Utility is a great paradox. It’s something almost everyone needs but practically nobody wants. Just think of all the stuff you can carry in a fanny pack, but when’s the last time you saw somebody wearing one? Mankind’s innate vanity is a major reason why rugged-looking crossovers are so much more popular than minivans, even if they’re not as functional. But is there a vehicle that’s both practical AND pleasing? The folks at Honda think so.
|1. The 2013 Pilot is powered by a 3.5L V6 that puts out an underwhelming 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque.
2. The Pilot’s base price is right around $30,000.
3. Fuel economy for the Touring 4WD model is 17 MPG city and 24 MPG.
The Pilot is Honda’s take on a large, three-row crossover. It competes with vehicles like the new Nissan Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Explorer. The vehicle’s base price is about $30,000, which is right in line with its major competitors.
The 4WD Touring model provided to AutoGuide for testing was a fair bit pricier than an entry-level Pilot. Our “Alabaster Silver” unit carried a sticker price of $42,100, including $830 in destination hand handling surcharges. The price was pushed north thanks to features like a navigation system, rear-seat DVD player and tri-zone climate control. Again, that figure is comparable to its main rivals. A fully loaded non-Denali GMC Acadia costs essentially the same amount.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Depending on how you count, the second-generation Pilot has been on the market for either five or six model years. That’s an eternity in today’s market, but what’s amazing is how well it still performs. The vehicle has a few down sides but for the most part it keeps up admirably with its fresher competition.
MORE NOOKS AND CRANNIES THAN AN ENGLISH MUFFIN
The Pilot has more storage bins and cubbies than an elementary classroom. Need a place to store crayons? Try one of the pockets in the rear doors. Looking for a spot to stash your wallet during a Nicki Minaj concert? Try the cargo hold’s hidden alcove. Need to hide a 30-pack of Bush Light beer to kill the pain after her show? Try the MASSIVE center console between the front seats. If you need a vehicle with lots of storage options the Pilot is hard to beat.
Additionally, both the front and rear doors have dual map pockets. There’s a storage tray that runs along the passenger-side dashboard and there’s even a bin tucked away in the third-row armrest. How clever!
JON & KATE, ROOM FOR EIGHT
With two bench seats out back and two front-row chairs the Pilot can accommodate up to eight passengers. The foremost positions are comfortable and so is the second-row bench, which slides fore and aft and can be adjusted for rake. It’s easy to get comfy and stay that way, probably for hours at a stretch.
Surprisingly the third row is also quite tolerable. One or maybe two adults can ride back there for a decent amount of time without causing them much harm. The legroom is better than in some competing vehicles and there’s even decent headroom, though at a gangly six-foot tall my lanky noggin still firmly contacted the Pilot’s headliner. This crossover’s third row is still best for kiddies but grownups can actually ride back there, upping its versatility factor. The Pilot’s third-row seat makes the aft-most bench in the Nissan Pathfinder look like a medieval torture chamber in comparison.
The Pilot’s cabin is mostly constructed of hard plastic. Soft materials are nice, but if an automaker decides to save some dough and opt for a rigid polymer it’s always preferable if it doesn’t look like something a gallon of milk would come in. Thankfully with Honda you generally don’t have to worry; and they did it right with the Pilot. The materials look about as nice as hard plastic can.
Additionally, the various panels and pieces that comprise the dashboard and center console are attractively grained and perfectly assembled. The gaps between the different parts are tight and consistent. Fabergé eggs aren’t this well constructed. The only cut-rate item is the gear shifter, which is a little bit loose and kind of floppy.
One area where the Pilot shows its age is the center stack. The climate control buttons and other functions are operated by an array of small, similar-looking buttons. It’s easy to mistake the rear-window defroster for the recirculation button. It takes practice and a watchful eye to make sure you’re operating the correct switch; a misplaced digit could inadvertently shut off the rear-seat DVD player, resulting in ear-piercing screams as Daddy Day Care gets interrupted.
En-GAUGE-ing INSTRUMENT CLUSTER
One interesting part of the Pilot’s interior is the gauge cluster. It’s a simple analogue affair and that’s just fine because the instruments are supremely readable. They’re large and clearly numbered, but that’s not all. Imitation brushed metal helps spice things up.
Additionally, the pointers are actually mounted under the clear gauge face that the numbers are printed on. This gives the instruments something of a three-dimensional look, especially at night when they’re illuminated by a whitish-blue glow.
Paradoxically most vehicles with analogue readouts have the pointers mounted above the gauge’s face. This means when the needle is indicating a speed or engine RPM, say 60 miles an hour, it’s actually covering the number it’s pointing at! With the Pilot’s gauges the digits are never blocked. It’s unclear whether this is clever design or a happy accident but it’s kind of interesting.
VTEC JUST KICKED IN, YO!
The Pilot is an ace in many areas from storage space to pricing, but one place it falls behind the competition is under the hood. It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. Those were class-competitive figures a few years ago but some of the Pilot’s peers have surpassed it in raw power. It’s generally about 30 ponies behind some of its rivals.
For instance the Ford Explorer’s 3.5-liter V6 puts out a muscular 290 horses with just a touch more torque. The Chevy Traverse delivers up to 288 ponies while the Toyota Highlander’s optional V6 is endowed with 270 horsepower. Honda, where’s the beef?
Even though the humble Honda’s engine is down on power it’s SUPER smooth. Winding the VTEC V6 out reveals a powerplant that’s free of unwanted vibration; it even sounds good at the upper-end of the tachometer, which is an unexpected surprise.
Backing the somewhat outdated engine is an equally anachronistic transmission. The Pilot only has five forward gears. This was a great advancement 10 years ago but six-speeds are the minimum price of admission today. More and more automakers are introducing seven-, eight- and even nine-speed transmissions, all of which make Honda’s gearbox seem even more outdated. At least it’s silky smooth and extremely responsive. There’s nothing to complain about the way this thing functions.
What about fuel economy? Well, the Pilot’s performance is pretty impressive. According to Uncle Sam’s whale-hugging, tree-saving lackeys at the EPA four-wheel-drive Pilots should deliver 17 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 24 on open stretches of pavement. That makes for a combined score of 20. In mixed driving we managed to beat that, hitting about 21.5 MPG. Not bad, especially since we made sure VTEC kicked in… yo.
As for the Pilot’s road manners its body feels stiff, with no squeaks, rattles or other junkiness to report. Its ride is also unexpectedly firm for a family hauler, unfortunately that doesn’t translate into exceptional handling. The vehicle’s body rolls like any other 4,600-pound utility’s does, and the steering is nothing to sing about. It feels a bit on the light side and somewhat synthesized.
With the Pilot Honda spent its dollars wisely, delivering a high-riding crossover with tons of smart features. Like a fine Bordeaux wine this vehicle has stood the test of time very well, and it continues to impress years after it was introduced.
It has its shortcomings, mainly ahead of the firewall, but for the most part these are minor complaints that don’t detract much from the overall experience. The Pilot is a whole lot of Honda and it really puts the “you” in “utility.”