Driver's Seat: Testing the Honda Pilot

Honda’s Pilot 4WD Touring gets a new look for 2012. Edmunds.com says it is overmatched against the competition, but impressions from a test drive seem to indicate otherwise.
Honda’s Pilot 4WD Touring gets a new look for 2012. Edmunds.com says it is overmatched against the competition, but impressions from a test drive seem to indicate otherwise.
Posted: April 18, 2012

2012 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring: A better-looking, better-behaved big boy.

Price: $40,820. No options.

Marketer’s pitch: “A more refined design.”

Conventional wisdom: “Outpaced by more well-rounded choices,” says Edmunds.com.

Reality: I’ve tried most of the other choices and found this among the best.

A nice surprise: Maybe I’m too hard on Honda. Maybe it’s their great reputation that makes my inner Mr. Driver’s Seat say “Oh, yeah, you think you’re so special? We’ll just see.”

Then again, nah. The Odyssey was OK, the new Civic not even, and the CR-V was nice if slightly flawed.

But after a week piloting the redesigned Pilot, I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

New for 2012: Honda calls the new look a refined design, and I think they’ve made it more attractive.

Room for all: I’ve tried the big three from Detroit (Chevy Traverse, Dodge Durango, and Ford Explorer) and even a GMC Yukon Denali.

The Pilot offers seating for eight people in reasonable comfort. The middle row slides fore and aft for many possibilities. The third row is fairly low, and three people would get well-acquainted back there, but no worse than its competitors.

We put Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 on a trip through Chester County, and everyone reported being pleased with their accommodations.

Plus their stuff? Yes, plus their stuff, too. We fit a large pizza box in the back with all the seats up, something that was impossible in the Yukon Denali.

And the large front-seat console à la full-size truck holds lots of stuff. Plus there’s a small cellphone slot and a couple of cup holders.

No embarrassment: Even a cranky old guy like me can get into the back row without gales of laughter from those four rotten Sturgis Kids (or even the lovely — but, really, kind of mean — Mrs. Passenger Seat). The Durango and the Explorer left me scrambling over seats. Granted, I never ride back there, but it’s nice to know I can.

On the road: Edmunds’ opinion notwithstanding, I found the handling is great for something this large. It never felt unwieldy or bulky, just comfortable. Wind buffeting was noticeable, of course, as the Pilot is a very tall truck.

The 3.5-liter V6 gets the vehicle up to highway speed handily.

Information, please: The clear gauges are easy to read and attractive. The odometer somehow brought to mind a pedometer strapped to the steering column, which is a nice touch.

Comfy: I’ve had sore-back issues with the Odyssey and the Civic, but not so in the Pilot. The ride was extremely comfortable and the leather seats attractive.

Night shift: Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 got plenty of lights to find their way in the dark, and the lights are focused and don’t interfere with Mr. Driver’s Seat’s view.

Dashboard downfall: Not all is wonderful in Pilotland.

The CD player display is separate from the map LCD, and it would be nicer if these were integrated. And the CD player uses old-style LED letters and numbers, so it just looks dated.

Yet the CD player is integrated with the heater information, and it becomes challenging to see the heater setting on the fly. Especially to find the rear-seat settings.

More CD woes: The sound system itself doesn’t offer a midrange adjustment. You’d think for $40K and all this space Honda would provide a rock band for your driving pleasure.

But the CD player does have separate buttons to switch from CD and radio, and they’re easy to find, so it’s an improvement over the CR-V.

Shiftless: The automatic transmission offers only Drive, 2, and 1 without shift capabilities, which is quite a throwback. And the transmission is a mere five-speed automatic, which is getting dated these days.

Mileage: The Pilot got 20 m.p.g. in the usual highway-heavy mix of Driver’s Seat driving, which is middle of the road among the three Detroiters.

Where it’s built: Lincoln, Ala.

How it’s built: J.D. Power & Associates puts the Pilot’s dependability at only “about average.” It gets above average from Consumer Reports, though.

In the end: With a full-size family to lug around, I consider us a great judge of family vehicles. And I found the Pilot to be attractive, versatile, and easy to operate. It wasn’t fun to drive, but then I have yet to find a big SUV that is.


Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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