The Honda Pilot is one of those vehicles that you know are popular but that you never really notice. Its mission is one of practicality, not flashiness, and as such it’s been very successful for Honda. (In fact, in the month of May, the Pilot outsold the entire Acura division.) Its boxy exterior is anything but eye-catching, and its interior is pleasant but not overly fussy and is filled with lots of useful storage bins. There are other vehicles in this segment – such as the Mazda CX-9 — that are more attractively styled and are more powerful, but the Pilot manages to outsell the CX-9 more than four to one. The Pilot capitalizes on its reputation for reliability, on the cachet of the Honda name, and, most important, on the fact that it is a very usable vehicle that makes sense for lots of consumers.
Wow, no wonder this Pilot is so well equipped: It’s $41K! But, hey, for that you get retracting sunshades for the rear-seat side windows. It just might be worth it. All kidding aside, even though this generation of the Pilot is approaching the middle of its life cycle (and it wasn’t that different from its predecessor to being with), it is aging well, and it still feels so SOLID. Especially so for a vehicle that is built on a car-derived platform, albeit one that clearly has been heavily modified for SUV duty.
With only about 1000 miles on the odometer, though, it’s distressing to see that one of the struts on the power hatch door is balking at times, preventing the hatch from closing. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes it doesn’t. Not what we expect from a new Honda.
The Pilot’s powertrain lags some of the competition, since the V-6 produces only 250 hp and is mated to a five-speed automatic; newer competitors have six-speeds and more power. That said, I didn’t find engine power to be an issue, even when I loaded 600 lb of water-softener salt into the cargo hold.
The interior is roomy, functional, and ergonomically sound. I especially appreciate all the storage areas: big bins in and around the center console, three sizable trays carved into the instrument panel in front of the front-seat passenger, and sizable door bins-all very useful.
We can carp about option packages and pricing all we want, but it’s hard to deny that the Pilot is one of the best-driving crossovers in its segment. The steering is very nicely weighted, and engineers have dialed in the suspension perfectly — there’s little body roll, and the ride quality is neither too soft nor too stiff.
Arguably, the only thing Honda’s design team needs to revise is the interior. The entire dashboard is a sea of coarse, hard black plastics that not only feel inappropriate in a $41,000 vehicle, but are outclassed by those in a $16,000 Fit Sport.
The Pilot’s interior packaging feels quite a bit tighter than what you get in a Chevrolet Traverse or Ford Flex, so comfortably packing seven (or eight, if you dare) people could be a bit more challenging. If you’re just using the first two rows of seats, though, the Honda’s appeal becomes more apparent. Despite an underwhelming spec sheet, the Pilot drives great, whether you’re talking about power delivery or handling or ride comfort. Combine that with a reputation for consistent quality and you understand what draws in Honda customers. It’s not sexy styling, the latest features, or the best numbers. Of course, I doubt anyone would complain if Honda dug up some classier duds for this crossover.
Like Joe DeMatio, I was a bit shocked to see the $41,175 price tag on the Pilot. Although it’s not uncommon for press cars to arrive with every option box checked, some of this Touring model’s extras, including Bluetooth, a USB input, and a power liftgate, are standard on competitors. Honda, with its love of bundles, won’t even let you opt for most of these extras until you step up to $35,000 EX-L trim.
Of course, Honda gets away with this because the Pilot has become one of the most sought after vehicles in the suburbs. And for good reason. It’s quiet, easy-to-drive, and enjoys a reputation for reliability. Some newer competitors surpass it in fuel economy and interior packaging, but overall, it remains a good choice in an increasingly crowded segment.
2011 Honda Pilot Touring
Base price (with destination): $39,575
Price as tested: $41,175
3.5-liter V-6 engine
5-speed automatic transmission
Hill start assist
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD
Vehicle stability assist
Active head restraints
Tire pressure monitoring system
Honda navigation system with rearview camera
DVD rear entertainment system with 9-inch display
AM/FM/6CD in-dash premium audio
USB audio input
XM satellite radio
Tri-zone automatic climate control
Heated front seats
Auto dimming rearview mirror
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Front and rear parking sensors
Options on this vehicle: Four-wheel-drive — $1600
Key options not on vehicle: None
Fuel economy: 16/22/18 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.5L SOHC V-6
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Curb weight: 4608 lbs.
Wheels/tires: 17 x 7.5-inch alloy wheels
245/65R17 Michelin LTX all-season tires