Crossovers are the new family station wagons, and among the top entries in the growing list of great midsize models is the Honda Pilot, a three-row, eight-passenger model that exemplifies Honda’s expertise in producing a family-friendly vehicle that is just as good around town as it is on long trips.
A redesigned Pilot is on the way for 2016, but for 2015, the vehicle is offered in 14 trim levels — LX, SE, EX, EX-L and Touring — with several additional variations, depending on what extras are added. The EX-L and Touring models come with leather interiors — that’s what the “L” stands for. Four-wheel drive is available at all levels.
The 2015 prices range from $29,870 (plus $830 freight) for the base LX two-wheel drive to $41,620 for the top-of-the-line Touring four-wheel drive with navigation and rear entertainment.
Least expensive of the four-wheel-drive models is the LX, for $31,470. The midlevel EX — without leather — begins at $32,120 with front-wheel drive and $33,720 with all-wheel drive.
For more style and comfort, the EX-L (leather) models begin with the two-wheel-drive version at $35,370; and with four-wheel drive, $36,970.
With rear entertainment, the EX-L with two-wheel drive is $36,970; with four-wheel drive, $38.570. With Navigation, 2WD EX-L models are $37,370, and 4WD $38,970.
Added for 2015 was the SE trim level, which lists for $33,120 with front-wheel drive and $34,720 with four-wheel drive. We tested the SE two-wheel drive, which had a total sticker price of $33,950 including freight.
The SE (Special Edition) is positioned between the EX and EX-L. Among its unique features are pewter gray aluminum alloy wheels, special SE badging, a one-touch-open power moon roof with tilt, Sirius XM radio and the Honda DVD Rear Entertainment System.
There’s an uplevel cousin of the Pilot in the Acura stable, called the MDX, which is a bit more elegant and has more standard amenities. But the Pilot isn’t far behind in comfort and convenience, and is less expensive — the MDX for 2015 runs from about $43,000-$57,000; the redesigned 2016 versions are about the same.
All 2015 Pilot models come with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, rated at 250 horsepower and 253 foot-pounds of torque, connected to a five-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth, powerful drivetrain that moves the vehicle effortlessly.
But the five-speed gearbox will be replaced with a pair of new transmissions for 2016 — a six-speed or, in the higher trim levels, a nine-speed automatic for 2016. There also will be a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine.
With the 2015 models, the Environmental Protection Agency ratings are 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway with front-wheel drive, and 17/24 with four-wheel drive. The V-6 engine does have variable cylinder management, which shuts off up to three of the cylinders during highway cruising to save fuel.
Standard on all 2015 Pilots are remote keyless entry, rearview camera and an integrated Class III trailer hitch.
During our test, we had four people on board, with their luggage, for a weekend trip that included some mountain driving. The Pilot handled the hills with ease, as well as the uphill freeway ramps.
The cabin of the Pilot is fairly quiet at highway speeds, although there is a bit of wind noise. Still, we had no trouble communicating with the twin teenagers in the back seat — no shouting was necessary.
The Pilot’s ride is comfortable, yet its suspension is strong enough to hold the vehicle steady on curves. Steering is crisp and responsive. Because it’s a crossover, it has the handling characteristics of a sedan rather than the truck-like attributes of the traditional sport utility vehicle.
Although we had two-wheel drive on our tester, we have also tested the four-wheel-drive Pilot, which is designed to improve traction mostly in rain or snow, but also gives the car some off-road capability. It provides extra traction on dirt and gravel roads in state and national parks that would perhaps be a challenge for some two-wheel-drive vehicles.
The system really isn’t intended for serious off-road driving, as there is no low-range gearing. But there is a dash button that locks the four-wheel-drive system to allow for maximum torque in first and second gears, at speeds up to 18 mph, to simulate low range.
With either two- or four-wheel drive, the Pilot’s ground clearance is just eight inches, though, which doesn’t allow enough room to clear some of the rocks and stumps that more-capable off-road vehicles can handle.
