6 engines that put out nearly identical amounts of horsepower. The Acura starts at 290 HP, and the Highlander has 295 HP. However, the Acura MDX has a much nicer chassis and a better 10-speed transmission. The MDX also has a sport engine option that boosts the horsepower over 350, giving it a lot more zip.
On paper, the output of these two SUVs looks very similar, but some extra refinements under the hood make the MDX breezier to drive and faster on the road. The Acura feels better and more responsive than the Highlander. That doesn’t matter to everyone, but if you are someone looking for a high-performance driving machine, the MDX delivers more than the Highlander.
Edge: Toyota Highlander
If price and affordability are important to you as a buyer, then the Highlander is going to be a much more appealing choice. The base model Highlander starts at $36k, which is $12k less than the base model MDX. This is not surprising, considering Toyota is a consumer brand, and Acura is a luxury brand—but the price difference is still stark.
Suppose you are looking at upgrading beyond the base model. Most Highlanders clock in around $40k, while the MDX quickly surpasses $50k and approaches $60k. Understandably, not everyone can afford to pony up the extra cash for the Acura MDX.
Edge: Acura MDX
Acura is a luxury brand, and the MDX has a luxury interior. The 2023 model of the MDX was redesigned to reflect our modern technological world. The cabin of the MDX feels sleek, modern, and up to date. The outside of the MDX also received some upgrades to keep it looking ageless.
The Toyota, unsurprisingly, feels pedestrian by comparison. The Highlander is by no means a bad SUV, but it does not have the refinement and upgrades that are present in the MDX. If you are someone looking for the latest in luxury and technology, the MDX is the clear winner in terms of modern design.
When it comes to safety, both the Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander earn perfect marks. IIHS gives each of these vehicles top ratings for crashworthiness in all of their tests. SUVs of this size are often catered to families who take safety very seriously. If you have safety as a top priority for your vehicle, both the MDX and the Highlander are excellent choices. Neither one is markedly safer than the other, so this category ends in a tie, which ultimately is a very good thing.
Edge: Acura MDX
Both the Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander can seat seven. However, the Acura MDX is roomier and more comfortable than the Toyota Highlander. Both of these SUVs have lackluster third rows, but Acura offers more headroom and a smoother ride from the back seat. The passenger volume of the MDX is noticeably larger than that of the Highlander. That being said, both of these SUVs have the same amount of rear cargo space at 16 cubic feet. If you are looking for the roomiest car that seats the most people comfortably, the MDX takes the cake.
What Drivers Say
Drivers rave about the look and feel of the 2023 MDX. This year’s model feels like an upgrade over the past model. There is more technology included, and the soft lines are extremely appealing. All of the new features make the MDX feel like a good value for buyers, even if the sticker price doesn’t necessarily reflect that. The SUV remains roomy and fun to drive, which are big pluses for average users.
The biggest niggles for the MDX actually come from the so-called infotainment system. The system is controlled by a trackpad, which is finicky and hard to use especially when driving. Another thing that certain drivers have pointed out is the fact that the MDX is not as high-end as other similar luxury SUVs. While the MDX received a lot of upgrades in 2023, it still doesn’t measure up to other luxury brands in terms of high-end luxury. That is a critique not everyone will be able to make or appreciate, but it is something to note.
The 2023 Toyota Highlander model now sports a turbocharged four-cylinder engine in place of last year’s V6. A seven-inch instrument screen and wireless phone integration are among its newly standard features. The upper trims gained a 12.3-inch instrument screen, along with a standard power-folding side mirrors. The Highlander also has good gas mileage for an SUV of this size, as well as a hybrid option for the fuel-conscious buyer, which are all appreciated features. The gas mileage is especially nice when prices rise at the pump.
The complaints about the Highlander are that the third row is tight. The Highlander can seat seven, but it probably can’t seat seven adults. The third row is uncomfortable to ride in for long periods of time, so don’t put your in-laws in the backseat for a cross-country road trip. Otherwise, the Highlander is steady. It doesn’t rock the boat, and it doesn’t bring a lot of positive or negative feelings to the surface, and that suits most standard drivers just fine.
Both the Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander are three-row SUVs built to transport families around in style. The MDX is a flagship luxury SUV with all of the bells and whistles, and a price tag to match. The Highlander is a typical family vehicle designed to ferry a lot of people from place to place safely. The choice between the two is likely going to come down to how attached you are to the idea of having a luxury SUV. At their cores, these two vehicles are actually very similar. It all depends on how many extras you are willing to pay for.
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Featured Image Credit: (Left) 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec, front | Image Credit: Kevauto, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0; (Right) Toyota Highlander (XU70) | Image Credit: Alexander Migl, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0