2010 Honda Pilot Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
August 16, 2009

If you can deal with its overwrought styling, the 2010 Honda Pilot is an excellent family vehicle, with the space and comfort of a minivan and good overall performance.

In order to bring you the most useful shopping information on the boxy 2010 Honda Pilot crossover, TheCarConnection.com has driven the Pilot and compared it to rival models. And in a full review, TheCarConnection.com also includes a range of observations and viewpoints from other review sources.

Honda gave the Pilot a complete redesign for 2009, but while most crossover vehicles have been evolving with smoother, less overt silhouettes, the new Pilot became bolder, chunkier and, well, more like a truck in the looks department. The huge, beveled grill is either a macho masterpiece or a little embarrassing (we go with the latter). Inside as well, Honda goes for a narrower appeal than the previous Pilot by opting for chunkier, clunkier styling cues and themes that some shoppers might find a little too gimmicky.

Propelling the 2010 Honda Pilot is a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6; it’s not exceptionally fast with the smooth-shifting five-speed automatic, but it's responsive enough, as well as sweet-sounding. Even though it has a cylinder-deactivation system to cut fuel consumption while coasting or cruising, the Pilot is quite thirsty, with EPA ratings of just 16 mpg city, 22 highway with four-wheel drive. The Pilot handles well and rides quite smoothly, though some bumps can be jarring.

The 2010 Honda Pilot might have just enough trucklike ability, even though it has a carlike unibody design. Four-wheel-drive models can tow up to 4,500 pounds, though the optional four-wheel-drive system is more all-wheel drive, including a Lock mode good for getting through deep snow, mud, and the like at low speed. However, it's not for serious off-roading.

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Inside, the Pilot is as roomy and functional as ever; it’s one of few vehicles this size to have a third row that’s spacious enough for adults (though headroom is tight in the far back). Front seats are generously sized and excellent for long road trips, while the second-row seats slide fore and aft for easy access to the third row or to get just the right balance of legroom between rows. The second and third rows split 60/40 and fold forward. From a practicality standpoint, the Pilot’s interior brims with cubbies, holders, and bins for accoutrements of all sorts. A couple of things are disappointing about the interior; the overstyled trim is executed in hard, unforgiving plastic, and the instrument panel controls feel cluttered and take some getting used to.

Those concerned with safety should include the 2010 Honda Pilot on their list. The Pilot achieves straight five-star ratings from the federal government, along with "good" ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The only concern for some drivers would be the thick rear pillars that might obscure rearward visibility.

The Pilot is available in four different trim levels—LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring—each of which is offered in 2WD or 4WD. The EX-L and Touring get upgraded leather upholstery. Base 2010 Honda Pilot LX models come with rear air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a seven-speaker sound system, while the top-of-the-line 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.

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2010 Honda Pilot

Styling

The 2010 Honda Pilot goes off in its own very polarizing direction; you'll likely either love it or hate it.

The 2010 Honda Pilot won't blend in with the crowd, that's for sure. But you'll have to decide whether the Pilot's controversial grille and chunky, sometimes overwrought styling fits you or is just too over-the-top.

Edmunds notes that the new Pilot “tries hard to look more like a utility and less like a minivan,” and they call the look “bluff and hearty, like an American wearing a simple white T-shirt,” but point out its “self-consciously truck-style grille that strikes the same note of authenticity as a sumo wrestler wearing a belt buckle from the Salinas Rodeo.”

Automobile reports that the new Pilot “looks like a more muscular caricature of its predecessor, with enormous headlights, a menacing grille, and thick C-pillars.” BusinessWeek finds the Pilot “boxy-looking (and, to my eye, stodgy)."

Most reviewers focus on the grille for critical comments. USA Today thinks the Pilot is “not swoopy and sexy like the CX-9, nor graceful like the GM's GMC/Saturn models,” in part because of its “big, ugly grille—a visual sore point.” They also consider the Pilot’s proportions “off a bit,” though Cars.com thinks there are some “interesting angles in the liftgate near the taillamps.” Car and Driver contends that “there are more right angles on the thing than you’ll find in a T-square factory,” and the Detroit News adds, “None of its edges are sharp; instead, it's soft and curvy.”
Reviewers point to the often-overwrought details of the Pilot's interior, and not always in a positive sense. Motor Trend says the “center stack layout [is] a trifle busy, especially in Touring trim,” and The Detroit News observes that the “center stack, when the navigation system is included, becomes a confusing mess of buttons, switches and knobs.”
Although TheCarConnection.com's editors find the instrument panel in the 2010 Honda Pilot to be overly cluttered, at least in initial feel, several reviewers like the look and the layout. Motor Trend thinks its “3D-look analog gauges” are “highly legible,” but Cars.com spotlights the “new dash” and its “white-faced gauges and translucent turquoise trim,” and thinks “the design works well.”

