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