2013 Honda Pilot Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
April 2, 2013

The 2013 Honda Pilot looks tough and truck-like from the outside, yet inside it's one of the better family haulers.

The Honda Pilot has chosen to go against the current with today's crossover segment styling. While other three-row family wagons like the Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander have become sleeker, more rakish models over time, the Pilot has become boxier and more SUV-like.

Though the Pilot might have a more rugged look, it's still a crossover tried and true, with a standout interior package and an excellent drivetrain, though we have nits to pick with its fit and finish, and features and equipment.

Especially if you're a household that eschews minivans yet needs a roomy interior, and three rows of seating, the 2013 Pilot remains one of the best picks. The overtly boxy body yields an especially roomy interior, as well as great versatility for busy weekend-hauling needs. Yet with a carlike unibody design, bolstered structurally with some of the benefits of an SUV, the Pilot is able to draw from the best of both worlds.

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A five-speed automatic transmission is paired with the familiar 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the Pilot, and it altogether keeps with Honda's smooth, responsive, and sweet-sounding reputation for these powertrains. EPA highway ratings are now up to 25 mpg, making it one of the most fuel-efficient three-row vehicles.

Once you get past the initial surprise of the tall driving position, you'll find handling to be reasonably crisp, with good maneuverability. Ride quality is on the firm side, but the optional four-wheel-drive (actually all-wheel drive) system has a Lock mode and is a champ in deep snow or mud. Four-wheel-drive models can tow up to 4,500 pounds.

The Pilot has for years been a top safety achiever, and it includes side-curtain bags cover all three rows, along with the usual roster of security items. For 2013, a rearview camera system is standard on all models and helps with visibility, which can be an issue in the blocky, tall Pilot.

The 2013 Honda Pilot remains offered in four different trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. All four are offered in 2WD or 4WD, but beyond that you need to ante up to one of the top two trims in order to get a lot of the more desirable options and convenience features.

We recommend the more affordable LX and EX models, as they're a better value and don't overlap in pricing with some luxury vehicles, as top-of-the-line Limited models do. They include rear air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a seven-speaker sound system. Leather upholstery, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, USB/iPod connectivity, a power tailgate, and a navigation system all remain only available on the EX-L and Touring--a serious impediment to broader sales success.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Styling

The 2013 Honda Pilot is refreshingly boxy overall, but overwrought in its details.

With styling that's boxy and brash, the 2013 Honda Pilot continues go quite in the opposite direction than most of the industry, when it comes to utility vehicles. But at the same time, that makes the Pilot look and feel refreshingly different in a sea of family-sized crossovers that all tend to blur together styling-wise if you've spent much time cross-shopping them. And, another aspect in going against the grain, with such a simple design is that the Pilot seems rather ageless on the outside--and it likely won't appear dated quite as quickly as other mainstream crossovers.

We do have a few nitpicks, however. Honda added a number of chromed-and-beveled details to the current generation of the Pilot, and up close those details may feel overwrought to some shoppers. Last year, Honda tried to tone down some of that in a mid-cycle refresh--especially the oddly framed grille, subbing in a more tasteful grille that we see fitting in much better with the look that Honda's been giving its passenger cars in front.

Inside the Pilot, the look is different, for sure, but it's anything but traditional and simple. The very upright instrument panel can feel cluttered, and it feels a bit gimmicky--either overwrought or busy. That said, the interior trim and instrument-panel design do continue the chunky, somewhat macho look of the exterior.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Performance

Forget the boxy look; the 2013 Pilot performs as if it were low and lean.

The Honda Pilot comes with a single powertrain combination: a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and a five-speed automatic. But you can choose between front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

The Pilot's V-6 is no longer the standout for power and torque that it once was, but it remains one of the smoothest, most pleasant, and sweet-sounding powertrains in this class. The five-speed automatic transmission in the Pilot feels a little indecisive under lighter loads, but it smooths out and shifts quickly when you need to move rapidly.

With a rather tall driving position, you might expect the Pilot to be a little clumsy compared to those lower, more wagon-like utility vehicles. But it's not at all; handling is quite responsive, and the straightforward exterior is easy to maneuver in parking garages or on tighter city streets.

The Pilot does have quite a bit more durability built in than the typical car, though, and it is a good choice for those looking to get to a trailhead on the weekends. The four-wheel drive system (actually all-wheel drive) does include a Lock mode for mud or deep snow. Structurally, the Pilot's structure borrows some of the benefits of a body-on-frame SUV but has a modern unibody design. And that contributes to its good ride quality and crisp response.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Honda Pilot has a usable third-row seat and is quite comfortable, but its control layout should be simpler.