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2010 Honda Pilot

Performance

The 2010 Honda Pilot doesn't handle with any feeling of sportiness, but its powertrain is reasonably responsive and smooth.

The 2010 Honda Pilot performs well—indeed, much better than its tall, boxy silhouette might indicate.

The 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission that come in all Pilots deliver just enough power, according to most reviewers, though the Pilot isn't quick. “With as much as 4,600 pounds to motivate," Automobile says, “Honda figures you'll need something useful from under the hood.” However, the Pilot’s “power arrives a little farther around the tachometer dial than you'd like, and since there are only five speeds in the transmission with which to find it, you have to work the throttle pedal kind of hard to get there.” Motor Trend agrees that power “peaks at a somewhat heady 4800 rpm.”

ConsumerGuide goes against the grain here, reporting that the engine “has ample power and fine throttle response in both city and highway driving.” USA Today thinks the “engine sounds sweet when spurred and has a jump-and-run persona.”

Automobile points out that the Pilot’s V-6 has “VCM (variable cylinder management),” which means “the engine can run on either three, four, or all six cylinders, depending on how much power is needed,” although TheCarConnection.com notes that even as such, the 2010 Pilot is rated at just 16 mpg city, 22 highway with 4WD. USA Today “managed only about 15 to 19 miles per gallon in various uses — typical but not exceptional for midsize crossover SUVs.”

Nearly everyone considers the transmission smooth and responsive. The Detroit News feels that the five-speed automatic transmission “seemed to find its gears smoothly under heavy acceleration,” while Cars.com reports that “during the entirety of my drive, the transmission never made a harsh shift and always seemed to be in the right gear.” USA Today notes that “the only hiccup was a jolt when it shifted simultaneously with cylinders shutting off or kicking in.” ConsumerGuide calls it “smooth and responsive,” adding that it “occasionally hunts for the ideal gear.”

By nearly all accounts, the 2010 Honda Pilot handles well. The Pilot “never loses its composure,” ConsumerGuide reports, while USA Today says its “steering stayed on-center nicely and was properly responsive upon command.” However, the paper remarks that the Pilot’s “ride was an odd mix of accommodating smoothness on most surfaces but jerky harshness on slow bumps.” Cars.com asserts that the “Pilot managed to impress on the ride and handling front,” though “steering feel is a little vague when turning the wheel left or right from the straight-ahead position.”

USA Today adds that “the handling that's important to most people most of the time—maneuvering in tight spots and parking in crowded lots—was excellent because of a compact turning circle and good visibility.”

Few reviewers had much to say about the available all-wheel-drive system, which Honda designates as 4WD. It doesn’t have a low range, but there's a Lock mode for use at low speeds. It can “impart a more confident feel in rain or snow conditions,” notes Edmunds, contending that it's “exquisitely simple and completely affordable, if not exactly trail-rated.”

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2010 Honda Pilot

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Honda Pilot has great seats and the space to accommodate adults in all three rows, but it's not perfect when it comes to materials and interior details.

In summing up the interior of the 2010 Honda Pilot, reviewers report good interior space and a usable third-row seat but take some issue with interior materials.

For 2009, Honda “added 2.9 inches to the length and wheelbase, made it 1.0 inch wider and nearly an inch taller,” Motor Trend reports. “Collectively, the changes upped cabin volume by 4.1 cubic feet.”

For a vehicle of this size, it's unusual to have a third row that can be used by adults, but Honda has done it. Edmunds clarifies that Honda creates a space for adults "by raising the hip point of the seat itself, so there are 1.9 inches more legroom and a far more comfortable seating position.” The Detroit News also points to the impressive third-row space: “As a full-size adult, I could climb back into the third row with little hassle and fit comfortably there.” Motor Trend agrees; “Still best for a trio of younger folk, the innermost sanctum now truly is capable of carrying two average adults in reasonable comfort,” they attest. Only Cars.com differs on this point, with the reviewer feeling that it is “still on the small side for adults.”

Moving up to the second row of the 2010 Pilot, the Detroit News reports, “The second row felt spacious and the front offered lots of room,” and Motor Trend notes it “retains 3.0 inches of basic fore/aft adjustability.” USA Today thinks the “second row slides fore-aft and has good leg and knee space,” but the seat’s folding features are “a bit stiff to operate.”

Meanwhile, those in the front seats are likely to be comfortable even for long road trips. “Its well-formed front buckets gain an extra 20 mm of seat travel, and the driver's perch power-adjusts on all but the LX,” states Motor Trend. The Pilot also gets “a steering column that now tilts and telescopes,” they note. Cars.com says the “front bucket seats have moderately firm cushioning that proved comfortable.”

