I’ve made it pretty well known that I’ve never really been a huge fan of the current trend of SUVs becoming more and more car-like; in fact I’d wager that some vehicles once considered rugged and off-roadable now have more in common with the once popular, now cliché, family station wagon then they do with their original truck roots. There are many good examples of this; the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep Grand Cherokee are the biggest culprits that come to mind. Despite the fact that these modern family haulers are truly excellent family vehicles and are miles better than their predecessors could ever have been, I can’t help but feel that an entire segment of the automotive market, the rugged no-nonsense SUV, has withered away to merely a marketing niche.
Now that I am ready to climb down from my soapbox, I’ll say that I was pleasantly surprised when Honda revealed the re-designed Pilot for the 2009 model year. In the styling department at least, Honda had taken a much more rugged and boxy approach than the rest of the market. As I look at this 2013 Honda Pilot tester, it’s still shows off those same boxy lines and tall stance, which at the very least make it look much more like a capable SUV than a fancy station wagon. The downside however, is that the Pilot is now in its fifth year with the same basic design.
While the Pilot is certainly not intended to be an off-roader of any sort, its driving dynamics are noticeably more truck-like than many of the other SUVs competing in this segment – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cruising along on the highway the interior is library levels of quiet, the steering, while lacking feedback, feels direct and the ride is pleasantly refined. Heading into corners the soft suspension does allow for quite a bit of body roll, and at higher speeds the Pilot tends to float a bit, but it isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. One aspect of the driving dynamics that does bother me a fair bit is the brake feel, the pedal has a lot of travel before the brakes really bite, and this takes some getting used to while driving in traffic.
The Pilot hasn’t changed much under the hood either. It’s still powered by the trusty and smooth Honda 3.5L i-VTEC V6 putting out 250 horsepower, which falls short of what most of the Pilot’s competitors offer. That said, the Pilot doesn’t feel like it’s lacking any power and it accelerates up to freeway cruising speed without much drama at all. As an added bonus, the V6 produces a decent sound from the dual chrome exhaust tips. Unlike many competitors who are now toting automatics with 7 and 8 cogs, the Pilot soldiers on with a traditional 5-speed automatic.
To help fuel consumption, the 3.5L in the Pilot is equipped with VCM (variable cylinder management) which shuts down 3 cylinders when the power isn’t required. The Pilot also automatically flips into ECO mode when being driven with a gentle hand. I did find that when in ECO mode I experienced some unwanted vibrations from the vehicle, which turns out to be a relatively common complaint among owners. Despite this system, my observed fuel economy does hint at the age of the drivetrain; I observed 12.0L/100km in my mixed rush hour commuting and struggled to keep it under 10L/100km on a longer highway run. While not dismal, Honda can do better and the superior economy numbers I got out of the new “Earth Dreams” direct injection 3.5L in the 2014 MDX are proof.
Inside the Pilot is pure Honda, and in true Honda fashion it’s all about utility. This is where the Pilot really earns its keep for a busy family. Every nook and cranny has been utilized to provide thoughtful and convenient storage. I am even happy to live with the gear shift on the dashboard because it means I have a massive centre console and storage area between the seats. One major benefit of the Pilot’s boxy exterior is that it translates into a very tall and square roofline inside for maximum capacity. There are miles of headroom across the full length of the vehicle, including the very useable third row. I am also a huge fan of the rear hatch glass that opens separately; this is a very handy feature that has almost disappeared from SUVs, so I am glad to see that it’s still available on the Pilot.
My one gripe with the interior would be the dashboard layout. While functional, the center stack does seem a little busy and it takes a while to get acquainted with all the buttons. Worse however is the large center display screen. My tester was not equipped with navigation, so the large screen was only good for displaying my choice between the radio station, a Honda emblem, a blank screen, or my fuel economy – which is already displayed on the instrument cluster. Its only purpose then, is to act as a display for the back-up camera.
My test Pilot (pun intended!) is an EX-L RES model, which is an EX-L with the rear entertainment system. I do find it rather odd that Honda has chosen to make the rear entertainment package a separate trim level rather than a simple option. It is $1600 to step up from the EX-L to the EX-L-RES, but the 9-inch display and high quality sound through the rear headphones should do a good job of keeping the kids quiet, and it’s pretty hard to put a price on that. Aside from the RES package, the MSRP of $44,850 gets you powered and heated leather seats, power liftgate, backup camera, a sunroof, and a long list containing most of the other features you’d expect at this price point. I do feel that at almost $45,000 there are a few glaring omissions. Xenon headlamps, a heated steering wheel, blind spot warning and navigation are all commonly found at this price point.
It’s clear that the Pilot is a true SUV. It may not take corners like a sports sedan, it doesn’t have all the latest high-tech gadgets and it won’t be mistaken for a station wagon. It is a down-to-business family utility vehicle with ample space for anything and everything. It’s true to what Honda’s have always been about; with minimal distractions and gimmicks. If that’s what you’re looking for, the Pilot just may be your mark.
2013 Honda Pilot AWD Gallery