The Honda Pilot is a hit among full-size crossovers. With seating for eight, it’s Honda’s most versatile vehicle. It works for some as a family vehicle for buyers priced out of Volvos. It’s got rounded edges like a Ford Explorer (rounded first generation, boxy second, back to rounded).
The 2018 Pilot is in the third year of its third generation. There are no significant changes for 2018.
The ride is compliant and plush, the steering relaxed. It feels luxurious and mature, like its upscale sibling the Acura MDX. It weighs about 4200 pounds, depending on equipment, while some rivals hit 5000 pounds. It pulls strongly with its 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V6, and uses either a 6-speed or 9-speed automatic transmission.
Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive available. On top of that, there’s an optional traction management system for more traction in snow or mud. It can tow up to 5000 pounds.
In crash testing, the 2017 Pilot earned a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS, but it received only an Acceptable rating for headlamps. It got five stars overall from the NHTSA, with four stars from frontal crash results.
Safety equipment includes a wide-angle rearview camera, and as the models increase in price, more equipment is added, including blind-spot monitors, a LaneWatch camera with a wide view down the right side of the car, a multi-rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, active lane control, road-departure warning, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. Also, it won’t go into gear if the driver’s seat belt is unlatched or the door is open.
With front-wheel drive and the 6-speed automatic, the Honda Pilot is rated by the EPA at 19 miles per gallon City, 27 Highway, and 22 Combined. One less mpg with all-wheel drive. The 9-speed transmission improves that by about one mile per gallon.
Pilot EX ($32,430) upgrades with three-zone climate control; a power driver seat; a LaneWatch right-side camera; satellite radio; remote start; two more USB ports; and Pandora audio streaming and texting capability. EX and EX-L trims get a larger 8.0-inch display and the Android-based Display Audio interface, with its big tiles and icons and generally friendly operation.
Pilot EX-L ($35,905) sports leather; a power tailgate; a power moonroof; heated front seats; and the one-touch second-row seat.
Pilot Touring ($41,020) and Pilot Elite AWD ($46,420) come with a 10-speaker, 540-watt premium audio system. Pilot Touring models adopt Honda Sensing safety system, Blu-ray DVD entertainment; a navigation system; 20-inch wheels; memory seats; parking sensors; two more USB ports, for a total of five; ambient lighting; Stop/Start; and a 115-volt outlet.
Pilot Elite upgrades with LED headlights; a second panoramic roof panel over the rear seats; rear heated seats; front ventilated seats; a heated steering wheel; automatic high beams; HD radio; and second-row captain’s chairs. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Pilot is very well finished, with a neatly organized cabin surrounded by lots of glass, from tall side windows to an available huge panoramic roof that floods the cabin in natural light.
We see design elements borrowed from the Accord sedan, as well as some utility touches from the CR-V. All the lines and materials are subdued, save for the big touchscreen on upper trim levels. Soft-touch surfaces give it enough luxury to compare well to crossovers like the Buick Enclave.
The front space and comfort is excellent. The seats are well bolstered, with good definition, on the EX-L models and higher. A high driving position gives a commanding view out of the vehicle even for short drivers.
Second-row seating is a split-folding bench or a pair of captain’s chairs on upper trims; between those buckets is a floor-mounted tray with cupholders. On EX-L and above, a power button folds forward the second-row seats and slides them forward. The floor is low and there’s room to climb back to the third row, although it might be a tight climb for adults.
But once they’re back there, there’s an amazing amount of space. Head and leg room are as good as we’ve ever seen, although the seat cushion sits on the floor.
Behind the third row there’s a huge 18.5 cubic feet, as much as the trunk in a full-size sedan, and there’s a reversible cargo panel for messy or muddy things. Behind the second row, there’s 55.9 cubic feet, as much as many SUVs have behind the first row; and behind the first row, there’s a vast 109 cubic feet. It holds nearly as much as a Honda Odyssey minivan. All it lacks are sliding side doors.
On the EX-L trim level, an acoustic windshield absorbs some noise. Touring and Elite models get acoustic glass on the front doors, so passengers can talk with ease.
Honda’s audio and infotainment systems aren’t the best, but the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces are easier than before.
The SiriusXM audio system has time-shifting capability. You can create a custom channel that blends several stations into one, while it buffers songs so that repeat playback is possible. The system can also drop in alerts on the display for scores and weather.
Apple’s Siri Eyes Free is also included in the Pilot’s Display Audio system: just hold down the steering-wheel “talk” button and you’ll be able to ask Apple devices for all sorts of information.
The Pilot’s navigation system is Garmin-based, and includes live traffic reports, 3-D map views, and on-the-go rerouting.
The LX, EX and EX-L use a 6-speed automatic transmission, while the Touring and Elite get a new 9-speed automatic, which brings one more mile per gallon. We prefer the 6-speed. It has a narrower spread of gears (first gear is higher and sixth gear lower), making it a bet less quick from the start and a bit less relaxed on the freeway, but it shifts more cleanly. Only once or twice did we feel it wait too long to upshift; while with the 9-speed, it happened fairly often. It also surged when it unnecessarily shifted to a lower gear. If we had wanted that gear, and had shifted with the paddles, there wouldn’t have been an issue.
With the 6-speed, there’s a shift lever on the console. With the 9-speed, a bunch of buttons replaces that lever, as well as the paddles. The 9-speed also has a Sport mode and shift logic that anticipates downhill gear changes, and can hold gears when cornering. Clicking the left paddle twice does a double downshift to make the most of the engine’s energetic thrust and sound. When you use the paddles one time, the transmission goes into manual mode for 30 seconds, before reverting back to automatic in order to save fuel. If you put it in Sport mode, the transmission stays in manual.
The all-wheel-drive system has torque vectoring that lets it turn in more sharply to corners, which doesn’t necessarily work with the soft suspension. Pilots with the big 20-inch wheels are more softly damped, to counteract the harshness that big wheels can induce. The front-wheel-drive version is firmer, on its standard 18-inch wheels and tires, on the lower trim levels.
The AWD can send up to 70 percent of power to the rear wheels, and further split the power between them using electronic actuators and hydraulic clutches. It all happens quicker than you can think.
Finally, most versions of the Pilot come with a traction-management system like the one on the Land Rover Discovery Sport (and borrowed for the Ford Explorer). It lets drivers choose a mode (Normal, Snow, Mud, or Sand) and sets up the drivetrain for ideal traction, whether it means starting in second gear, speeding up throttle progression, or disabling traction control. It and the Pilot’s 7.3 inches of ground clearance give it serious all-weather capability, but it’s still limited, not designed for hardcore off-roading.
The Pilot rides on an independent suspension, struts in front and multiple links in the back for precise body control. Its dual-path shocks dampen the lighter bumps to a gentle audible thunk, while the secondary action in the shocks rounds off the edges of deep potholes. The Pilot also uses its brakes to help corner better, by applying an inside front brake in tighter corners. That’s torque vectoring.
The available road-departure mitigation uses sensors and cameras to determine if the Pilot is leaving the pavement, then tries to pull it back on the road with stability, braking, and steering inputs. The package comes standard on Pilot Touring and Pilot Elite trims. We don’t like it. Far too often, it thinks you’re headed off the road when you’re not.
The Honda Pilot offers a huge amount of value and quality for its price. If you need to seat eight, it’s impossible to go wrong. It might not be number-one in any mechanical or cosmetic category, but it’s up there in all of them.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.