2013 Honda
Pilot

MSRP:
$30,250
MPG:
18 city / 25 hwy
Engine:
3.5L, V6, 250 hp

If you’ve got a big family, you might think your choices are limited to a minivan or a giant gas-guzzling SUV. Worry not, avid procreators: The eight-seat, all-weather Honda Pilot may be the compromise you’ve been looking for.


By Aaron Gold

The Big Picture

A bit of trivia: The Honda Pilot was the first big SUV to be built like a car, with a load-bearing body instead of a bulky frame. (Technically that makes it a CUV – a crossover utility vehicle, not an SUV – sport utility vehicle.) That’s actually not so trivial, because it means the Honda Pilot can offer nearly as much usable passenger space as queen-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition, yet it’s significantly smaller and lighter — which makes it easier to drive and easier on your wallet.

I’m lukewarm about the Pilot’s interior; I like the styling of the dashboard and the gauges, but the plastics and fabrics are a little austere considering the Honda Pilot price, and the massive collection of buttons and dials in the center had me wondering if I should have carried my education past a bachelor’s degree. Honda has divided the controls into climate, stereo, and (optional) navigation zones — some of which are blocked by the transmission shifter — although (in all but the base model) the A/C and tunes can also be operated with the dial controller and big LCD screen. It may take a few days to learn your way around the Pilot’s controls; the good news is that there is no shortage of storage compartments, so you can easily pack a lunch under the Pilot’s center armrest.

An Inside Job

A bit of trivia: The Honda Pilot was the first big SUV to be built like a car, with a load-bearing body instead of a bulky frame. (Technically that makes it a CUV – a crossover utility vehicle, not an SUV – sport utility vehicle.) That’s actually not so trivial, because it means the 2013 Honda Pilot can offer nearly as much usable passenger space as queen-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition, yet it’s significantly smaller and lighter — which makes it easier to drive and easier on your wallet.

I’m lukewarm about the Pilot’s interior; I like the styling of the dashboard and the gauges, but the plastics and fabrics are a little austere considering the 2013 Honda Pilot price, and the massive collection of buttons and dials in the center had me wondering if I should have carried my education past a bachelor’s degree. Honda has divided the controls into climate, stereo, and (optional) navigation zones — some of which are blocked by the transmission shifter — although (in all but the base model) the A/C and tunes can also be operated with the dial controller and big LCD screen. It may take a few days to learn your way around the Pilot’s controls; the good news is that there is no shortage of storage compartments, so you can easily pack a lunch under the Pilot’s center armrest.

Safety

The 2013 Honda Pilot was made for procreators; you’ll find THREE sets of LATCH child seat anchor points in the second-row seat and one in the third row (fertility treatments, anyone?). But the airbag count is a little low. There are only six: Two in front, two front-seat mounted side airbags, and two side-curtain airbags that cover the side windows for all three rows of seats. The Honda Pilot has a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, but only four out of five stars in the Federal Government’s crash tests.

Family Friendliness

Most seven- and eight-seat CUVs can only accommodate that many people in a pinch, but the Pilot’s third-row seat is rare in that it offers enough space (if only marginal comfort) for adults. The second row is spacious and comfortable in a Spartan sort of way, and big doors and one-handle flip-forward seats make access to both rows easy. Another unusual feature: Even with all three seats in place, there’s still 18 cubic feet of cargo space available, enough for a week’s worth of shopping or a decent-sized stroller. Fold the third row seat down and you open up a massive 47.7 cubic feet of space, enough to start your own package delivery business.

Driving Experience

As big as it is on the inside, the Honda Pilot is rather tidy on the outside — not only is it almost a foot shorter than Chevrolet’s full-size Tahoe, but it’s three inches shorter (and only six inches wider) than a Honda Accord sedan. I liked that I was able to fit the Pilot into car-size parking stalls and still have plenty of room to open my door. Out on the road, the Honda Pilot rides smoothly and comfortably, and handling is pretty tidy for an 8-seater; if you have to swerve to avoid something, it responds sharply and confidently, just like a car.

The Pilot’s smaller size and lighter weight means it doesn’t need a huge engine to make it go. Honda has fitted a 250 hp 3.5 liter V6 with a cylinder-deactivation feature that runs the engine on 4 or 3 cylinders when demands are low, like when you’re cruising down the highway. You can’t feel the system working, but you’ll know when it’s time to gas up: EPA estimates are 18 MPG city/25 MPG highway for the front-wheel-drive version and 17/24 with all-wheel-drive, which is pretty good for a vehicle this size. My wife and I averaged 18.5 MPG in our all-wheel-drive tester, a bit on the low end considering the EPA estimates, but still impressive for an 8-seater.

Gizmos And Tech

Unfortunately, this is not a Honda Pilot strong suit. All Pilots get a USB input for the stereo and a Bluetooth speakerphone, which can be a bit finicky in terms of which phones it will talk to. The optional navigation system is years behind the times; it’s expensive to update and the voice recognition system doesn’t work very well. (Skip it and buy a Garmin, or use the free service on your smartphone.) Like most big SUVs (and minivans), the Honda Pilot offers a rear-seat DVD system, which includes wireless headphones plus a 115 volt outlet and input jacks so you can hook up your (or your kids’) favorite video game system.

Pricing and Trim Levels

2013 Honda Pilot

Good as it is, you wouldn't expect the Honda Pilot to come cheap, and you'd be right: The front-wheel-drive LX model starts at $30,250, while the top-of-the-line Pilot Touring 4WD I tested will set you back $42,000. I'd probably go for the mid-line EX-L, priced at $37,350; it includes a sunroof, a rear-view camera (very important if you have small kids and a big vehicle), and easy-to-clean leather upholstery.
2014 Honda Pilot

Final Thoughts

After a week of driving the Pilot, I was pleased to get back to our Passat. As much as I appreciated what it could do, the Pilot reminded me that smaller vehicles are significantly cheaper to buy and run, and often have all the space we really need. Still, if you have lots of people to haul -- and if you just can't stand the idea of buying a minivan -- the Pilot is the vehicle I'd recommend. It's spacious, comfortable, and easy to drive, and because it's a Honda, it'll most likely give you decades of reliable service. If you need to super-size your SUV, this is the way to do it.

Modest-sized exterior, giant-sized interior

Drives (and parks) like a car

High price

Family Friendly
Tech Wizardry
Easy to Drive

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5 Responses to “Honda Pilot”

  1. momx5 says:

    This is the second review I have seen “picking” on families with a lot of kids. I am sure the blogger thought it was funny, but it just gets obnoxious after a while. It’s like the skinny girl picking on the fat girl because there is nothing else rude to say about her.

    These vehicles are meant for large families. At the risk of sounding immature I just want to say “DUH!” to the author of this blog. Of course there are a lot of seats and LATCH options. Honda was not catering to the all American 2.5 kids family when they designed this. Let off us breeders, will ya?

    Besides, I came to this site to get a review written by a mom. I apologize in advance if “Aaron Gold” is a woman, but I kinda expected the mother perspective when i came to “vroomgirls.com.” Go figure.

  2. Aaron Gold says:

    Hi Momx5 (I assume “x5” refers to the number of kids you have, and not the BMW SUV…)

    There was no intention of picking on families with lots of kids — obviously, if you have a large brood, a small car is out of the question, and I hope I succeeded in pointing out the advantages that the Pilot has over other 7- and 8-seat SUVs. But a lot parents with just one or two children shop for vehicles this big, and we feel it’s our duty to point out that, for smaller familes, a smaller vehicle saves money, hassle, and natural resources.

    Last time I checked, I am a man — but I’m also a father of two, and over the last sixteen+ years I’ve hauled my kids in every type of vehicle imaginable, from two-seat sports cars to jumbo-sized vans. Lucky for me — and our readers — our boss Tara hires writers based on their abilities and experience, not our gender.

    Here at VroomGirls.com, write our reviews for a female audience, concentrating on the things that woman (with or without children) tell us are important. Hopefully you agree with Tara that when it comes to getting a parent’s perspective, a review written by a dad is just as valid as a review written by a mom.

    Thanks for reading — and commenting.
    Aaron

  3. Maria says:

    The picture on top shows an older model Honda Pilot. The front is different than the rest of the pictures.

  4. HBCR says:

    Uh, the Honda Pilot isn’t just for families with lots of kids. It’s also ideal for families who haul “2.1 kids,” as well as their kids’ friends, teammates, and/or sports gear, without having to drive a huge gas guzzler. It’s even ideal for families or single people without kids who need or just want the versatility of having more passenger/cargo room for traveling, hobbies, tailgating, shopping, family/friend outings, etc. Much like HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes in bigger cities, it’s always nice for a group to be able to take one vehicle somewhere when possible. That saves money, hassle, and natural resources too.

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