Pop quiz: Are you familiar with the Honda Pilot? Don't feel too bad if you're not. Honda's three-row SUV is overshadowed by its popular (and smaller) CR-V sibling as well as several newer and stylish competitors in its larger SUV class. So does this Pilot still have the right stuff?
Appearance: For 2012, the boxy Pilot gets a refreshed front fascia, some interior updates and 18-inch alloy wheels on some versions. The new three-bar grille is a big improvement over the thick, two-bar grille that contributed to the Pilot's dated look.
Performance: Peter drove his family to Tallahassee in the Pilot and found it to be a roomy and comfortable ride. Sporty? Hardly, but a more-than-capable people mover and minivan alternative. Lyra's experience was a bit different. She found the Pilot a bit top heavy — as you might expect from a boxy SUV — with too much body lean. She also felt the driving feel and acceleration mundane with the Pilot's 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The transmission is a five-speed automatic in an era where the standard is six speeds. The steering feel is good for the 4,600-pound vehicle. We both found the brakes lacking for that weight, however, with a mushy feel. Our tester was a four-wheel-drive, but it's definitely not for off-roading. Lyra liked that the Variable Torque Management automatically engages when you need more traction. There is also a manual VTM-4 lock for the rear differential to help you get out of any trouble. Lyra has used this feature in her Honda Ridgeline and found it helpful in situations where traction is limited and she is hauling her trailer. The Pilot also has Variable Cylinder Management that activates/deactivates cylinders for better fuel efficiency.
Interior: There have been criticisms recently that Honda, which has a reputation for quality interiors, has been skimping on materials. It's a charge that we've just seen minor evidence of in the cars we've driven, but it's noticeable in the Pilot, which has some cheap-feeling cabin plastics. But we liked the crisp, three-gauge instrument cluster (black-on-white faces) and, for the most part, the placement of the controls. But why are the controls for navigation and screen on the bottom of the center stack? It's a reach. The Pilot comes standard with three rows of seating for eight. The third row is comfortable enough for adults but only on short trips, and getting back there is challenging with its high stepup. With the second- and third-row seats folded flat, there is plenty of cargo space (87 cubic feet). We also liked that the tailgate has a convenient lift-up glass hatch, which is standard on some models.
Our 3 favorites
Entertainment system: Rear DVD player with 9-inch screen that includes RCA inputs for a game console.
Suspension: It's soft and absorbs U.S. 19's bumps.
Center console: Spacious, with storage, power and iPod outlets.
Rearview camera: Three views when backing up. Top view is especially useful for parking.
Storage: Ample cargo space, 12 cup holders, coin tray in dash.
VTM-4 Lock: Get out of slippery terrain easily.
The bottom line: The Honda Pilot has the seating capacity to be a minivan alternative but lacks the style, power and nimbleness of some of its SUV competition.