SUV Mega-Test: Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota 4Runner

Glenn Paulina

Honda Pilot EX-L

Full Front View

Take a seat in the Honda Pilot and you're instantly at home with a great driving position and an ergonomically excellent layout. The center console, the epitome of fresh thinking, encompasses two cup holders and storage bins within storage bins that can seemingly store and compartmentalize your entire life. The Pilot's cockpit is the most thoughtfully arranged in this test. The interior's dour all-black color scheme could use some contrast, but at least the materials are top quality.

Front Dashboard Interior View

Like many Hondas, the Pilot feels faster than the middling 255-hp output from its 3.5-liter V-6 would suggest; acceleration always feels swift and athletic. Unfortunately, "athletic" doesn't always describe the Pilot's handling. Though it provides far better body control than the GM vehicles, the Honda still allows some bouncy head toss over bumps. Cornering is solid but never a lot of fun. Get too enthusiastic in the corners and heavy understeer enters the fray like an overprotective soccer mom, resulting in unseemly body roll and front-end plow. The Pilot is a very nice place to go about your day, but it's not where you'd go to spend recess.

With heated leather seats and a six-disc, in-dash stereo as standard, our test vehicle felt plenty upmarket. Yet, at a mere $34,635, it was the third-cheapest entrant in our test. We can forgive its benign handling given the quality, value, and expected reliability.

Mitsubishi Endeavor Limited AWD

Driver Side Front View

Mitsubishi's Endeavor looks like it was the product of some "outside the box" thinking. The unique interior is the most modern in our octet and has a refreshing, airy feel. The designers hit a few false notes in the final presentation: The center control stack feels both too low and too upright to be deciphered at a glance--a condition made worse in daylight by the ice-blue hue of the controls' lighting. Interior plastics are also a notch below the Honda's. Still, the Endeavor comes across as a hip refuge for the individualist.

Mitsubishi engineers have endowed the Endeavor with superb body control and a taut suspension that handles bumps and dips with aplomb. Things fall a bit short of stellar due to numb steering feel that enhances the impression of understeer, but our judges were unanimous: The Endeavor is more rewarding to drive hard than the playing-it-safe Pilot. The Endeavor's 3.8-liter V-6 generates the lowest horsepower and torque ratings in our test (225-hp and 255 lb-ft) and its level of refinement is mid-pack, but it provides solid acceleration and a hard-edged, metallic snarl that is pleasing to our enthusiast-tuned ears.

Full Front Dashboard View

The Endeavor was the second-cheapest model in our test, its as-tested price of $34,463 just barely undercutting the Honda. It definitely has some rough edges compared with the carefully polished Pilot, but these snags could just as easily be counted as positives in the personality column.

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