Honda builds some excellent vehicles, producing legends like the Civic, Accord, and CRV. Then there’s duds like the Crosstour. But what about the Pilot? Is Honda’s mid-size SUV a class-leader or behind the back? Will it tow your boat? Or haul the team? Is it a good daily driver? If you’re considering an SUV, here’s everything you want to know about the Honda Pilot.
The largest Honda SUV made, the last 15+ years have seen the Pilot put up a good fight in the competitive 3rd-row SUV category. There’s enough seating for eight, and a huge cargo area. Size-wise, it’s nearly the same exterior dimensions as its popular competitors the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, standing just shy of six feet tall, and over six and a half feet wide. The second row supports a bench seat for three, or two plush captain’s chairs, available with all kinds of options, including leather. The LX, EX, and EX-L offer seating for eight, but the higher trims remove the second row bench in favor of snazzy captain’s chairs, reducing the seating capacity to seven.
Behind the rear seats, there’s 16 cu-ft of cargo space. With the rear seats folded flat, that jumps to 46.8 cu-ft. Put the second and third rows down for a minivan-like 84 cu-ft of space. Competitors like the Ford Edge (73.4 cu-ft) and Chevrolet Blazer (64.2 cu-ft) just don’t keep up.
A typical Honda scores well above average reliability, earning praise from the pros at JD Power and massively popular YouTube mechanic Scotty Kilmer. The Pilot is no different, but surprisingly not the most reliable SUV in its class.
Consumer Reports shows the Pilot’s reliability varies by the year and generation, but in general, scores slightly above average. The end of each model generation scores nearly perfect as the manufacturing kinks get worked out, so consider a 2015 model over the new generation 2016 if maximum reliability is your thing.
JD Power reports the Pilot scores an 8 out of 10 overall. A “B” isn’t bad, earned from an 8 mechanically, 7 in exterior/interior, and 9 for reliable features and controls. Those are pretty solid grades, and just ahead of Nissan Murano and Toyota 4Runner.
The Pilot doesn’t score perfect however. The 2018 and 2019 models received a recall notice due to a manufacturing defect in the timing belt that can cause it to slip, making the engine stall. You shouldn’t worry much here, as odds are any recalled vehicles not sold private party have already had the issue fixed.
Honda offers an industry standard warranty, with everything covered the first three years, 36,000 miles. The powertrain warranty is five years, 60,000 miles. In general, owners don’t use the warranty much, but when they do, they get the issue resolved and report above average service at Honda service centers.
From adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring, to WiFi and rear entertainment systems, there’s a lot to like here. Here are the features you’re most likely to need or notice on a test drive.
The Pilot’s 3.5-liter V6 has been a Honda standby for a generation or more. It’s extremely reliable, and in this form makes 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This is a bit behind competitors like the Toyota Highlander’s 295 horsepower, but the lower weight of the Pilot makes this one of the quicker mid-size SUVs from 0 to 60. Direct injection tops the engine, helping improve gas mileage, power, and emissions. A solid six-speed automatic is the only transmission for the lower three trim levels, while Touring and up sees Honda’s efficient new nine-speed. Prior to 2016, the only transmission available was a five-speed auto. The nine-speed has Shift-By-Wire, meaning you don’t get a shifter in the center console. Instead, you’ll see park, reverse, neutral, and drive as a series of push buttons, and you can select gears manually with the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels, but standard on Elite and Black Edition.
Another strong area for the Pilot is the standard and available technology. Let’s start with the impressive CabinControl, a smartphone app that you’ll actually want. It allows backseat passengers to control their audio and climate settings with a swipe of their phone. Set your phone on the tray up front for convenient wireless charging. Then there’s the optional Advanced Rear Entertainment System, which keeps the backseat passengers entertained with a Blu-ray player, wireless headphones, and a pile of kid-friendly apps and games. There are four USB ports, two aux ports for wired headphones, three 12V outlets, one 115V outlet, and an HDMI port for your kid’s Nintendo Switch. Apple CarPlay is a standard feature since 2017, except on base LX. The power tailgate opens and closes with the push of a button, and a hands-free option on the high-end models doesn’t even require that. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, use HondaLink for delivery right inside your Pilot. Seriously.
