2021 Honda Pilot

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2021
The Car Connection
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2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
June 18, 2020

Buying tip

The $36,050 2021 Pilot EX has the touchscreen infotainment you want, the automatic emergency braking you need, and none of the price creep of more expensive models.

features & specs

Black Edition AWD
EX 2WD
EX AWD
MPG
19 city / 26 hwy
MPG
20 city / 27 hwy
MPG
19 city / 26 hwy
MSRP
$49,920
MSRP
$34,930
MSRP
$36,930

The 2021 Honda Pilot does a solid impression of a minivan, minus the cultural baggage.

The 2021 Honda Pilot gets a few changes for the new model year, before a replacement arrives likely for 2022. It’s still the family-savvy three-row crossover that won our Best Car To Buy 2016 award, and still one of the best values of all the vehicles that can seat up to eight passengers with a minimum of kvetching.

The score carries over too: The 2021 Pilot gets a TCC Rating of 6.5 out of 10, with the $36,050 Pilot EX our pick in a lineup that can pitch headlong into the $50,000 range. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2021 Pilot gets a 9-speed automatic standard on all models as well as standard dual-zone climate control. Otherwise changes are minuscule: The Pilot still sports the ersatz-minivan shape that telegraphs to the world that it’s made for hauling people and cargo, not for trundling into Yeti territory. The crossover-van blend works for us, six model years down the road, and so does the sober interior, which has a generally nicer grade of trim than many rivals, outside of the upstart Palisade/Telluride duo.

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The Pilot ranks highly for its interior space, which really does provide seating for eight adults; three can sit in the wayback, so long as they’re not NFL Combine material. The middle bench seat swaps out for captain’s chairs that bring seating down to seven on pricey models. Behind the front seats the Pilot coughs up about 80 cubic feet of space to use as you choose. It’s a strong safety bet too, with top scores from the IIHS, the NHTSA, and with standard automatic emergency braking.

Where it lags now, in comparison with its newer competition, is in standard features and in its warranty, which is just average at 3 years/36,000 miles. The base Pilot LX has a teensy 5.0-inch screen for audio displays and its rearview camera, which is why we pick the Pilot EX for its larger screen and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plush versions add in a panoramic roof, leather upholstery, black trim, cooled front seats and heated second-row seats, and wireless smartphone charging, but the 2021 Pilot’s best when it’s less expensive.

Performance? Well, yes, there is some, and it’s fine. The Pilot’s 280-horsepower V-6 plays nicely with its now-standard 9-speed automatic, though we’ve noticed a shift bobbled here and there. Handling is just slightly more responsive than a typical minivan. It’s resilient in ride and attentive but not overly eager of steering—just one more way the Pilot’s a lot like the vehicle that shares its running gear, the Honda Odyssey.

6

2021 Honda Pilot

Styling

The 2021 Pilot wears conservative—not frumpy—clothes.

In its sixth model year, the Honda Pilot still carries off its look well. The conservative style has clean and inoffensive lines, though it lacks the drama and panache of a Telluride or a Palisade. It’s a 6 for styling.

Honda updated the Pilot for 2019, but left well enough alone. The Pilot body looks part crossover, part minivan—it’s related to the Odyssey—and it’s big to the eyes as well as to the shoulders. The best details are the big windows and the curt little crease that breaks up the slab sides of its body.

Sedate inside, the 2021 Pilot wears grey and beige as badges of honor. Flashy it’s not, but the Pilot interior looks like it could stand up to pets and children without standing out in any untoward way. The outward vision granted by its low dash earns thanks, even as the very mild winglike shapes of the dash itself are forgotten quickly. The interior brightens considerably with a panoramic roof, and that highlights Honda’s higher-grade interior materials than the ones found on, say, a VW Atlas.

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6

2021 Honda Pilot

Performance

The 2021 Pilot’s long on V-6 power.

Honda stuffs a lot of horsepower in the 2021 Pilot, and this year it’s all more shifty. We put its performance rating at a 6, thanks to its strong V-6.

Every Pilot has a 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6, but Honda’s dropped the 6-speed automatic that shifted base models through last year. Now all versions get a 9-speed automatic that helps keep fuel economy slightly above average.

The V-6 puts its best foot forward in higher trims, where sound-deadening windshields reduce engine roar at highway speeds to a ripple. Refinement is the engine’s smartest trick, that and its ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds when fitted with a tow package.

The 9-speed automatic has a foible or two. In long-term drives of the current generation Pilot, the automatic exhibited some low-speed indecision and hunting when called on to pass at highway speeds. It does keep the V-6 in a sweet spot for fuel efficiency.

