Pour one out for the old family van. Just pour it out of the back windows with the vents, would ya? A generation of children will never know church pews with seatbelts in the back of a tin-can van slowly petering across the U.S. Instead, they know crossover comfort with individualized climate controls and USB chargers for all the touchscreens.

The 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Acura MDX are three-row family crossovers from automakers that are both owned by Honda, but are not related. 

The Pilot is a much softer family ride, a minivan in every way except for the sliding doors and wayback windows for third-row riders to launch apple cores and grapes at cars behind them. The MDX is sportier, sleeker, and available as a fuel-sipping hybrid. 

Our TCC Rating scale tips the Acura thanks to its standard features and luxury ride baked into every model. When cost is considered the stakes even up in a big way—and nearly every family considers cost when it’s time for a new car. So which one is right for you? Glad you asked. 

MORE: Read our 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Acura MDX full reviews

2020 Acura MDX

2020 Acura MDX

2020 Acura MDX

2020 Acura MDX

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

The noticeable difference for most families considering the 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Acura MDX will be space in the third row and cargo area. 

The Pilot offers a third row suitable for most children and average-size adults with nearly 32 inches of leg room, and 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row in place. The MDX is smaller in both measurements: nearly 28 inches of leg room and 15.0 cubic feet of cargo room with the third row in place. What that means for most families: The Pilot’s third row is more usable, more accessible (especially with optional second-row captain’s chairs), more often. The MDX is equipped with a standard second-row bench in all versions. 

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

The Acura’s interior is predictably upscale for the $12,850 price premium it commands over the Honda. The MDX gets standard leather upholstery, a dual-screen infotainment system, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, and four USB ports. For more money, the MDX can get sportier-looking add-ons, better audio, rear-seat entertainment, navigation, tonier leather, and bigger wheels. All-wheel drive is an option on the MDX and costs $2,000, except on the MDX hybrid, where it’s standard. That hybrid powertrain is an Acura exclusive; no amount of money can buy a hybrid powertrain in a Pilot for now. 

The Pilot’s no slouch in most of its equipment, but only in trims above the base Pilot LX. That version stubs in a 5.0-inch display for infotainment and one USB port, along with cloth upholstery, 18-inch wheels, and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is a $2,000 upcharge on the Pilot too, except on Elite editions where it’s standard. 

2020 Acura MDX PMC Edition

2020 Acura MDX PMC Edition

The Pilot and MDX both rely on a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 280 and 290 horsepower in their respective versions. Pilot LX and Pilot EX crossovers use a 6-speed automatic that’s down on forward gears compared to the rest of the lineup, but up on drivability. The rest of the Pilot lineup and all MDX crossovers (except the hybrid models) use a 9-speed automatic that’s indecisive and not much more efficient. With either transmission, and two- or four-wheel power the MDX and Pilot manage combined fuel economy around 22-23 mpg, according to the EPA. Only the MDX Sport Hybrid is rated considerably higher at 27 mpg combined, but it’s a big ask at more than $60,000. The most expensive Pilot, in Elite trim, is about $12,000 less.  

Which brings us back to price. The Pilot’s 6.5 TCC Rating is down compared to the MDX’s 6.8 TCC Rating, which is mostly due to standard equipment on base versions. The Acura and Honda both earn good safety scores and offer standard safety features such as automatic emergency braking that families should expect on crossovers. 

The best pick between the Pilot and MDX depends on two factors: how often you need a third row and who gets to go to college. 

We’re kidding. Mostly. 

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