1. What’s new for 2015?
Honda’s square-shouldered midsize crossover SUV gets only minor changes for 2015. A newly added Pilot Special Edition (SE) trim level at about the middle of the product line includes pewter gray aluminum alloy wheels, a power moonroof, satellite radio and a backseat DVD entertainment system. The Pilot resides in a crowded segment of family-minded crossovers that also includes the Chevrolet Traverse (and its fellow travelers, the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave), Ford Explorer, Dodge Journey, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Highlander. It shares its underpinnings with the more luxurious Acura MDX. As with other crossovers, the Pilot is based on car-like unibody architecture, rather than the old-school body-on-frame construction used by traditional truck-based SUVs. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is typically offered in this class as an alternative to front-drive for improved traction over wet or snowy roads, but crossovers lack a traditional SUV’s low-range gearing that enables traversing off-road trails and conquering the deepest mud ruts and snow banks. Crossovers also tend to lag behind rear-drive-based traditional SUVs in terms of their towing abilities.
2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?
Base-price range is $30,750-$42,500 including Honda’s $880 destination fee. That’s comparable with most non-luxury-brand three-row crossovers, give or take a couple hundred dollars at either end of the pricing spectrum. The Pilot sells well enough, but is far from being the sales leader in its segment, which means aggressive buyers should be able to garner favorable discounts, particularly on higher-end models that inherently come with larger markups. Kelley Blue Book says a rather basic front-drive EX model with an MSRP of $33,880 (including destination) should go out the door for around $31,216, and perhaps even much less for hard-nosed hagglers. A top-of-the-line Touring with all-wheel drive that carries an MSRP of $43,380 can be expected to sell for about $39,950 or less.
3. When will the next big change be?
After continuing with minor refreshes in its current generation since 2009, the Honda Pilot still isn’t expected to receive a long-overdue redesign until the 2016 model year, with an early release possible. Likely to continue sharing platforms and components with the Acura MDX, spy shots reveal a longer and somewhat less boxy exterior design with proportions more in line with its upscale relation. We expect it would probably borrow styling cues from the smaller Honda CR-V and HR-V crossovers. A longer wheelbase should translate into added interior room, particularly for third-row riders. Expect the latest version of Honda’s “Earth Dreams” 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood, with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front or all-four wheels. The new Pilot will likely offer the latest infotainment features as well as an array of accident avoidance systems that will probably include a forward collision mitigation system with an auto-braking function.
4. What options or trim level is best for me?
As with other Honda/Acura products, the Pilot doesn’t offer separate factory options; the only way to obtain added features is to choose a costlier trim level that may further include items a buyer didn’t want in the first place. Other automakers have largely followed suit in recent years, limiting the number of freestanding options to help reduce manufacturing costs. Some basic features, however, can often be obtained as dealer-installed accessories. Offered in LX, EX (with and without leather seats and a navigation system or rear DVD player), SE, and Touring trim levels, with front- or all-wheel-drive, the best value comes from the front-drive EX version at $32,950 (with destination). That model comes with all the basics (power accessories, rearview camera, audio system with a Bluetooth interface, etc.) and further packs a security system, alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, a programmable garage-door opener, and 10-way power driver’s seat.
5. What engine do you recommend?
The Pilot can only be configured with a single powertrain choice – a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V-6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission that tends to lag the competition in terms of performance and sophistication. The V-6 works hard to bring the Pilot up to speed, particularly when traversing hills and/or with a full load of passengers and cargo; the transmission works well enough, but would be smoother and more fuel-efficient with at least one or two added forward gears. On the plus side, the V-6 is capable of disengaging select cylinders while at cruising speeds to help boost its fuel economy.
6. How does the Pilot handle?
Riding on a suspension that’s designed more for competence and comfort, rather than flat-out performance, the Pilot rides smoothly and handles easily around town, while remaining stable at highway speeds. The steering delivers modest feedback to the driver, and the vehicle can hold its own through curved highway on/off ramps, but still feels like a large and lumbering vehicle though sharply twisted passages. Among its competitors, perhaps the Mazda CX-9 affords the sportiest handling, though this still remains a relative term when applied to a large seven-passenger vehicle.
7. How is the fuel economy?
Rated by the EPA at 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined with front-drive and 17/24/20 mpg with AWD, the Pilot isn’t exactly an economy car, but it fares well compared to other V-6-powered three-row crossovers. Among the Pilot’s competitors, the Ford Explorer can beat it with a rating of 20/28/23, but that with its extra-cost optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Those shopping for a higher-mileage midsize crossover, particularly for around-town use, might want to consider a gas/electric-powered Toyota Highlander Hybrid at 27/28/28 mpg.
8. Are the controls easy to use?
One of the benefits of carrying on with an older design is that the Pilot has thus far avoided much of the confounding complexity with which other models suffer when fitted with menu-based touchscreen infotainment interfaces. While there’s a certain amount of clutter to the dashboard, particularly at the center stack, most systems are governed by conventional buttons and knobs. There are also controls on the steering wheel for cruise control, audio and other functions; the navigation system included on select models further includes modestly convenient voice-activated commands.
9. Is it comfortable?
The Pilot’s tastefully designed interior includes room for seven or eight passengers (depending on the seating configuration). While there’s plenty of room for adult riders in the two forward rows of seats, with second row captain’s chairs able to recline for added comfort, the third row seat is better suited for kids given both a dearth of legroom and limited access. Already coming with generous space behind the seats, second and third-row seatbacks can fold down to create a voluminous cargo hold.
10. What about safety?
The 2015 Honda Pilot receives four out of five stars for occupant protection in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). By comparison, other similar models, including the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander, beat it in this regard with perfect five-star NHTSA ratings. The Pilot receives top (“good”) marks in frontal, side impact, roof crush, and head protection crash tests conducted by the insurance-industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Unfortunately it only garners a “poor” rating in the Institute’s stricter “small overlap test,” which is designed to replicate what happens when a vehicle’s left-front corner collides with a pole or other obstruction.
11. How’s the reliability and resale value?
Though the Honda Pilot receives a perfect five “power circle” rating for initial quality based on the latest (2014) owner surveys conducted by the influential market research firm J.D. Power, it only receives two circles for performance and design and three for reliability after three years of ownership. As the Pilot hasn’t been redesigned in several years, we would expect that rating to apply to the 2015 model. Receiving three out of five stars for resale value from the valuation experts at ALG, the Pilot is about average in that regard among three-row crossover SUVs.
12. Is it better than the competition?
The Pilot performs well in most regards, but tends to be surpassed by many other models in its class in terms of performance and overall sophistication. Most competitors pack an additional 20 or more horsepower under the hood and channel that power to the pavement via a six-speed, rather than five-speed automatic transmission (though the Nissan Pathfinder instead uses a gearless CVT automatic that helps maximize acceleration and economy, albeit while introducing some harshness under moderate-to-full throttle). The Ford Explorer leads the pack with a choice of 290- and 356-horsepower V-6s, and further includes a 240-horsepower turbo-four for fuel-economy-minded buyers. Other models beat it in terms of available features, particularly the latest high-tech accident avoidance systems. One area in which the Pilot excels is its cargo space and headroom, which is largely a byproduct of its tall and horizontal roofline.