2013 Family Crossover Comparison - Day Two

A. J. Mueller Patrick M Hoey

2013 Ford Explorer Limited AWD vs. 2013 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

2013 Ford Explorer Limited AWD

The 2013 Ford Explorer Limited AWD has a nameplate that has dominated the utility vehicle market for more than two decades. It is also the best selling of all the eight crossovers here, and more than 160,000 buyers per year can't be wrong, can they? Well, yes and no.

Buyers will appreciate the 2013 Explorer's 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6, which ties with the 2013 Dodge Durango and the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe as the most powerful engines in the group. That horsepower doesn't go to waste, either. Ford's six-speed automatic is smooth and unobtrusive and the steering is direct and well weighted, both of which give the driver confidence despite this seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive vehicle's curb weight of roughly 4600 pounds.

Power and Technology
Power isn't found just under the hood, as the seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive Ford Explorer is the only crossover in our test to offer a power-folding third row. In fact, the 2013 Explorer Limited that we tested is so replete with technology and convenience features that its price of $45,415 is the second highest in this group.

All of those extras are features that everyone likes, such as power-folding mirrors, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power tilt-and-telescope steering column, power-adjustable pedals, automatic wipers, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, automatic high beams, and active parking assist.

There's one piece of technology on display here, though, that doesn't meet our expectations. The MyFord Touch infotainment system might be designed to appeal to tech enthusiasts, but it proves counterintuitive to operate, yields inconsistent results, and requires the driver to look away from the road too often. JeanKnowsCars.com senior editor Molly Jean says it's "a kid's toy," not an adult-rated communication interface. One of the editors was even overheard cursing the system over our two-way communication radios when he tried to use MyFord Touch to change the music track it was playing on his iPod.

Does This Make Me Look Big?
The Explorer's high beltline makes this vehicle feel big, more like a truck than a crossover. Almost everyone says the view from the driver's seat compromises driver confidence. "It's like sitting at the bottom of a black bathtub," one editor says. Nevertheless, JeanKnowsCars.com senior editor Molly Jean insists the visibility is good, and she's hardly the tallest of our drivers.

Despite the new-generation Explorer's crossover platform, it seems less than spacious to us. "It's amazing how big the Ford looks on the outside versus how small it feels inside," says associate editor David Zenlea. Underpinning the 2013 Ford Explorer is an evolution of Volvo's P2 platform, which was developed for the 1998 Volvo S80 sedan. Versions of it can be found under the Ford Flex and the Lincoln MKT, among other Ford vehicles. But the process of engineering this platform for the Explorer resulted in thick roof pillars, an obstructively wide center tunnel, and high, wide door sills that make entry and egress cumbersome for both front- and rear-seat passengers.

The seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Explorer has a number of redeeming qualities, yet it feels outdated and trucklike in this group of crossovers, even though its redesign dates only to 2011. That's because, no matter how much new-fangled technology and horsepower Ford has added to this platform, the deficient packaging and limited outward visibility keep this crossover from being one in which we'd tote our brood. - Donny Nordlicht

2013 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

Let's get this out of the way: the 2013 Honda Pilot is old. The second-generation Pilot that we're driving today debuted back in 2009, and although it received an update last year, this remains much the same Honda Odyssey-based utility package that first came our way in 2003. In fact, a significantly revised Honda Pilot is expected to be revealed within the next eighteen months. With this in mind, we slipped behind the wheel of the seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive 2013 Honda Pilot Touring AWD.

The 2013 Pilot's boxy shape has more personality than the anonymous family-style look it replaced, but this rough-and-tumble link to truck-based SUVs has not aged well. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio remarks, "It looks like the box it came in." Motor gopher Tom Foley also says that the angular interior looks meant for quick cleanup after a spell of barfing by your toddler, since there's barely a hint of the soft-touch materials found in the other crossovers in this group.

Fuel Economy, not Power
The powertrain also feels behind the times compared to most of our octet. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine provides reasonable grunt with 250 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, but the antiquated five-speed automatic transmission shifts slowly and clumsily as it continually shuffles the gears to keep the V-6 on the boil as it lugs around 4608 pounds. The steering is slow yet surprisingly direct, and the ride is soft.

It's not all bad news with the 2013 Honda Pilot, however. Let's remember that it wears the "H" badge on its grille, and Honda has built a reputation for reliable, efficient, and inexpensive-to-own vehicles, which is the kind of thing that can make or break a purchase for lots of shoppers. The Honda Pilot also trumps the Ford Explorer by achieving 1 mpg more on the highway and combined cycles (17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined versus 17/23/19).

