Hondas and Acuras typically feel smaller and nimbler than their competitors. The Pilot should have the same virtue. It weighs a relatively svelte 4608 pounds (a Chevrolet Traverse, by comparison, checks in at 4956 pounds), and it rides on the same basic platform as the Acura MDX, one of the best-driving crossovers on the market. And yet, for a company that does not sell a body-on-frame truck, Honda sure has managed to inject an old-school SUV flavor into the Pilot. That’s not a good thing. The heavy, slow steering and the large, boxy shape make the Pilot feel larger and heavier than it actually is. Even Honda’s trusty 3.5-liter V-6, usually a silky engine, wheezes a bit here as if under constant stress.
My other major gripe is with the interior. I’m sure families will find much to like about the packaging and roominess, but sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s very difficult to get beyond the dime-store materials quality. The same mess of rock-hard plastics and cheap-looking graining that mars the new Civic appears here on a much grander scale given the Pilot’s size and price.
David Zenlea, Assisant Editor
I ran some errands in the Honda Pilot and was shocked at how unwieldy it was in around-town driving. The steering is primarily to blame. Its heft makes performing any tight, low-speed turns a chore. It’s also totally lifeless, so it takes some practice to aim this SUV where you want it to go. The Pilot’s blocky shape, in addition to being aesthetically divisive, also negatively affects its drivability. The tall, flat hood, squared-off shoulders, and large side mirrors obstruct front and side visibility, making it difficult to accurately place the front end.
This chunky, oversize theme extends into the cabin where the wide central dash and console visually overpowers the rest of the interior. As David mentioned, the quality and appearance of the plastics are reminiscent of the new Civic, which is no longer a compliment and not something that plays well in a $40,000-plus vehicle.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
My only other experience with Honda’s 3.5-liter V-6 was in our Four Seasons Odyssey minivan, so I was interested in seeing how this engine fared with the older five-speed automatic and upright aerodynamics of the Pilot SUV. Although the V-6 is as gutsy here as it is in the Odyssey, the minivan’s six-speed automatic no doubt would aid overall powertrain smoothness and fuel economy here. We may have griped about the six-speed being clunky with shifts, but it would be better than the frequently hunting five-speed in the Pilot.
Transmission aside, the Pilot is a fantastic size — it is a true mid-size SUV but still manages to smartly package its interior to seat up to eight passengers (one more than the Toyota Highlander). Thanks to the right-size footprint, the Honda handles well for its tall shape, although the high center of gravity made itself well known in sharper turns. On the highway, however, the Pilot settled down and just cruised, proving that it accomplishes its mission as a great family hauler very well.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
As family crossovers go, the Pilot is a great success. The slab-sided, boxy body makes for a cavernous, kid-friendly interior. I’m not bothered by the quality of the interior plastics in the least. Instead, I notice all of the passenger-friendly features like copious storage cubbyholes; the huge, multifunction center console between the front seats; and the wide, comfortable second-row seats that easily slide and fold for access to the third-row seats. And then I notice that the third row has space for three children rather than just two, raising overall seating capacity to eight. So, from a packaging standpoint, the Pilot is an absolute winner.
From a dynamic standpoint, as my colleagues already have explained, the Pilot is not nearly as satisfying as many other mid-size family crossover vehicles, such as the Mazda CX-9, the new Ford Flex, the Dodge Durango, and the General Motors troika of Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave. Although the Pilot trumps the Mazda, Ford, and Dodge in seating capacity (8 rather than only 7), the GM triplets all are available with eight-passenger seating, just like the Honda.
The Pilot is based on the same platform as the Honda Odyssey minivan, which weighs about the same as the Pilot but feels much lighter from behind the wheel. The Odyssey also has available seating for eight and gets 19/28 city/highway mpg versus the four-wheel-drive Pilot’s 17/24 mpg. As big and comfortable as the Pilot’s interior is, the Odyssey’s is bigger, more comfortable, more versatile, and far easier to get into and out of, and for parents to strap car seats into.
