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2011 Honda Pilot

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2011 Honda Pilot

2011 Honda Pilot

Photo © American Honda Motors

The Bottom Line

Honda takes a different path than most other manufacturers, and that path has led to the 2011 Honda Pilot. In its third year, the second-generation Pilot returns basically unchanged from its 2009 redesign and 2010 return engagement. The competition has thickened in the three-row crossover field, with the Ford Flex, the GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave/Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander pressing the Pilot for supremacy. Pilot delivers Honda virtues of clean design, superb fit, finish and ride characteristics, and a reputation for dead reliability that the others can't touch -- for now. Pilot's price tag leaves it vulnerable in a shaky economy, and its thirsty V6 engine is not exactly cutting edge technology.
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Pros

  • Big -- but not too big
  • Quiet and comfortable
  • A minivan alternative that's actually an alternative

Cons

  • So-so fuel economy
  • Quirky exterior design is not for everybody
  • Transmission lacks refinement

Description

  • Base prices from $28,045 to $40,395
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Horsepower: 250 @ 5,700 rpm
  • Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
  • Transmission: 5-speed automatic with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
  • Curb Weight: 4,310 - 4,608 lbs
  • Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway (4WD)/17 mpg city/23 mpg highway (2WD)
  • Wheelbase: 109.2” Vehicle Length: 190.9” Width: 78.5” Height: 72.7”
  • Cargo: 87.0 cubic feet Behind 2nd Row: 47.7 cubic feet Luggage: 18.0 cubic feet
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain

Guide Review - 2011 Honda Pilot

Honda waited a while before getting into the SUV game. The toy-like CR-V made a nice splash 1995, but it took Honda until 2003 to bring out their first mid-size SUV, the Pilot. (I don't count the Passport, which was a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo sold as a Honda in the US from 1994 to 2002.) The Pilot underwent a makeover for the 2009 model year, and has made due with minor tweaks since then.

The 2011 Honda Pilot is a three-row unibody mid-size SUV, and a darned good one at that. It is in the squared-off school of automotive design, definitely from the same studio that brought you the utilitarian Element, but more sophisticated and grown-up looking. If the Honda Ridgeline and Honda Element had a baby, and you fed it vitamins and growth hormone, it might come out like the Honda Pilot. I like the exterior look, which has a hint of the future, a little touch of military, and a pinch of wacky Japanese design.

Inside the Pilot, a similar theme emerges. The center stack mounted gear shift lever took a little bit of getting used to. The position is more minivan than SUV, but it does leave plenty of space for a big center console with a nifty tambour cover and plenty of gadget storage. My test vehicle was a fully-loaded Pilot Touring 4WD (base price $40,395, as tested $41,175), which included standard Honda Navigation System with a rearview camera and a DVD rear entertainment system, among other nifty features. Put in all that functionality into a center stack, and the buttons multiply like you're at a political convention. The operation was straightforward and pretty clear, but not for the faint of heart or simple of tech.

As a minivan alternative, Pilot excels. Both second and third row seats are comfortable for average adults. The third row is a little thinly padded, but at least there's a reasonable amount of leg and knee room. The second row is fit for a king, a queen and a small jack. The compromises from a minivan are a bit of third row comfort, and ease of access. Swinging side doors are never going to give as much room as sliding doors, but Pilot's come close. Pilot doesn't give up a whole lot to a conventional SUV, either. Folding down the second and third rows of seats leaves a big cargo hold (87.0 cubic feet), with adequate width to swallow 4' wide items, like a sheet of plywood.

The 3.5-liter V6 under the Pilot's hood has been engineered with Variable Cylinder Management, Honda's technology that shuts off up to 3 cylinders during periods of low demand, like highway cruising. That can save gas, and drivers will never notice the power difference. The 250 hp/253 lb-ft of output that the V6 provides does a surprisingly good job of motivating the Pilot around, and the nifty four-wheel independent suspension makes the two ton SUV feel light on its feet and almost fun to drive. Almost.

I'm always pushing buyers who are considering an SUV to make sure that they don't buy more SUV than they actually need. The Pilot might hit the sweet spot for buyers who have outgrown the compact crossover vehicle, but don't need the full-size behemoth. As a very minivan-like SUV, the Pilot makes a superb minivan alternative.

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