I was sitting in the school parking lot in the Honda Pilot, and though I could clearly see my son standing outside the doorway, evidently he could not see me. When he finally climbed into the cabin several minutes later, he explained: “Sorry, I didn’t see you. Despite its bright maroon paint and its huge size, this Pilot doesn’t stand out, because there’s so many of them.” True enough. In the pick-up line at school, at soccer practice, at Cub Scouts, or wherever parents congregate, you’ll find the Honda Pilot — often several of them. The Pilot is as much a staple of suburban family life as travel sports, take-out pizza, and the vinyl-sided colonial.
Like those modern shapers of subdivisions, the Tolls Brothers, Honda knows what families want — space, and lots of it. The Pilot looks almost like it was designed using Lego bricks, but its blocky shape delivers a massive interior. The standard third-row seat is big enough for lanky teens (there are seat belts for three back there but two is more realistic), and if it’s not, the second-row bench can slide forward a bit. That second-row seat is wide and flat, as is the floor in front of it, making three-across seating a piece of cake. Getting into either rear seat, however, entails a bit of a climb for littler kids, due to the unnecessarily high ground clearance and intrusive wheel arches. There’s space not only for people but for their junk too, starting with a claimed 18 cubic feet behind the third seat. That appears to be an overstatement, but there is room for two roll-aboard bags and a couple of duffles stacked on top — there’s also a usefully sized cubby underneath. The stowage space continues with a vast center console (the shifter is on the dash), and even the door panels incorporate not one but two stowage bins.
Although undeniably practical, the interior materials are depressingly industrial-grade, and that’s in the top-of-the-line Touring. The gray leather upholstery doesn’t whisper, “luxury” as much as it says, “Spills wipe right up!” There’s hard plastic everywhere, and the huge, bluff-like dash is faced with the stuff. The dash is also home to a daunting array of buttons and knobs — true, that’s better than having everything in some hidden menu on a touch screen, but not by much.
The Pilot may be technically a crossover, but at a tad over 4600 pounds (in AWD Touring trim), it’s as big boned as a body-on-frame SUV. It’s also about as nimble. The turning circle actually is quite good, but the steering is so overboosted and imprecise that at times it just feels sloppy. The brake pedal has lots of travel as well. Honda’s hardworking 3.5-liter V-6 is the sole engine offering, and is rated at 250 hp and 253 pound-feet of torque, figures that are middling in this class. Acceleration is adequate but not much more. The automatic is only a five-speed — most competitors have one more gear to play with. Despite that handicap, Honda engineers are able to extract surprisingly good fuel economy out of the Pilot: EPA ratings of 18/25 mpg (FWD) and 17/24 mpg (AWD) are near the top of the class, although they can’t approach the new Nissan Pathfinder, with its continuously variable transmission.
Honda’s long-earned reputation for quality and reliability make a Honda-brand vehicle a safe choice for a practical-minded purchase like a family-schlepping sport-ute. The Pilot’s commodious interior and reasonable fuel economy mean that it serves its purpose well. But there’s nothing here to elevate the driving experience or the ownership experience beyond the everyday. The Pilot may be ubiquitous, but it’s not a standout.
2013 Honda Pilot Touring
BASE MSRP (with destination): $42,100
PRICE AS TESTED: $42,100
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
235×60 r18 tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway):
Cargo (behind 1st/2nd/3rd row): 87.0/47.7/18.0 cu ft
Legroom (front/middle/rear): 41.4/38.5/32.1 in
Headroom (front/middle/rear): 39.3/39.8/38.2 in
Towing: 4500 lb
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
5-speed automatic transmission
18-inch aluminum wheels
Power locks w/remote
Power front seats
Heated front seats
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel w/audio controls
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE: