Auto Review: Taking off in the Honda Pilot

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 9, 2013
2013 Honda Pilot 4WD - Contributed Photo

Years ago there was a brief battle for family transport supremacy between the reigning champ (minivans) and the new, athletic upstart (the SUV), and to the surprise of many who monitor such things, the SUV won. It seems the SUV’s all-weather capabilities and more rugged qualities won the day over the minivan’s superior room and fuel efficiency.

But what if you could combine the more desirable qualities of each, and create a vehicle that shares both of their strengths and few of their weaknesses? Honda has adopted this clever design theory by using the same basic platform for both a minivan (the Odyssey) and an SUV (the Pilot). This week we explore the Pilot, which is nearly as capacious as the Odyssey, but has the option of All-Wheel Drive, conventional rear doors and more ground clearance than the minivan. This gives it better all-road capability, as well as some light off-road ability as well. Like the Odyssey, there’s tons of room and very usable three-row seating, making it a very good choice in the family hauling department.

The Pilot is built on a reinforced unibody chassis (instead of body-on-frame) and rides on a 109.2-inch wheelbase that is actually 9 inches shorter than its minivan relative. There are four trim levels (LX, EX, EX-L and Touring) and one engine choice: a 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 that develops 250 horsepower and has Variable Cylinder Management (VCM). The VCM system allows the V-6 engine to operate in six-cylinder mode for power and four- or three-cylinder modes for fuel economy. This efficient power is channeled into a five-speed automatic transmission. You can go with either Front-Wheel or All-Wheel Drive, and our test mule had the latter, which is a very sophisticated unit. It’s called VTM-4 and works automatically in low-traction situations, and has a lock button for maximum traction in rough going at speeds below 18 mph. Acceleration is brisk for such a big vehicle, and handling is taut, with surprisingly little body lean in aggressive cornering. Braking is likewise very impressive, and the only fault in my book is steering that is light to the point of transferring little information in terms of road feel.

The interior of the Pilot is a study in room and versatility, with Honda’s typical attention to detail. The instrument cluster is attractive and straightforward, with a central stack that mixes touch-screen interface with a healthy dose of buttons and a control knob for navigation. Seating offers good support throughout, and both the second-and third-row seatbacks fold flat in 60/40 increments for maximum versatility. Room is acceptable even in the third row, although the floor is rather high for adults. But this is still a fantastic family hauler, with everything you need to travel long distances comfortably and efficiently in pretty much any weather.

The 2013 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring is EPA rated 17 MPG city/24 highway, and has a base price of $41,270. With destination charges, our MSRP came to $42,100.

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