Driven: 2013 Honda Pilot

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

ENGINE:
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm

TRANSMISSION:
5-speed automatic

DRIVE:
4-wheel

WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
235x60 r18 tires

FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway):
17/24 mpg

CURB WEIGHT:
4608 lb

CAPACITIES:
Doors/Passengers: 4/5
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

STANDARD FEATURES:
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
5-speed automatic transmission
All-wheel drive
18-inch aluminum wheels
Rearview camera
Power windows
Power locks w/remote
Power sunroof
Power front seats
Heated front seats
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel w/audio controls
Leather seats

OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
none

KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
none

COMPARE TO:
Chevrolet Traverse
Ford Explorer
GMC Acadia
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander

Chuck Chuck
I have a 2013 Honda Pilot EX-L and the problem that I am having is the large amount of road noise that's coming thru the wheel wells transferring into the cabin. Has or does anyone else have this issue?
AMXLNT
Ugly outside.  Ugly inside.
slimak
The Pilot wasn't around when this Saab ad debuted, but the descriptor is spot-on when applied to this Honda vehicle: "No unpleasant surprises.  No pleasant ones, either."

btc909
I wouldn't consider this an 8 passenger, 2 - 3 - 2 is more ideal.  But yes you still have plenty of headroom in the 3rd row.  The real gem to this is the cylinder deactivation.  Combined MPG is around the high 19's to around 21.  I do agree the "sea of grey & black" hard plastics need to go.  I would like to see a 6 speed auto.  I would like to see standard blind spot mirrors.  (a low vehicle next to you can be difficult to see).  The cargo area is tight when the 3rd row is up, I would make a parcel shelf standard.  When the 3rd row is down the cargo area is fantastic.  The power lift gate needs multiple stops.  I'd still get another one, tons of room, decent power, good fuel economy for it's size & you are not driving a boat.

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