The Honda Pilot is a sturdy, reliable SUV with ample space, convenient features and the ability to handle whatever weather Mother Nature might have in store.
New for the 2012 Honda Pilot is a refreshed exterior including an updated front fascia, grille and headlights. Inside, the 2012 Pilot gets a redesigned center stack and instrument cluster, updated navigation system and better interior materials. Added sound proofing makes for better noise insulation, and several features that were previously options now come standard on the 2012 Pilot.
Also notable is a slight improvement in fuel economy for the 2012 Honda Pilot. Aerodynamic and powertrain adjustments to the 2012 Pilot eek out an extra 1 mile per gallon in the city and 2 mpg in both freeway and combined driving.
The Honda Pilot seats eight, and it can easily handle four adults and four children. It offers cupholders and storage cubbies galore for front, middle and rear-seat passengers. When hauling cargo, the Pilot has enough space to carry a 4×8-foot sheet of building material flat inside.
Pilot is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive version offers a 4,500-pound towing capacity and the ability to handle inclement weather, but the car-like crossover construction of the Pilot makes it better suited to on-road activities than slogging though mud or tackling rocky terrain.
Compared to others in its class, the 2012 Honda Pilot is a decent midsize crossover sport-utility. It keeps pace in terms of storage space and fuel economy, but offers humdrum performance, most notably in its somewhat sluggish acceleration and unimpressive stopping distances. Those who prefer a sportier, more responsive crossover should consider the Mazda CX-9. Other alternatives include the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango. If you don't need towing capacity, the Ford Flex offers similar space with much more panache.
The design of the Honda Pilot is strictly utilitarian. Although the updated fascia, grille and headlights give the 2012 Pilot a more contemporary look, it's clear that this boxy crossover was strictly meant to be functional. Base LX models get black plastic side body moldings and door handles, while EX models and above get these in body color. Foglights and roof rails on upper trim levels add more functionality as well as a sportier look.
Panel crimps around the wheel openings aid the rugged look without adding width or bolt-on parts that might promote rust. The rear wiper parks off the hatch glass, allowing it to open separately. The hatch has a hefty pull handle with touch-point releases and is powered on the Touring model, and the bumper has a good cover so sloppy loading won't mar the paint.
All Pilots come with a Class III tow hitch and coolers required for towing; only a wiring pigtail will be needed from the dealer. The top tow rating is a respectable 4500 pounds on 4WD and a modest 2000 pounds on front-drive models.
Better-looking textures and materials flank the inside of the 2012 Honda Pilot compared to its predecessor. The revised instrument cluster is attractive and easy to read, with a clear background and silver-toned rings. Although the new center stack is less busy than the previous model, it still contains a mind-numbing 45 buttons, including those for climate control, audio, 4WD and navigation. The large, iDrive-like button for the navigation and entertainment system is placed near the bottom, which takes some getting used to. Still, it's more user-friendly than the last version.
Storage abounds in the 2012 Honda Pilot. A large, deep center console holds plenty of gear, but its cavernous dimensions can gobble up small items and make them tough to find. A three-compartment storage shelf with rubber lining above the glove box gives passengers a slip-proof space for phones and keys.
Leather upholstery on the Touring model is adequate, but not luxe. Front seats offer good support and the built-in heaters get toasty quickly. Front head- and legroom is ample, and the power seats and tilt/telescoping steering wheel has a far enough range of adjustment for drivers of practically any height.
You won't feel short-changed by the Pilot's second-row, 60/40 folding adjustable seats. Passengers get big cupholders back here, too, as well as storage pockets in the doors. Third row seating, which also splits 60/40, is easy to access and offers adequate space for its class, but only children or small adults would be truly comfortable. The seat cushions for the second and third rows are too low for tall passengers, however, forcing those with longer legs into a squatting, knees-up position. The larger Chevy Traverse and Ford Flex are much more comfortable in this regard.
Third-row passengers get extendable headrests, which significantly reduce driver visibility out the back window but can be stowed in the back cushions when not being used.
With all seats in place, the Honda Pilot offers 18 cubic-feet of space, enough for about six standard-sized bags of groceries side-by-side. With the second- and third-row seats stowed, storage space maxes out at a respectable 87 cubic feet. Large and bulky items fit with relative ease thanks to the Pilot's boxy shape. The cargo area has as assortment of tie-down points and bag hooks, and the cargo floor, equipped with a net, can be flipped up and latched against the third-row seatback to create a basket/shelf capable of holding 22 pounds. There is also more storage below the cargo floor.
The cloth upholstery on LX and EX we found to be comfortable in temperature extremes. The cloth is a subdued design with just enough pattern to hide stains that become part and parcel of any eight-seat vehicle. Just like the priciest Pilot, door armrests have soft cushioned elbow pads and there's no cheap feel in frequently felt surfaces.
The Honda Pilot's practical image falls short when it comes to performance. There's not much oomph off the line, which we assume is in part to aid fuel economy numbers. Although rated at 17 mpg City and 24 mpg Highway by the federal government, our numbers according to the Pilot's on-board computer were far lower. After a week of driving a combination of city and highway roads in Southern California, our fuel economy was a disappointing 12.6 mpg, and 12.2 mpg while in stop-and-go Los Angeles traffic.
The Pilot drives as big as it looks, and we don't mean that in a good way. It's cumbersome around corners and in tight spaces, especially noticeable in L.A.'s crowded parking lots. Ride quality is compliant and comfortable, and the Pilot floats over bumps and chewed-up city roads with ease. Pilot's suspension is tuned softer than that of the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave yet it leans less in corners than the Toyota Highlander. The Acadia may enjoy a slight advantage in steering feel.
The 3.5-liter V6 takes on a characteristic Honda growl when you push it and you'll need to be towing or accelerating uphill on an on-ramp to require such grunt. For the most part the engine is in the background, never silenced, never rough and never annoying. It uses Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) to switch off two or three of its six cylinders to save fuel; the ECO light on the dash shows when you are getting best economy and does not necessarily mean the Pilot is running on only three or four cylinders.
The Pilot shifter offers an OD Off switch which locks out the top two gears, so if you want fourth to control speed on long hill descents or winding roads you're out of luck. The Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9 perform better in these respects.
Braking performance felt adequate to us, although some industry tests indicate the 2012 Honda Pilot requires much more stopping distance than others in its class. Electronic braking aids, including brake assist, come standard.
The Honda Pilot is a reliable midsize crossover with available all-wheel drive and ample space for cargo and people. For 2012, Pilot gets revised styling inside and out, and it's quieter.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles; with Greg Whale reporting from Riverside, California.