As far as three-row crossovers go, they don't come any more roomy, comfortable and fuel efficient than the Honda Pilot. An aging design means that the Pilot no longer near the head of pack in terms of driving manners or interior refinement, though its overall versatility means it still deserves a close look from buyers who need serious space but can't quite stomach the thought of a minivan.
The current generation Pilot launched for the 2009 model year. A mid-cycle refresh arrived in 2012 with styling changes, cabin upgrades and a class-leading 25 miles per gallon highway rating for two-wheel drive models.
The latest model year brought a new Special Edition trim level that slots between the existing EX and EX-L models.
Sometimes, you can tell a book by its cover - take the Honda Pilot. The crossover's boxy body, simple lights and almost complete lack of stylistic flair suggest that it's a no-nonsense, utilitarian machine engineered to go about its job with a minimum of fuss - and this is indeed the case.
It may not be as eye-catching as other crossovers, but the Pilot's boxlike shape makes for a supremely practical interior with loads of real estate. A generous 18 cubic feet of cargo space are available behind the third row of seats, a figure that swells to 47.7 with the third row folded and 87 cubic feet if the second row gets folded, too.
If carrying passengers rather than cargo is the task, the spacious second row slides forward for increased ease of access to the third row, which supplies enough knee room for an above-average-sized adult male to fit comfortably. Total capacity across all three rows is eight passengers, and the second and third rows are 60/40 split folding to facilitate a mix of people and gear.
In terms of design, the cabin is straightforward in its layout, with simple, easy-to-use controls. Some materials feel thin and cheap, however. All Pilots feature an eight-inch touchscreen that helps reduce button clutter by integrating controls for he stereo and navigation system (when equipped), and hands-free Bluetooth integration and a rearview camera are other useful standard features.
Though its handling is best described as laid-back, the Pilot does score points for segment-best V6 fuel efficiency of 18/25 mpg for the FWD model and 17/24 mpg when equipped with AWD. The 3.5-liter produces 250 horsepower along with 253 lb-ft of torque and pairs with an outdated five-speed automatic transmission.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Pilot comes in four different trim levels, including the LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. Newly standard across all trim levels are a rear view camera, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, a USB input and a high-resolution information screen.
The LX comes equipped with keyless entry, a tilt and telescope steering column, cruise control, power windows, power door and tailgate locks, an AM/FM/CD stereo system with seven speakers including a subwoofer and Radio Data System, a trip computer and an integrated Class III towing receiver.
The EX adds a tri-zone automatic climate control system, a power driver's seat with 10-way power adjustment, a security system, XM Radio, body-colored side mirrors and door handles, alloy wheels, roof rails, fog lights, an exterior temperature indicator, and a HomeLink Remote System, and more. Honda recently upgraded the EX with features Bluetooth HandsFreeLink (previously exclusive to EX-L with Navi and above models), Bluetooth audio streaming and a new 2 GB CD Library that replaces the previous 6-disc CD changer.
The new Special Edition brings features pewter gray alloy wheels, a one-touch-open power moonroof with tilt, SiriusXM radio and a DVD rear entertainment system.
Additional EX-L features include leather-trimmed seating surfaces, heated front seats, a 4-way power front passenger's seat, a one-touch power moonroof, an automatic-dimming rearview mirror and the availability of either the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System or the Honda DVD Rear Entertainment System with a 9-inch screen. The addition of either the navigation or the entertainment system also adds a 115-volt power outlet. Other standard kit includes a power tailgate and an intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID) with QVGA resolution, which features an iPod album artwork display and a user-loadable wallpaper function.
The Pilot EX-L with Navigation adds an upgraded navigation system with a higher VGA resolution replacing the previous QVGA display and an internal hard drive that replaces the previous model's DVD-based system. New features include FM Traffic, Song by Voice, rearview camera with a 3-mode display and a Multi-Information Display in the center of the gauge cluster.
The top-of-the-line Pilot Touring includes the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with rearview camera, a premium audio system with 10 speakers, the DVD Rear Entertainment System, two-position memory seats, roof rails, corner and backup sensors and side-mirror integrated turn indicators.
The Pilot protects its occupants with three-row side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, driver's and front passenger's side airbags, active front seat head restraints and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist. Vehicle Stability Assist, Honda speak for electronic stability control, is standard on all models.
Prospective Pilot owners should also check out the Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango and Toyota Highlander before making a final decision on a three-row crossover.