2017 Honda PilotEnlarge Photo
The Honda Pilot is our current Best Car To Buy here at The Car Connection--but Nissan's Pathfinder has just received a slew of updates to make it more competitive.
These space-efficient, capable family vehicles offer just the right mix of flexible seating space, cargo capacity, and ride comfort—with all the safety features, interior amenities, and entertainment options that you might expect in such a core family vehicle.
Both models completely bypass off-road intentions or any strong focus on sportiness, in favor of family function, but how do they compare?
In this case, the Honda handily outpoints the Nissan. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and Performance
The Pilot is rakish and sleek—a tall wagon, essentially. It’s also very well finished, with a front end that appears lean and low, a refreshing counterpoint to the truck-like direction some vehicles in its class have taken. The Pathfinder is a refined family wagon as well. In design it’s just a little more truck-like than the Pilot, thanks in part to 2017 changes to the front and rear to make it look more rugged.
While we’d put the Pilot slightly ahead to our eyes and sense of proportion, we think it’s an even closer call inside. The Pathfinder’s interior is simple and functional, yet aesthetically appealing and nicely finished—feeling perhaps influenced by the interiors in recent Infiniti models. Meanwhile the Pilot’s interior looks a bit sportier and more complex, with a dual-tier layout and, thankfully, a single-screen infotainment system instead of the odd double-screen layouts in some other Honda models.
Dynamically, we wouldn’t call either of these two models sporty, but the Pilot offers slightly more coordinated handling, thanks to a system that helps brake the inside rear wheel in tight corners, and to an excellent available all-wheel drive system. The Pilot also comes with a multi-mode system with special settings for snow, mud, or sand. As for the Pathfinder, it drives more like a heavy, softly sprung sedan—even with some firmer suspension tuning for 2017. We like the weighting of the steering, but ultimately there’s not a lot of grip or inspiration.
The Honda Pilot has a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and 6- or 9-speed automatic transmissions (depending on the model). The Pathfinder also has a 3.5-liter V-6 that is upgraded for 2017 to improve horsepower from 260 to 284. Despite the similar numbers, the Pilot manages to ultimately perform better than the Pathfinder, with a 0 to 60 mph time in the mid 6-second range compared to mid 7s for the Pathfinder. Nonetheless, some people will appreciate the smooth, easy drivability afforded by the Pathfinder's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). For those in mountainous terrain, or for leadfoots, the Honda and its traditional automatic transmissions are probably going to be more satisfying.
The Pathfinder has the slight edge in fuel economy; in base form its EPA ratings are 20 mpg city, 27 highway, versus 19/27 mpg at best in the Pilot. The Pilot offers engine stop-start, and we’ve seen some pretty good real-world results in both of these vehicles.
2017 Nissan PathfinderEnlarge Photo
2016 Nissan PathfinderEnlarge Photo
2016 Nissan PathfinderEnlarge Photo
Interior, Features, and Safety
Both of these models feature some pretty impressive versatility and seating arrangements. Yet from a packaging standpoint, it’s easy to see that the Pilot has the edge. With a floor that’s very low, a rather high roofline, and some well-designed seating in between, the Pilot makes the most of its space. You can choose from a split-folding bench or captain’s chairs for the second row, and the latter includes walk-through access to the third row. With a single button press, the second-row seats fold forward and slide ahead for access to the third row as well.
The second-row seats in the Pathfinder are slightly disappointing, as they’re short, flat, and low. However, the Nissan also has an easy folding second-row seat on the passenger side that provides wide access to the third row—so wide, in fact, that a child seat can stay in place as kids climb in back.
Infotainment features are good but not great in both of these vehicles. The Pilot's system suffers from a needlessly complex interface, and it lacks a volume knob. The Pathfinder’s system is updated this year, but, like the Pilot's, it is bettered by what’s inside rival models from Ford, GMC, and Dodge, among others.
The Honda Pilot holds an edge in safety. It’s been named to the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list, and we love the available LaneWatch system that momentarily shows you a wide-angle view alongside the vehicle as you flick the turn-signal lever to change lanes. A Honda Sensing package with loads of active-safety items is also available.
For the Pathfinder, crash-test ratings have been mostly good, but not top-tier in all respects. For 2017, the Pathfinder adds forward collision warnings, and that may improve crash test scores when the new model is finally tested. We also like the Pathfinder's surround-view camera system.
Honda has been making moves to improve the level of feature content and value for the money in its vehicles, and it shows here in the Pilot. EX-L models, with their moonroof, power tailgate, and heated seats, are probably the best value. Model for model, the Nissan Pathfinder is a close match for the Pilot in terms of content.
So is the Honda Pilot or the Nissan Pathfinder the better vehicle for your family? In some fundamental, apples-to-apples ways, these two vehicles can appear a virtual tie in terms of packaging, seating, space, and even features. But venture a little deeper into the details and the Honda Pilot earns a slight edge. That’s why it was our 2016 Best Car To Buy winner—and also the clear winner here.