Number crunching also reveals that the Honda's boxy shape pays dividends with respect to cargo capacity. While there are three cubic feet less than the Ford Explorer when all three rows are in use, the Pilot gives you 3.9 cubic feet more than the Explorer with the third row folded and a sizeable 6.3 cubic feet more when both the second and third rows are folded.

Another important number to those with families is "four," as in the number of LATCH anchors for child safety seats. Besting all other competitors, the Honda Pilot has an impressive three LATCH points in the second row and a fourth one in the third row. (Those of you with several small children, the 2013 Pilot is your car.) Speaking of safety, the 2013 Honda Pilot is also a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We can also tell you that the Pilot's upright greenhouse delivers great outward visibility, and the bright, well-lit cabin feels airy and spacious even when packed with people and stuff.

The 2013 Honda Pilot is the crossover you buy with the left side of your brain; it is a pragmatic choice, a reliable, known quantity. This is a vehicle that will please those who view cars as an impersonal transportation cube to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, this is also the Pilot's key failing. JeanKnowsCars.com associate editor Annie White expresses just what we are all thinking when she says, "Should we be okay with it being an appliance?" - Donny Nordlicht

Winner: 2013 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

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Stephen Lee
They compared the wrong Durango.  Try to compare it with R/T AWD, it will take care of the slow acceleration issue and heaviness of the vehicle.  The V8 lites up the goodness of this vehicle and can tow 7500lb.  My wife tested all 7 passenger SUV in this category and she rated the Durango has the most comfortable 3rd row seat which my teenage kids do not complain a bit from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in bumper to bumper weekend traffic.  BTW, the R/T AWD is much cheaper than the tested model by Automobile magazine.
Carloz Lopez
santa fe
I think the Dodge Durango easily wins hands down.  It's by far the best looking SUV to date--the others are just not appealing to the eye.  And it's a bit odd that the testers, on the say so of some "gallery," overlook the fact that an impressively refreshed 2014 Durango -- with a game-changing 8 speed transmission -- will be rolling off the assembly line in about 2 months.
Tim Lucas
I prefer the Americans in both these comparisons!
Tim Lucas
Mine too!
Salabi Abi
strong and sporty....
Emil Kostov
Wrongful comparison.
Carlos Alberto Olmo
Ryan Luallen
The two H's please.
Raymond Yuhasz
Durango! !!!!!!
Thane Eisener
Had a Honda Pilot and now have a 2013 Explorer. Equivalent build specs have the Explorer about $1000 cheaper and it is a far better vehicle in my experience.
Mopar Palooza
Jim Bur
Durango all the way!
Amarjyoti Basumatary
i think its (i)dodges duranga becoze looks is too good simple engine is too heavy other side hyudai santa is new look design i think it bitt the design to dodge (ii) others dont knw
Sam Salmassi
Durango R/T FTW!
O Alejandro Dominguez Vergara
Love Durango
Kyree S. Williams
I think the Santa Fe is closer to what people need in a large crossover (than the Durango). And despite the fact that the Pilot looks like a Tonka-truck at the front, the Explorer is woefully overpriced and dreadfully unreliable.
Pete Colombus
new Durango ain't bad
My wife drives a 2011 Explorer and I can agree with some of the comments.  It is a comfortable vehicle on the highway and the selectable AWD system works surprisingly well in the snow/mud.  With 30k miles on it, one thing that is great about it is the mpg.  Just returned from a 200 mile road trip and averaged 26.2 mpg on a combination of 2 lane and expressway with speeds from 60-68 mph. 
Santa FE versus Pilot?  Looks like the winner of the first 4 is the Santa Fe.  However, I predict that the Traverse will win at the end.  Not that I would ever buy something like these behemoths.  I don't need a third row.  Why am I posting here?  Just for fun.
Eric Trytko
I tested the Durango R/T recently, and the infotainment system was BRUTAL.  It was almost imposible to pair a phone, YOU, not the system generated a PIN, the computer voice ran through EVERY.SINGLE.OPTION.EVERY.SINGLE.TIME, you got to the next sub menu.  The black interior made you feel like you were in some void in space, and the acceleration sounded good with the V8, but based off of Dynolicious software, and the "butt dyno" it was SLOW. 
A spot on comparison (I had tested both prior to my purchase) with exception of the 5 bar grill on the Santa Fe. The LWB model has 4 bars while the sport has three.

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