Acura RDX v MDX: Choosing the Best Family SUV

Choosing the best family SUV gets trickier when you can choose from two stylish Acura performance SUVs. Bottom line? It's about the feeling you get.

The 2021 Acura Rdx Sh-Awd Is An Affordable Compact Luxury Suv Millennial Moms Like Me Need. Here Are 10 Reasons Why I Love Mine.
I'm the proud owner of this beauty! Photo: Kim S.

Which would you choose – the compact luxury Acura RDX, or the 7-passenger Acura MDX?

As a mom of two, I know the struggle of finding the perfect family SUV. My kids, a 12-year-old who’s almost my height (5’3″) and a three-year-old in a rear-facing car seat, make car rides an adventure of their own. What I seek is an SUV that effortlessly combines reliability, safety, and style, capable of tackling both daily errands and road trips.

One brand that’s earned my trust over the years is Acura. Their reliability and performance have won me over, but it’s not just about what’s under the hood. The Acura RDX and MDX, in particular, caught my eye with their sleek curves, sporty aerodynamic features, and modern touches. These SUVs not only drive like a dream but also look the part of a performance machine.

Initially, I opted for the Acura RDX SH-AWD, a 5-passenger luxury performance compact SUV that was just the right fit for my family of four. However, as my kids have grown older, my toddler has found her voice (often leading to sibling squabbles during rides), making even regular car rides challenging. As a result, I’m considering an upgrade to the larger 7-passenger Acura MDX. 

Related: I’m a Millennial Mom – Here are 10 Reasons Why I Love My Acura RDX

What an Ideal Family SUV Should Have

When searching for the perfect family SUV, there are lots of things to take into consideration:

  • Space – roominess to comfortably accommodate your growing family
  • Reliability – to ensure your vehicle can handle the demands of family life
  • Safety – top safety ratings and advanced tech, like rear-seat reminders and backup cameras to protect your precious cargo
  • Versatility  – to allow seamless transitions from work to leisure
  • Cargo capacity – to hold groceries, strollers, and suitcases for family trips and daily errands
  • Fuel efficiency – for daily commutes
  • Modern tech enhancements like WiFi, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto to enhance your driving experience
  • Handling – modes to navigate diverse terrains and weather conditions to ensure peace of mind

Related: Which Acura SUV is Right for Me: RDX vs MDX

Rearfacing Car Seat Installed In Acura Rdx_Kims

Rear-facing car seat installed in Acura RDX. Photo: Kim S.

Why I Chose the Acura RDX

Three years ago, when I decided to purchase a family SUV, I had a new baby, and safety and reliability was my top priority. The Acura RDX immediately caught my attention because it had earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating and NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety rating. At that time, I found the RDX to be just the right size, capable of seating five comfortably and featuring a LATCH system for child seats. Its cargo space, with 29.5 cubic feet behind the second row and a maximum of 58.9 cubic feet when the second row is folded down, proved to be more than adequate for our needs.

Considering my daily commute and weekend trips, the RDX’s decent fuel economy (21 MPG city, 27 MPG highway, and 23 MPG combined) was a practical choice. Moreover, it offered many of the features I desired, including heated leather seats, a panoramic moonroof, and a sleek appearance. With 272 horsepower, it made merging onto Long Island highways a breeze, which was essential for my daily routine. However, I hadn’t anticipated the “she’s touching me” phase. I thought the 9-year age gap between my kids meant I’d escape it; I was wrong.

Pricing was also a factor, with my 2021 Acura RDX SH-AWD Technology package model having an MSRP of $44,125.

Front Passenger Legroom In My Acura Rdx Is A Bit Cramped For My 5 Foot 10 Inch Tall Husband With Our Daughters Rearfacing Car Seat Installed. K Smith

Front passenger legroom in my Acura RDX is a bit cramped for my 5’10” husband with a rear-facing car seat installed. Photo: Kim S.

Three Years into my Acura RDX, I had a Change of Heart

As time went on, my perspective on the Acura RDX began to change. While it had 42 inches of front-row legroom, it proved limiting when a rear-facing car seat was installed, causing discomfort for my 5’10” husband during long drives.

Another challenge stemmed from the RDX’s two-row configuration, leading to persistent sibling disputes. Even with my toddler in her rear-facing car seat in one outboard seat and my oldest in the other, they somehow managed to find reasons to bicker – “She’s putting her feet on me!” –  making our road trips less enjoyable. Additionally, my icy hands craved a heated steering wheel in the winter, which my RDX lacks.

Lastly, the RDX fell short on charging ports, offering only two USB ports in the first row (one in the armrest and one under the floating console) and one 12V (cigarette lighter charger), with two USB chargers in the second row and notably no USB C charging ports, which both my husband and daughter need for their devices.

The 2022 Acura Mdx Type S In Apex Blue Pearl Looks Great On Me Too!

The 2022 Acura MDX Type S in Apex Blue Pearl looks great on me too! Photo: Kim S.