Honda calls their suite of active safety features “Honda Sensing.” For the Pilot, you’ll see the Intelligent Traction Management system that adapts the ride for various road conditions. Vehicle Stability Assist is another name for stability control, while Electronic Brake Distribution adjusts the braking at each corner for maximum stopping force. The multi-angle rear-view camera with guidelines is a handy feature, but standard these days. The Collision Mitigation Braking System automatically applies the brakes if a moose steps out onto the road, and Road Departure Mitigation System keeps you from ending up in the ditch if you were watching that other moose instead of the road. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and automatic high-beams round out the package. Keep in mind, Honda is serious about safety, so all of the above is included as standard equipment in every trim level.
Just because you need seating for eight, that doesn’t mean you want to spend extra cash feeding a 10 MPG SUV. Fortunately, the Pilot maximizes fuel efficiency as much as it does interior space. The EPA reports fuel economy with a FWD Pilot at 20 MPG city, 27 highway. AWD weighs more and adds complexity, and takes a 2 MPG hit in the city, and scores 26 MPG highway. That’s top of the class, even with AWD. The 19.5 gallon fuel tank isn’t fun to fill up, but at least it takes inexpensive regular grade. AWD Pilot owners can expect 410 miles out of a tank of gas, and 450+ for FWD Pilots.
In real-world driving tests, CR observed 20 MPG in mixed driving, while JD Power got 19.5 MPG. Those are bad compared to a Honda Civic, but pretty good for the class here. Real-world MPG aggregator Fuelly.com shows the Nissan Pathfinder averages 18 MPG, and the Chevy Traverse gets 17 MPG.
Gas mileage while towing will vary depending on the load and terrain, but the Pilot can pull 5,000 lbs. JD Power tested that rating with a trailer and liked what they saw, saying “Passing power was limited, and it breathed harder when going up hills, but otherwise the load posed no problems.”
From frugal base LX to the exclusive Black Edition, here’s what going upmarket gets you and which is the best value.
Honda has used LX as the base model for at least 30 years, and the Pilot LX is acceptably appointed. There’s 18-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beams and brake lights on the outside. The inside sees a security system, push button start, power windows and locks, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, rear window defrost, 60/40 fold-flat rear seats, and 15 (yes, fifteen!) cup holders. In addition, the base gets a five-inch LCD infotainment screen, seven-speaker sound system, and a single USB port. The LX trim focuses on getting you the absolute lowest price. Not a lot of features here, so this one is only for the most budget-minded SUV buyers.
Take all the standard features in LX and the EX adds: 18-inch alloy wheels with a machined face for an upscale design. Remote start, front heated seats, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, painted door handles (instead of black), keyless entry, LED fog lamps, and tri-zone automatic climate control. Other upgrades include an eight-inch infotainment screen with HondaLink to your smartphone, Apple & Android integration, and satellite radio. EX looks better than LX, and adds a much better infotainment system, so it’s probably best to consider this the base model and start your search here.
EX-L is not the long wheelbase version, but simply an upgrade over EL. This package adds several nice interior features, like: leather trimmed seats, and the front passenger seat gains power adjustability. Up top is a one-touch power moonroof, power tailgate, and acoustic glass in the windshield for reduced road noise. There’s the HomeLink remote system, leather wrapped steering wheel, and two additional USB ports. A fistful of useful features for not a lot of cash, the EX-L is the best choice for the budget family that wants a nice ride.
Now we’re getting into the luxury trims. Touring adds 20-inch alloy wheels for improved looks and handling. Idle-stop (start/stop) improves city gas mileage. There’s heated front and rear seats, chrome door handles, hands-free power tailgate, and every window is acoustic glass. The top sees roof rails, LED headlights up front, and the inside gets ambient LED lighting, including inside the cup holders. There’s voice activated navigation, a 10.3-inch rear entertainment screen with Blu-ray and built-in apps, premium audio system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, and a WiFi hotspot. The Touring badge packs a lot of upgrades, so this is probably the best all-around value in the lineup.
Elite is an expensive package when new, approaching $50,000. That’s a lot of cash, but the Pilot brings it with standard AWD, and perforated/heated/ventilated front seats. Other cool tech includes rain-sensing wipers, a giant panoramic glass roof, and the wireless charger. Not a ton of additional options over Touring, but the ones that Elite adds are quite nice. That’s probably enough for most people to make the jump from Touring.
New for 2020, the Black Edition adds visual punch. The package includes exclusive gloss black painted 20-inch aluminum wheels and a gloss black grille, looking like Darth Vader’s personal ride. Black embossed leather with red stitching and accent lighting is a cool touch on the inside. AWD is standard here too, but there are no safety, technology, comfort, power, or suspension modifications, so Black Edition is all about looks, inside and out. Still, it does stand out in a class filled with sedate looking crossovers, so it’ll appeal to many buyers.
