ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I smiled when I saw the 2014 Honda Pilot Touring in our parking structure. Boxy. I like that -- it never really goes out of style. Unfortunately, the interior is a bit dated. Touch points are OK, but little things like door handles feely chintzy and plasticky. The center console is busy thanks to scores of buttons and an unfortunate color screen/black-and-white LCD screen combo but it is workable.
Were this a real body-on-frame utility truck, I'd say to hell with it and deal with these shortcomings, but this is a family hauler, not a trailblazer. Fortunately, on-road driving is largely inoffensive, thanks to the independent suspension and the engine/five-speed automatic.
That powertrain combo may be responsible for the so-so fuel economy, but it does make for adequate acceleration; 250 hp feels about right here. Brakes are soft, though. I'm not looking for carbon discs in this segment (or ever, really) but there's almost two-and-a-half tons to stop here. The pedal feel is not exactly confidence-inspiring.
Beyond that, this is a useful truck. It has three rows of seats and 87 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the benches folded now. Truly exciting stuff, I know, but at least it wears old-school boxy styling to help you forget the fact that you're in a minivan.
Ah, but it isn't quite a minivan, I guess. I should mention the Variable Torque Management 4-Wheel Drive System, which presents itself as a little “VTM-4” button on the dash. Apparently it locks the rear diff when engaged, at least until you hit 18 mph. So it might come in handy in ice, mud or icy mud. Don't take this on a Baja run, though
As for the price? It's a nice bonus, really. I feel that the 2014 Ford Explorer Limited we recently tested offers a slightly more stylish package than the Honda, but it is $6K more and (in theory) has less going for it where off-road capability is concerned. $41,950 is acceptable for this three-row hauler imbued with a touch of old-school SUV character.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The materials inside this Honda Pilot are brittle and hard.
And that's it for the gripes. I really liked driving it. It's a really, really good midsize SUV. It looks like a box on wheels and in fact is a box on wheels, but I like the chunky look. I continue to be amazed at how smooth Honda engines are, and this is no exception. The V6 is sweet and smooth and the gearbox is silky -- though only five speeds seem a little old school.
It rides and handles well, smooth and composed with nice body control, but not jarring over rough pavement. It is free from squeaks-and rattles. Back to the interior for a sec: There's a ton of room inside and I generally like the design, though the center stack is ginormous. I think Honda puts too many buttons on there.
The $41,000 sticker seems high until you consider the Nissan Murano , which doesn't have a third row, is $3,000 more, any decently equipped GM Lambda is $50,000-plus and a Dodge Durango (my favorite third-row crossover) can go for $6,000 more. So maybe this Pilot's as-tested price is not so bad after all.
The Durango and Explorer -- both newer than the Pilot -- are good crossovers, too, and compared to them, one could argue the Honda is starting to show its age a bit. I'm sure the new one is well underway…
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Wife and I have been shopping three-row crossovers, as have several neighbors; as such, we've gathered a lot of competitive intelligence and gotten some unique takes on the non-car folks living around us. After spending a fair bit of time with the 2014 Honda Pilot Touring and many of its segment challengers, the Honda is decidedly midpack at best.
It's not the solid structure and angular good looks; the Pilot comes across as a well-manufactured crossover with an attractive, boxy style fast disappearing from competitors -- witness the new Nissan Pathfinder. The driving position and outward visibility is excellent thanks to a large expanse of glass, and interior room feels vast thanks to open footwells and a broad, flat floor.
I'm less enamored of the Pilot's powertrain and dynamics, however. When all six cylinders are in operation, it's a silky, powerful driver; then Variable Cylinder Management kicks in, dropping three pots out of the lineup and injecting a nasty dose of NVH into the experience. If it were some kind of huge fuel-saving breakthrough perhaps I could overlook the unpleasantness, but our Pilot is only rated for 20 mpg combined -- not worth the effort. The steering is too slow midcurve, leading to some software-based understeer in quick corners, and as mentioned by other editors, the brakes don't inspire a lot of confidence.
My biggest issue with the Pilot is its controls: If ever there was a car that shows why manufacturers are moving toward multifunction infotainment systems ala MyFord Touch and BMW's iDrive, the Pilot is it. The center stack is a solid wall of buttons, and drivers are presented with no fewer than three displays on which they may or may not find the information they're seeking. If there was a method to the madness, I didn't figure it out in four days with the Pilot. One example: My son asked me how cold it was out when we were running an errand, and I finally had to pull the car into a parking lot and spend a full five minutes trying to figure out how to get the Honda to display exterior temperature. It's not in the climate control display. It's not in the color LCD at the top of the center stack. (Hint: Click the “select” button behind the menu scroll buttons on the steering wheel, then look in the gauge cluster LCD. The answer was 23 degrees.)
If you're a dyed-in-the-wool Honda buyer, you may be accustomed to the weird interfaces; if that's the case, the Pilot does have one big thing going for it: Value for the money. Yes, $41,000 feels expensive for a glorified minivan, but consider that our Pilot Touring tester came with rear entertainment, leather, AWD and a power liftgate for that money and then try to find a comparable crossover from another manufacturer. A loaded Ford Explorer XLT and the Nissan Pathfinder are roughly competitive, while GM's ancient Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave are somehow significantly pricier. Still, in a market as competitive as that of midsize SUVs, the Pilot really needs a redesign to climb back to the top of the pack.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: A new generation Honda Pilot should be landing soon, but until then, we still have the second-gen model. With its boxier and more rugged appearance, I think it still looks alright. Honda purposely made it look trucky instead of like a soft and bland blob like many of the Pilot's competition (the GM's Lambda, the Nissan Pathfinder that now looks nothing like its former self, etc.). I get it, though. Trucks or anything that looks like a truck are associated with high fuel consumption, but crossovers are not. Personally, I hope the next Pilot retains a boxy appearance. We'll just have to wait and see.
As for this current Pilot, I still am a fan of the drivetrain. However, Andy is correct: on our particular test car, the variable cylinder management didn't exactly seem to operate smoothly. It's the first time I've noticed cylinder deactivation kick in so roughly in a Honda product. However, when all six cylinders are firing, the engine is smooth and powerful.
It's a compliant ride around city streets and shooting down the expressway with the suspension soaking up most road imperfections well, with not too much road and wind noise penetrating the cabin. Steering is weighted lightly with OK response. There's some body roll through bends, but not too much.
As for the brakes, the pedal did seem a touch soft, but there was enough clamping muscle to get the Pilot slowed down. Maybe the brakes were in need of bleeding to firm up the pedal some, but with only a little more than 2,000 miles on our tester, that shouldn't be required.
The cabin's biggest disappointment is indeed the materials. It's a hard plastic jungle in there with the entire dash being made up of the stuff. The front bucket seats are comfortable enough, though I would like more side bolster. While an abundance of hard buttons may not look stylish nowadays, I still prefer them over a central touchscreen interface. Once you learn the layout, it's easy to navigate through the center stack and having pinpoint accuracy on a not-so-responsive touchscreen isn't required.
What would I buy if I was looking for a three-row vehicle and refused to get a minivan? Forget GM's Lambdas and the Pathfinder, because I refuse to purchase a vehicle with a continuously variable transmission. It would come down to choosing from a Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango at the moment. But when the new Pilot arrives, I wouldn't be surprised if that comes back into the conversation.
2014 Honda Pilot Touring
Base Price: $41,950
As-Tested Price: $41,950
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; 4WD, five-speed automatic
Output: 250 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 253 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,608 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 17/24/20 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 15.8 mpg
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