So, as much as I respect the Pilot for what it does well, if I had two or three or four kids and wanted something to haul them around in, I’d buy an Odyssey in a heartbeat. “But what about four-wheel drive?” you ask. A front-wheel-drive Odyssey equipped with good winter tires will take you and your family anywhere you need to go in winter. Now, if you need to tow, or you go off-roading for family camping trips and the like, that’s another matter and that might be reason to choose the Pilot over the Odyssey. But if, like most people, you never leave the pavement and you use your family vehicle solely for school runs and highway vacation trips and grocery getting, the Odyssey is perfect and a far more efficient and usable than the big, lumbering, heavy-feeling Pilot.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I drove the Honda Pilot immediately after driving the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and these two vehicles that seem so similar on paper and are so different in real life. Whereas the Highlander drives like a car, the brawny Pilot feels more like a truck. While Highlander’s unobtrusive exterior styling practically blends into its surroundings, the Pilot’s brawny styling makes no excuses for the fact that this is a large vehicle that takes up its fair share of space.
There are some things to really like about the Pilot. It has lots of room for people and stuff on the inside – it seems much larger inside than the Highlander, and total passenger volume numbers corroborate that feeling. The rear cargo area is very spacious with the third row folded, easily accommodating two sets of golf clubs. With the seats in place, there’s a decent amount of space back there for full-grown passengers, at least for short stints. In front of the front-seat passenger is a tray that spans the width of the dash for putting items like cell phones, pens, wallets, etc. This is a handy feature, because in many vehicles you end up putting those items in the cupholders to keep them within easy reach, and they take up room for drinks and such. The center console itself also has a decent amount of stowage, but unfortunately the plastic piece that covers the space feels quite cheap.
The Pilot’s 250-hp V-6 isn’t a powerhouse, but it was more than sufficient to pass a couple of slow-moving vehicles on two-lane roads in rural Oakland County over the weekend. The brakes, however, are a little soft, with a fair amount of pedal travel before you feel them bite.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
It’s disingenuous to talk about the driving dynamics of the Honda Pilot because it’s a big, three-row SUV. Who cares how it feels in corners? I’d say the relaxed steering and somewhat spongy suspension are pretty much ideal for a seven- or eight-passenger family hauler. You will never have fun behind the wheel of the Pilot, but at least you will be extremely comfortable. I will vouch for the 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic as a solid powertrain that provides ample power for this vehicle.
I’m less impressed by the Pilot’s design because, frankly, it looks quite boring. Dressed in silver paint, our slab-sided Pilot barely stands out from the crowd of crossovers and SUVs. The interior, too, is filled with gray and black plastics that are barely memorable. At least the roomy cabin is littered with cleverly designed storage compartments, logical gauges, and easy-to-use electronics.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
2012 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring
MSRP (with destination): $41,800
PRICE AS TESTED: $41,800
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
Michelin Primacy MXV4 235/60R18 (102T) all-season tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo (rear seats up/ 3rd row down/2nd row down): 18.0/47.7/87.0 cu ft
Legroom (front/2nd row/3rd row): 41.4/38.5/32.1 in
Headroom (front/2nd row/3rd row): 39.3/39.8/38.2 in
Towing: 4500 lbs
Alabaster Silver Metallic/Black
Hill start assist
Variable-assist rack-and-pinion power steering
Immobilizer theft-deterrent system
Driver’s and front passenger’s dual-stage airbags & three row side curtain airbags
Vehicle stability assist
ABS w/ electronic brake distribution & brake assist
Honda navigation system w/ voice recognition & rearview camera
Hard disk drive
DVD rear entertainment system with 9-inch display & wireless headphones
AM/FM/CD premium audio system w/ 10 speakers
Bluetooth hands-free calling and streaming audio
USB audio interface
Tri-zone automatic climate control
10-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power passenger’s seat
Memory seat and mirrors
Heated front seats
Auto dimming rearview mirror
Tilt & telescopic steering column
Trip computer & compass
Power tailgate w/ lift-up glass hatch
Power moonroof w/ tilt feature
Front and rear parking sensors
18-inch alloy wheels with 235/60R18 all-season tires
Remote entry w/ security system
Auto on/off headlights
Heated power door mirrors
Integrated class III trailer hitch
Chrome exhaust finishers
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
For 2012, the Pilot received a minor facelift that included new front and rear bumpers, a revised three-bar grille, and update interior trim.