Storage areas abound in the cabin of the Pilot. These are great for keeping personal items such as cellphones secure and within easy reach, and other valuables tucked away out of sight when the vehicle is parked in public places, such as state and national parks, where car break-ins are common.
There are three 12-volt power outlets that are within reach of the driver and front passenger, along with a 110-volt outlet for a game console or a laptop, for example.
Besides two cupholders in the center console between the two front seats, there are trays in front and behind them, as well as three more trays on top of the glove box. Everyone has at least one usable cupholder, and some have more than one.
Other cubbies are provided in the dash, and in the back are map pockets and door pockets and other places to stow stuff. In the center console are USB and audio connections for iPods and other MP3 players, allowing them to be played through the in-dash audio system.
The Pilot is roomy and comfortable, with nearly 153 cubic feet of passenger space. The cargo area can expand to 87 cubic feet with the middle and rear seats folded. With all the seats in place, there is an 18-cubic-foot space behind the third row, which is larger than the trunks of most mid- and full-size cars and more than some other SUVs and minivans with a third seat. That doesn’t include the Pilot’s 2.8-cubic-foot storage well, which can keep valuables out of sight.
Both the second and third rows can hold up to three people each, but the third row is best left to children, as is the middle position in the middle row. The second and third rows have bench seats with a 60/40 split-folding feature.
The second-row seat can be moved forward easily to allow access to the third row. Four child-seat anchors are provided — three in the second row and one in the third.
The Pilot is less than 16 feet long, which makes it easier to park than some of its competitors. Some of those are as much as two feet longer than the Pilot, which Honda calls “garage friendly.”
Other standard features include front and rear air conditioning with air filtration, tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows/mirrors/door locks, AM/FM/compact-disc audio system with seven speakers (including subwoofer) and the Radio Data System, trip computer, digital compass, automatic headlights and heat-rejecting tinted glass.
EX models add tri-zone automatic climate control with humidity control and air filtration, a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, security system, XM radio, body-color side mirrors and door handles, alloy wheels, roof rails, fog lights, exterior temperature indicator and a universal garage opener.
The EX-L adds leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, a four-way power front passenger seat, a one-touch power moon roof, acoustic windshield glass and an automatic-dimming rearview mirror.
High-end models also have corner and backup sensors, exclusive alloy wheels, power tailgate and outside-mirror integrated turn signals.
Standard safety features include Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, which, among other things, makes it match the bumper heights of most other vehicles on the road.
Among other safety gear are electronic stability control; three-row, side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors; driver and front-passenger seat-mounted side air bags; active front head restraints; and antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist.
The Pilot has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the vehicle received the best possible (five-star) ratings in front- and side-crash safety tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Towing capacity is 4,500 pounds.
2015 Honda Pilot
The package: Midsize/large, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-door, eight-passenger, V-6 powered, crossover utility vehicle.
Highlights: This is Honda’s family-size crossover, with seating for up to eight. It is roomy and comfortable, has plenty of power, and has an interior perfectly suited for long road trips with the kids.
Negatives: Five-speed automatic transmission is getting dated, as most competitors have at least six speeds – including the Acura MDX. (However, this will be fixed with the redesigned 2016 models.)
Overall length: 191.4 inches.
Curb weight range: 4,299-4,608 pounds.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 250 horsepower/253 foot-pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, anti-lock.
Cargo volume: 20.8 cubic feet (behind third row, including hidden well); 47.7 cubic feet (third seat folded); 87 cubic feet (middle and third seats folded).
Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain, all three rows.
EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/25 highway (2WD); 17/24 (4WD).
Fuel capacity/type: 21 gallons/unleaded regular.
Main competitors: GMC Acadia/Chevrolet Traverse/Buick Enclave, Ford Flex, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Infiniti JX, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca.
Base price range: $29,870-$41,620, plus $830 freight.
Price as tested: $33,950, including freight and options (SE 2WD model with rear entertainment).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).