New & Used Honda Pilot: In Depth
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The Honda Pilot is a mid-size crossover SUV that’s family-friendly and also has car-like driving dynamics, but with a truck-like, boxy exterior design. The Pilot even offers optional all-wheel drive.
When it was rolled out in 2003, the Pilot was originally marketed as a more car-like alternative to the mid-size utility vehicles that were then based on trucks. Today, its competitors--think Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and others--are all based on car platforms.
That first 2003 Pilot offered good acceleration from a torquey 3.5-liter V-6 (making 240-255 hp), along with a smooth ride, respectable handling, and top-of-the-line safety ratings—including a roster of safety features (standard side and side-curtain bags and stability control) that was ahead of its time. A front-wheel-drive model was introduced in 2006 and the Pilot got a mild refresh.
The second-generation Pilot, introduced for 2009, hasn't quite appealed in the same way aesthetically as the first-generation Pilot, as the exterior seems an attempt to look more macho and trucklike—against the grain as more utility models are becoming smoother and sleeker.
But that boxy exterior pays off inside. The Pilot may be the best family option for buyers who needed the abilities of a minivan, but didn't want to be seen in one. The overtly boxy exterior of the Pilot now yields to an interior that's chunky and utilitarian in design--but offers most of the appointments of a minivan.
Its three rows of seating fit up to eight people, and it has all sorts of cubbies, bins, and trays. We found the instrument panel design a bit cluttered on newer Pilots, with more hard plastic pieces than most vehicles in this class. In the current generation, the shifter also moved to the center console from the more usual position on the column.
Though the third-row seats were quite small in the first Pilot, those in the current generation have been reconfigured and are much better for tall passengers. In fact, they're among the very best third-row seats for very tall adults. The third row folds flat for cargo space when not in use.
For the 2012 model year, Honda improved the efficiency of the drivetrain slightly, and made some cosmetic changes to the front end and the interior. A rearview camera system—still much-needed for some Pilot drivers—was made standard for 2013.
Powertrain performance remains strong, with a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission. Despite having just five gears, the Pilot's fuel economy is near the top of the class for a vehicle with this amount of interior space. The Pilot doesn't handle in a particularly sporty way, with a relatively soft suspension and high-sidewall tires, but it feels safe and stable.
The Pilot remains one of the safest vehicles in any class, with top crash-test results from both the federal government and the IIHS in frontal and side tests. The rather high seating position and boxy proportions afford a better outward view compared to many other curvier modern crossover designs. Honda has recently announced a series of recalls, affecting the Pilot going many years back, for airbag, parking brake, and fuel system issues.
The Pilot is built in Alabama, alongside the somewhat related Acura MDX and the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck.