2020 Acura RDX vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

Compared to metal, the RDX’s plastic fuel tank can withstand harder, more intrusive impacts without leaking; this decreases the possibility of fire. The Toyota Highlander has a metal gas tank.

Both the RDX and the Highlander have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front wheel drive, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, daytime running lights, lane departure warning systems, rearview cameras, available all wheel drive, blind spot warning systems, around view monitors and rear cross-path warning.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does 35 MPH front crash tests on new vehicles. In this test, results indicate that the Acura RDX is safer than the Toyota Highlander:

RDX

Highlander

Driver

STARS

4 Stars

4 Stars

Neck Injury Risk

26%

47%

Neck Stress

262 lbs.

509 lbs.

Neck Compression

23 lbs.

73 lbs.

Leg Forces (l/r)

328/464 lbs.

409/517 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.

For its top level performance in IIHS driver and passenger-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, roof strength and head restraint tests, its standard front crash prevention system, and its headlight’s “Good” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the RDX its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2019, a rating granted to only 46 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Highlander is only a standard “Top Pick” for 2019.

Warranty

The RDX comes with a full 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, which covers the entire truck and includes 24-hour roadside assistance. The Highlander’s 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty expires 1 year and 14,000 miles sooner.

Acura’s powertrain warranty covers the RDX 1 year and 10,000 miles longer than Toyota covers the Highlander. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 6 years or 70,000 miles. Coverage on the Highlander ends after only 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Engine

The RDX’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. produces 87 more horsepower (272 vs. 185) and 96 lbs.-ft. more torque (280 vs. 184) than the Highlander’s standard 2.7 DOHC 4-cyl. The RDX’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. produces 17 lbs.-ft. more torque (280 vs. 263) than the Highlander’s optional 3.5 DOHC V6.

As tested in Motor Trend the Acura RDX is faster than the Toyota Highlander V6:

RDX

Highlander

Zero to 60 MPH

6.4 sec

7.2 sec

Quarter Mile

14.8 sec

15.5 sec

Speed in 1/4 Mile

94.7 MPH

92.6 MPH

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the RDX gets better fuel mileage than the Highlander:

MPG

RDX

FWD

2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

22 city/28 hwy

A-Spec 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

22 city/27 hwy

AWD

2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

21 city/27 hwy

A-Spec 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

21 city/26 hwy

Highlander

FWD

2.7 DOHC 4-cyl.

20 city/24 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6 w/Start/Stop

21 city/27 hwy

3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/27 hwy

AWD

LE Plus 3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/27 hwy

XLE/SE/Limited 3.5 DOHC V6

20 city/26 hwy

LE 3.5 DOHC V6

19 city/26 hwy

The RDX has a standard cap-less fueling system. The fuel filler is automatically opened when the fuel nozzle is inserted and automatically closed when it’s removed. This eliminates the need to unscrew and replace the cap and it reduces fuel evaporation, which causes pollution. The Highlander doesn’t offer a cap-less fueling system.

Environmental Friendliness

In its Green Vehicle Guide, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the Acura RDX higher (6 out of 10) than the Toyota Highlander (3 to 5). This means the RDX produces up to 23.4 pounds less smog-producing pollutants than the Highlander every 15,000 miles.

Transmission

A 10-speed automatic is standard on the Acura RDX, for better acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. Only an eight-speed automatic is available for the Highlander.

Brakes and Stopping

The RDX stops much shorter than the Highlander:

RDX

Highlander

70 to 0 MPH

177 feet

186 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

116 feet

131 feet

Motor Trend

60 to 0 MPH (Wet)

129 feet

146 feet

Consumer Reports

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the RDX A-Spec’s tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Highlander (255/40R20 vs. 245/60R18).

The RDX’s standard tires provide better handling because they have a lower 55 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Highlander’s standard 60 series tires. The RDX A-Spec’s tires have a lower 40 series profile than the Highlander SE/Limited/Platinum’s 55 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the RDX has standard 19-inch wheels. Smaller 18-inch wheels are standard on the Highlander. The RDX A-Spec’s 20-inch wheels are larger than the 19-inch wheels on the Highlander SE/Limited/Platinum.

The RDX has a standard easy tire fill system. When inflating the tires, the vehicle’s integrated tire pressure sensors keep track of the pressure as the tires fill and tell the driver when the tires are inflated to the proper pressure. The Highlander doesn’t offer vehicle monitored tire inflation.

Suspension and Handling

The RDX offers an optional driver-adjustable suspension system. It allows the driver to choose between an extra-supple ride, reducing fatigue on long trips, or a sport setting, which allows maximum control for tricky roads or off-road. The Highlander’s suspension doesn’t offer adjustable shock absorbers.

The RDX has vehicle speed sensitive variable-assist power steering, for low-effort parking, better control at highway speeds and during hard cornering, and a better feel of the road. The Highlander doesn’t offer variable-assist power steering.

The RDX A-Spec AWD handles at .81 G’s, while the Highlander AWD pulls only .80 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.

The RDX AWD executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 1.1 seconds quicker than the Highlander LE (27.2 seconds @ .64 average G’s vs. 28.3 seconds @ .64 average G’s).

For greater off-road capability the RDX has a greater minimum ground clearance than the Highlander (8.2 vs. 8 inches), allowing the RDX to travel over rougher terrain without being stopped or damaged.

Chassis

The Acura RDX may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs about 350 to 600 pounds less than the Toyota Highlander.

The RDX is 5.7 inches shorter than the Highlander, making the RDX easier to handle, maneuver and park in tight spaces.

The RDX uses computer-generated active noise cancellation to help remove annoying noise and vibration from the passenger compartment, especially at low frequencies. The Highlander doesn’t offer active noise cancellation.

Cargo Capacity

Pressing a switch automatically lowers the RDX’s rear seats, to make changing between passengers and cargo easier. The Highlander doesn’t offer automatic folding seats.

To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, the RDX Advance’s liftgate can be opened and closed just by kicking your foot under the back bumper, leaving your hands completely free. The Highlander doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its liftgate, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Servicing Ease

The RDX uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Highlander uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.

The RDX has a maintenance free battery for long life without checking the battery’s water level. The Highlander doesn’t have a maintenance free battery, so the water level in the battery’s cells must be checked often to prevent damage.

J.D. Power and Associates surveys of service recipients show that Acura service is better than Toyota. J.D. Power ranks Acura 6th in service department satisfaction (above the industry average). With a 26% lower rating, Toyota is ranked 14th.

Ergonomics

The RDX has a standard remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Highlander doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

The RDX’s standard easy entry system glides the driver’s seat back, making it easier for the driver to get in and out. The Highlander doesn’t offer an easy entry system.

The RDX Advance has a standard heads-up display that projects speed and navigation instruction readouts in front of the driver’s line of sight, allowing drivers to view information without diverting their eyes from the road. The Highlander doesn’t offer a heads-up display.

The power windows standard on both the RDX and the Highlander have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the RDX is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Highlander prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.

The RDX’s front and rear power windows all open or close fully with one touch of the switches, making it more convenient at drive-up windows and toll booths, or when talking with someone outside the car. The Highlander’s standard rear power window switches have to be held the entire time to open or close them fully.

If the windows are left open on the RDX the driver can close them all at the outside door handle or from a distance using the remote. On a hot day the driver can lower the windows from a distance using the keyless remote. The driver of the Highlander can only operate the windows from inside the vehicle, with the ignition on.

The RDX’s standard speed-sensitive wipers speed up when the vehicle does, so that the driver doesn’t have to continually adjust the speed of the wipers. The Highlander’s standard manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts detailed tests on headlights for their range both straight ahead and in curves and to be certain they don’t exceed acceptable amounts of glare to oncoming drivers. The RDX’s standard headlights were rated “Good” by the IIHS, while the Highlander’s headlights are rated “Acceptable.”

When the RDX is put in reverse, both rearview mirrors tilt from their original position. This gives the driver a better view of the curb during parallel parking maneuvers. Shifting out of reverse puts the mirrors into their original positions. The Highlander’s mirrors don’t automatically adjust for backing.

The RDX Advance has standard automatic dimming rear and side view mirrors which automatically darken quickly when headlights shine on them, keeping following vehicles from blinding or distracting the driver. The Highlander offers an automatic rear view mirror, but its side mirrors don’t dim.

The RDX has a standard dual zone air conditioning allows the driver and front passenger to choose two completely different temperatures so people with different temperature preferences won’t have to compromise. This makes both the driver and front passenger as comfortable as possible. Dual zone air conditioning costs extra on the Highlander.

Economic Advantages

Insurance will cost less for the RDX owner. The Complete Car Cost Guide estimates that insurance for the RDX will cost $185 to $1115 less than the Highlander over a five-year period.

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the RDX is less expensive to operate than the Highlander because typical repairs cost much less on the RDX than the Highlander, including $191 less for fuel injection, $35 less for a fuel pump and $1440 less for a timing belt/chain.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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