Size the 2013 Pilot up on the outside, and you'd expect it to be exceptionally roomy and cargo-friendly inside. As such, you won't be disappointed in any way; the Pilot has seating for up to eight, split among three rows of seating that's quite comfortable--although getting in and out of the Pilot's third-row seats might be best left to those young and limber.

With an upright theme that carries through to most of the interior, the cabin is roomy and functional, and it's one of few vehicles this size to have a third row that's spacious enough for adults. About the only thing that keeps the third row from being able to accommodate all adults--getting in and out aside--is headroom, which is tighter at the far back.

The Pilot's front seats are generously sized and supportive for long highway hauls, and the second-row seats do slide fore and aft to help get the right balance of legroom between the second and third rows; they also aid access to the rearmost row--a bit. Both the second and third rows fold forward and are split 60/40.

Practicality remains one of the standpoints from which the Pilot excels; it's brimming with cubbies, holders, and bins for smaller items. The only issue we have is that the hard-plastic surfaces and trims that you'll find throughout the dash and door trim and center console, while they might be easy for families to wipe clean, also can feel a bit low-rent.

Refinement in the Pilot is really top-notch, with engine and road noise well-damped and surprisingly little wind noise.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Safety

Family shoppers will be happy to find the Honda Pilot among one of the safest choices in this class.

The 2013 Honda Pilot has been one of the best picks in this class for safety for years; and it remains near the top, although it doesn't quite have straight-A grades if you consider all U.S. crash tests.

Last year's version of the Pilot was given top 'good' ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in all categories--even in the crucial (for tall utility vehicles) roof-strength category--and it was named a Top Safety Pick. But in the tighter federal NCAP crash-test program, the Pilot earns a four-star score (out of five) overall, with four stars for frontal impact and five stars for the new side pole test.

Despite its boxy body, tall seating, and rather low beltline, the Honda Pilot doesn't offer great outward visibility--mainly because of the thick rear pillars, which may make it hard for some shorter drivers to see when changing lanes or backing up.

That's at least partially remedied for 2013, as the Pilot gets a rear-view camera system as a standard feature across all of its trims. Front side airbags, side-curtain bags that cover all three rows, and active head restraints all remain included, plus electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Features

There are some exciting features and options available on the Pilot, but many are only offered on much pricier EX-L or Touring models.

The 2013 Honda Pilot remains offered in four different trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. All four are offered in 2WD or 4WD, but beyond that you need to ante up to one of the top two trims in order to get a lot of the more desirable options and convenience features.

Leather upholstery, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, USB/iPod connectivity, a power tailgate, and a navigation system all remain only available on the EX-L and Touring. And the way that infotainment is configured in the Pilot, to get a USB input you need to select the navigation system--and likely buy one of the more expensive Pilots on the lot.

Last year Honda brought to the Pilot the i-MID, which includes a color LCD screen at the top of the instrument panel, showing trip computer and audio functions. A set of enhanced steering-wheel controls were also included, and for 2013 a rear-view camera system is also included.

If you can do without some of those extras, the base Honda Pilot LX models are well-enough equipped to make comfortable family vehicles for most; they include rear air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a seven-speaker sound system. At the top of the lineup, the Pilot Touring includes a host of tech features, such as a nav system, a rearview camera, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, a USB audio plug, backup sensors, and available rear DVD entertainment. There's 15 GB of media storage included with the navigation system.

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2013 Honda Pilot

Fuel Economy

There's no four-cylinder engine offered in the Pilot, but if a V-6 and three rows of seating are priorities, it's one of the most efficient picks.

Whether or not the 2013 Honda Pilot is green depends on how you plan to use it. With an EPA highway rating of up to 25 mpg on the highway, the Pilot is one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles with three rows of seating, making it a good choice for families who want a greener vehicle. On the other hand, if you only need room for five, you could do much better with any number of four-cylinder or hybrid models. The Toyota Highlander even comes in a Hybrid model, which offers three rows.

But we have found that the Pilot is quite fuel-efficient in real-world driving, and a cylinder-deactivation system helps the V-6 cut fuel consumption while coasting or cruising. We've managed to easily meet those ratings in previous drives, which certainly isn't the case across many models.
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7.6
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Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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