Storage inside the 2009 Honda Pilot is made easy with two rows of folding seats in back, and numerous storage bins, along with the cargo area behind the third-row seat. In eight-seat configuration, the Pilot still has “class-leading 20.8 cubic feet of rear stow room, including a 2.8-cubic-foot concealed underfloor bin,” Cars.com says, and “47.7/87.0 cubic feet with one or both back rows flopped.” The third-row seat folds completely into the floor of the Pilot, sources add, and there’s space enough “for a couple golf bags or a folded stroller behind the 3rd row,” ConsumerGuide promises, also noting that “ample small-items storage includes a versatile front console, two-tier front-seatback pouches, and plenty of compartments and cubbies.”

Honda has a reputation for quality, but the interior of the 2010 Honda Pilot falls off a bit in the details. Some trim pieces are noticeably cheaper than in the past, and Cars.com observes "an exposed cutline in one of the dash pieces and a slightly misaligned trim piece on the instrument panel hood.” They also point out the dash plastic is “hard to the touch, which is unusual considering that many automakers are using soft-touch materials in cabin designs.” ConsumerGuide also notes the “abundance of hard plastic trim.” Only Automobile Magazine comments on the interior materials in a positive light, saying that “its thick-rimmed steering wheel and supportive seats make the Toyota [Highlander]'s cockpit feel cheap by comparison.”

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2010 Honda Pilot

Safety

Top crash-test results and a full range of safety features in the stout 2010 Honda Pilot promise excellent protection, with visibility the only concern.

The 2010 Honda Pilot has achieved only the top ratings in all categories of crash testing from both the federal government and the insurance industry. In NHTSA (federal) tests, the Pilot achieved five-star protection in all frontal and side tests, and it got top "good" ratings from the insurance-supported IIHS in frontal offset, side, and rear tests. The IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick for 2009, an accolade that it's expected to also get for 2010.

Safety gear in the 2010 Honda Pilot includes “antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, three-row side curtain airbags, and active head restraints for the front seats,” Cars.com reports. It also offers Brake Assist, which The Detroit News says “uses a computer to determine if the driver is slamming on the brakes and then increases brake pressure electronically to help provide maximum stopping power.”
Visibility can be an issue in the 2010 Honda Pilot, depending on the size and seating position of the driver. “Thick rear roof pillars block the driver's view to the rear corners,” ConsumerGuide observes, “but large windows and typically tall SUV driving stance mean good visibility otherwise.” USA Today adds that “the high hood line that accommodates the big grille makes it hard to see where the path goes when cresting an off-pavement hill.”

A backup camera is standard on the 2010 Honda Pilot EX-L and Touring models with the nav system. On models without navigation, the available rearview camera projects an image into “a small screen on the inside rearview mirror,” USA Today says. “Never did seem as intuitive as the big-screen backup image.”

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2010 Honda Pilot

Features

The 2010 Honda Pilot has an extensive list of standard features, but those who want popular tech features are going to have to make some tough choices on whether they'll spend thousands extra for them.

If you're happy with some of the most popular conveniences, the standard-features list is quite complete in the 2010 Honda Pilot, and it excels with plenty of handy interior storage options. If, however, you're tempted by some of the options, they might only be available in the more expensive models.

Families will be happy to see that the interior of the 2010 Honda Pilot handles most needs when organizing and stowing toys, electronics, and other loose items. Motor Trend reports that the Pilot has a “superbly redesigned center console that provides twice the capacity of any competitor's, multiple bins, supersize cupholders, [and] 12V powerpoints.” The Detroit News also notes that the standard feature list for the 2009 Honda Pilot includes "a flip-up glass hatch on the back door; integrated tow hitch; hill start assist; four car-seat latches,” as well as a “tilt and telescopic steering wheel.”

If your shopping list includes a number of must-have tech features, you might be disappointed to find that you'll have to move up to the more expensive EX-L and Touring models to get popular items like Bluetooth, a power tailgate, or a navigation system. Also, the Touring model is the only Pilot to get a USB port that teams up with Apple’s iPod to integrate your music library with the crossover’s sound system.

Cars.com lays out the case against Honda’s packaging of options: “Rather than being optional equipment that you can add to any trim level, many popular features are limited to more expensive trims.” Features like a power moonroof and a DVD entertainment system are “only available on the top two trims, EX-L and Touring.”

“While this feature-allocation strategy may be fine for buyers looking for a higher-end Pilot,” Cars.com argues, “it doesn't serve budget-minded buyers who aren't eager to step up to a higher trim level just to get one feature they're interested in.” BusinessWeek points out that the Touring edition “will sell for about $40,000, making it the most expensive Pilot ever.”

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