The Bottom Line
Now in its fourth year, the second-generation Honda Pilot returns basically unchanged since its 2009 redesign. The competition remains thick in the three-row crossover field, with the Ford Flex, the GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave/Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander each carving out space in the marketplace. Pilot delivers Honda virtues of clean design, superb fit, finish and ride characteristics, and a reputation for reliability. Pilot's price is a little high for the class, and its fuel economy doesn't keep up with the best in class. Could it be time for a third generation makeover?
- Big -- but not too big
- Quiet and comfortable
- A minivan alternative that's actually an alternative
- So-so fuel economy
- Price is on the high side
- Transmission lacks refinement
- Base prices: from $28,620 to $40,970
- 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
The 2012 Honda Pilot is a three-row unibody mid-size SUV, and a very 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. There's a little bit of Honda Ridgeline and Honda Element in the design, with a slightly futuristic Japanese-flavored 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 $40,820, as tested $41,630), which included standard Honda Navigation System with a rearview camera and a DVD rear entertainment system, among other handy features. I've complained about the proliferation of buttons on Honda center stacks before, and the complaint still echoes. 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 seatsare 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.