Here’s where the Pilot ranks according to pro reviewers and owners.
Consumer Reports selected Pilot for their recommended list after earning an overall score of 74 out of 100. This is 10th place out of 25 SUVs. That’s well behind brand new players like the Subaru Ascent and Kia Telluride, but also well ahead of competitors like the Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Toyota 4Runner. While they didn’t love the driving dynamics, CR noticed the high functionality of the SUV, saying “The Pilot is quick, comfortable, and refined, but it’s not exactly a joy to drive. Its three-row seating configuration, roomy cabin, and abundant interior storage make it an extremely functional vehicle.”
Car & Driver disliked the “fussy” infotainment system, but overall liked their test Pilot, saying, “With a high seating position, kid-friendly interior, and vast cargo space, the Honda Pilot has what it takes to win over suburb-dwelling parents. The V6 engine is smooth, powerful, and relatively efficient, and the Pilot offers towing capacity that will be enough for most buyers.”
Motor Trend liked that the Pilot doesn’t even pretend to be a capable off-roader, instead targeting the minivan demographic. “If interior functionality is more important than aggressive SUV styling, the Pilot might be a good fit. The Pilot is relatively efficient for the class, and on the quicker side, too.”
Kelley Blue Book gave Pilot their Best Buy Award: Midsize SUV, for the fourth year in a row, and ranked it one of their 12 Best Family Cars. US News & World Report said Honda is the best SUV manufacturer for 2019. High praise. The big Honda also earned the Best Residual Value award from data analytic site ALG. And Cars.com rated the Pilot as the 7th most-American vehicle you can buy, since it’s assembled in Lincoln, Alabama.
What Owners Say
Looking around Pilot owner forums and review sites, you see some common things that owners universally love about their vehicle. Owners say the pros are all the storage space for real-sized people and all their stuff, the low load height, and the clever storage options. They say the ride is comfortable, and acceleration is solid. Owners tend to feel the Pilot is reliable and a good value.
Owners don’t love the road noise, as with any open space, the large passenger area doesn’t dampen road noise. Owners like the CabinControl app, but otherwise find the infotainment system cumbersome and slow.
Honda goes all-in on safety including their active safety suite, Honda Sensing, as standard equipment in every vehicle they sell. That helps explain the Pilot’s impressive crash test scores.
Pilot won the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award due to crash worthiness, active safety features, and good headlights. It scored the highest Good rating in every category except the small overlap front passenger side, which scored Acceptable. Headlights on Touring and above are Good, while the lower models are Acceptable. Crash prevention worked every time, earning a Good rating.
The Feds at the NHTSA awarded the Pilot a five-star review. Just like their partners above, NHTSA showed five stars for the driver, four stars for the front passenger in a collision. All side impacts earned five stars, and they didn’t get the Pilot to tip in emergency maneuvers, but still rated four stars for rollover resistance.
If that isn’t enough, just call your insurance and get a quote. The more safety features a vehicle has, the lower the insurance rate (among other factors). Insure.com performs an annual cost of insurance study, and the Pilot continually ranks in the top dozen least expensive vehicles to insure.
Sure, you can buy a used LX and get a heck of a deal on a Pilot. It covers the basics with solid driving dynamics, good towing, and high quality & resale value, but is it the best value per dollar spent? When comparing trims and price points, there are two obvious values that stand out well above the rest, but we’ll list three, because everyone likes a bonus.
EX-L – Under $22,000
Base models are fine, but do you really want to drive without some of the essentials year after years? That’s why the EX-L is the best bargain value of the bunch, with power seats, power liftgate, and power moonroof. Carvana’s inventory shows Pilot EX-L’s available under $22k, usually only four to six years old, and sometimes even below $20k.
Touring – $22,001 to $27,000
Touring is the best overall value of the Pilot’s many trim levels, simply because it piles on so many features as standard equipment. A lot of the good stuff too, like bigger wheels, better sound system, and upgraded sound proofing. This price range buys a four-year old Pilot in excellent condition.
Elite – $27,001 to $32,000
If you have some cash to throw at it, you can’t go wrong with Elite. If you don’t want to swing the $45,000+ payment for a new one, consider the value of a used Pilot Elite. It will cost more than the other trim levels, but returns some nice bang for the buck with excellent features like the heated/ventilated seats and huge glass moonroof.