Experiencing the Acura MDX Type S was a Game Changer

Recently, I had the opportunity to test drive the 2022 MDX Type S Advance, and it left a strong impression. Its generous space stood out, boasting three rows and a 7-passenger capacity, making it over 4 inches wider, 12 inches longer, and 1.4 inches taller than the RDX. With 41.6 inches of front-row legroom and easily accessible third-row seating, the MDX offered a level of versatility that suited my family’s changing needs.

The accessibility to the third row is a game-changer, effortlessly achieved with the touch of a button. What adds to the MDX’s versatility is the ability to remove the second-row middle console, making access to the third row even easier, even with child seats installed. Notably, the second-row seats are on rails, providing more legroom for passengers in that row and the third row. In our case, it allowed us to adjust the second row to provide extra legroom in front of our daughter’s car seat, installed behind the front passenger seat.

The MDX also excelled in cargo space, offering 39.1 cubic feet behind the second row and a maximum of 71.4 cubic feet with both rear rows folded down. The abundance of charging ports throughout the SUV was another practical feature, and the MDX even accommodated three car seats in the second row and two boosters in the third row. The MDX’s wider and more comfortable seats, complete with massaging capabilities, added an extra layer of comfort during long drives.

The larger entertainment display screen, measuring 12.3 inches compared to the RDX’s 10.2 inches, enhances the overall appeal.

The MDX shines in the power department with options ranging from 290 to 355 horsepower, providing a smooth and powerful driving experience. Similar to my RDX, this made merging onto Long Island’s expressways and parkways with short on-ramps very convenient.

What truly caught my attention were the additional driving modes on the MDX. While my RDX offers multiple driving modes like Snow, Comfort, Sport, and Sport +, the MDX Type S goes a step further, adding two more: Normal and Lift. The latter employs air suspension to elevate the ride height by nearly 2 inches, offering enhanced versatility and adaptability to different driving conditions.

Related: Driving the Acura MDX Type S Advance Made Me Feel Like a Pilot

Acura Mdx

The 2nd row in the Acura MDX is spacious; I wouldn’t have to climb back here to be a buffer between my toddler and preteen. Photo: Kim S.

Finding the Best Family SUV: RDX vs. MDX

Choosing the best family SUV isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision; it hinges on your unique needs. Do you crave more legroom, seating, and cargo space? Or perhaps you yearn for more horsepower and cutting-edge technology? Both Acura SUVs impressively integrate power with available SH-AWD for heightened capabilities and nimble handling. Sporting sleek curves, sporty aerodynamics, and modern design touches, both the MDX and my RDX truly look and feel like performance machines, but the MDX, in my opinion, brings an extra dose of fun to the driving experience. Safety is paramount for both models, boasting top-notch ratings.

The MDX steps in when you require extra space, whether it’s accommodating additional family members on road trips or simply needing that extra room for comfort. While the RDX edges ahead in fuel efficiency, the MDX’s larger, more powerful engine offsets the difference. My real-world experience with the MDX clocked in at 14-16 MPG in the city and 18 MPG on the highway. As for cargo, both feature under-floor storage areas, but the MDX outpaces the RDX in cargo space behind the second row. However, during our road trip to Atlantic City, we found ourselves needing to be strategic with luggage storage when our 12-year-old insisted on space from her sister in the third row. With the third row in use, cargo space is reduced to 16.3 cubic feet.

The MDX shines as a larger, more robust SUV with advanced features and a comfortable third-row seat, as attested by my 5’1″ daughter. Its speed and agility make it a top choice. Plus, the MDX goes above and beyond with an abundance of charging ports and storage options, boasting a total of 10 cupholders – ensuring the whole family stays charged and hydrated during road trips. As much as the RDX once fit the bill for us, the MDX is looking like the better family SUV for our evolving needs.

The Acura Mdx Is In My Rearview As I Contemplate My Decision On The Best Family Suv For Me._Kim S

The Acura MDX is in my rearview as I contemplate my decision on the best family SUV for me. Photo: Kim S.

Choosing the Ideal Acura SUV for My Family: A Tough Decision

While I love my Acura RDX, hindsight has provided some valuable insights. It’s clear that my family’s needs have evolved, and considerations like growing family size, comfort, and space have taken precedence. The MDX has emerged as a strong contender from this perspective. I can’t help but think that the MDX might have been the better fit from the beginning, especially given the current state of car prices. However, two factors are giving me pause: fuel economy and pricing. The 2023 base Acura RDX starts at $41,750 (Inline-4 FWD) or $43,950 (Inline-4 SH-AWD) and tops out at $58,350 for the sportier A-Spec Advance Package, while the 2023 MDX starts at $49,550 (FWD) or $51,750 (SH-AWD) and reaches $73,200 for the Type S Advance model I test-drove.

The MDX promises more space and power but comes with increased overall costs, including fuel. The question lingers: is the gain from owning an MDX worth it compared to keeping my RDX? It’s a challenging decision that warrants careful consideration of the pros and cons before I reach a final verdict.

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Kim Smith is a 30-something-year-old wife and do-it-all mom of two beautiful daughters; her rainbow babies. As if working... More about Kim S.