Honda knows Pilot drivers aren’t going to travel far off-road, so more than seven inches of ground clearance is enough to avoid the usual obstacles—but not too tall to induce bobbly handling like the trucky SUVs of the last century. The Pilot’s suspension filters off imperfect stretches of road when it’s fitted with 18-inch wheels; the 20-inchers offered on expensive versions aren’t an improvement but they don’t degrade the ride too much. Steering is fine, not crisp and confident like an Accord, but fine. In all, the Pilot’s tuned to be as responsive as the driver would be to eerie silence from the kids in the third-row seat.

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2021 Honda Pilot

Comfort & Quality

The Pilot seats eight, and adults fit even in the wayback.

Honda fits the 2021 Pilot SUV with up to eight seats, and larger passengers can fit in the third row without too much crowding. That plus great cargo space earns a 9 here.

The Pilot’s packaging has been one of its strongest features since it was new for 2016, and little has changed in six model years. It’s still all-day comfortable in the front seats, which are covered in cloth on base models but swathed in leather on EX-L and more expensive models. The front seats are wide and somewhat flat, but have a wide range of adjustment when they’re power-adjustable—and can be heated and cooled, depending on the model. A wide center console splits driver and front passenger, with ample bins for small items—and a saddle-mounted transmission controller that takes up too much space.

In row two, three adult passengers will fit well, unless the bench seat’s swapped for the captain’s chairs offered on the most expensive models. In either case, the second-row passengers have 38.4 inches of leg room, and good seat comfort. 

Getting to row three is a snap; Honda fits a button that tumbles the second-row seat forward for third-row access, where 32 inches of leg room allows larger passengers to sit in reasonable comfort for middle-distance trips.

Behind the third row the Pilot doles out 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space; behind row two, it’s more than 46 cubic feet. Cargo space tops out at more than 80 cubic feet behind the front seats. 

The only point the Pilot misses here is for quality; it’s no knock on less expensive models, which have materials that feel appropriate for the price. It’s the $50,000 Pilots that could use richer interior trim to earn their price tag.

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8

2021 Honda Pilot

Safety

The 2021 Honda Pilot earns strong crash-test scores.

The Pilot earns an 8 for safety, thanks to a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and its most recent Top Safety Pick award.

Every 2021 Pilot has automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. The Pilot EX and all more expensive models come with blind-spot monitors. 

While the NHTSA gave the Pilot five stars overall, the agency rated front-impact protection at four stars, and gave the same score to passenger side-impact protection. The IIHS award applies only to vehicles with the upgraded headlights found on Touring, Elite, and Black edition models—and it’s not yet known if the award will apply for the 2021 model year.

The Pilot has good outward vision, but you’ll have to look over two rows of seats to get a clear view to the rear. Unlike some newer rivals, no surround-view camera system is available.

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6

2021 Honda Pilot

Features

Base Pilots don’t have many features, but the rest are well-equipped.

Honda skips a feature or two on the base Pilot LX that keeps it from a higher score here, but our pick of the lineup has almost everything you’d expect in a three-row crossover SUV—which earns the 2021 Pilot a score of 6 for features.

The $33,370 front-drive Pilot LX has standard automatic emergency braking, dual-zone climate control, eight-passenger seating, 18-inch wheels, and cloth upholstery—but it’s saddled with a dinky 5.0-inch infotainment screen with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. All-wheel drive costs $2,000. 

Skip the LX and choose the $36,050 Pilot EX for its standard blind-spot monitors, power driver seat, heated front seats, and 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The bigger Honda screen has but a single knob to control volume; the rest of its functions require touch inputs, which some drivers detest and others adore.

Pilot EX-L crossovers get leather upholstery and a moonroof for $39,480; the new Pilot SE adds to that 20-inch wheels, a hands-free power tailgate, and wireless smartphone charging, for $40,080; the $44,040 Pilot Touring gets navigation, parking sensors, LED headlights, second-row heated seats, a panoramic roof, and upgraded audio; Elites get second-row captain’s chairs and cooled front seats, while the $51,040 Pilot Black Edition gets a lot of black exterior and interior trim—and now comes in white.

Honda’s 3-year/36,000-mile warranty pales compared to the coverage applied to Kia and Hyundai rivals.

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4

2021 Honda Pilot

Fuel Economy

The Pilot’s fuel economy idles in the low 20s

Without the 6-speed automatic in the Pilot family this year, Honda loses the lower-economy version of its big crossover. But fuel economy’s unchanged on the 9-speed versions, so we still rate it a 4.

The EPA pegs the 2021 Pilot at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined, when it’s configured with front-wheel drive. With all-wheel drive, the numbers drop to 19/26/22 mpg.

Those numbers compare with the Subaru Ascent’s 23- and 22-mpg combined ratings, and the Ford Explorer’s 24-mpg combined rating in its most efficient non-hybrid form.

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$32,250
MSRP based on LX 2WD
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6.5
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 8
Features 6
Fuel Economy 4
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