BY JIM GORZELANY
Already one of the industry’s top selling crossover SUVs, the full-size Honda Pilot received a minor freshening for 2012 to help it remain competitive in a highly contested market segment.
Exterior changes are limited to a new front fascia that features a three-bar grille and revised head lamps, with an aggressive looking lower front air dam that help give it a more contemporary appearance. This helps counter what remains boxy old-school SUV styling that flies in the face of modern crossover designs featuring sleeker roof lines. Many buyers still prefer the burly truck-like look, however, and the upright horizontal design has the benefit of maximizing the vehicle’s rear-seat headroom and cargo space.
Inside the Pilot’s nicely finished cabin, a revised dashboard and instrument panel help keep things refreshingly simple. The white-faced gauge cluster is large and legible, and while the center stack of controls looks complex at first glance, most systems remain governed by good old analog buttons and dials that are logically arranged and easy to operate, even while wearing gloves. The EX-L and navigation system-equipped models include a large color “iMID” display and steering wheel-mounted controls.
With the automatic transmission lever handily located on the dashboard, the center console affords large cup holders and abundant covered storage areas.
The Pilot’s eight-passenger cabin is roomy and comfortable, though taller drivers may find themselves wanting a bit more seat travel. Second-row seat room is ample for three adults, with 38.5 inches of legroom and both fore/aft and reclining adjustments ensuring their comfort. The third-row seat is sufficiently roomy for carpooling the kids’ teammates to and from games. Cargo space is limited with the third-row seatbacks upright, though at 18 cubic feet it’s sufficient for most shopping trips. With the 60/40 split third-row seat folded flat this expands to 47.7 cubic feet of stowage and a whopping 87 cubic feet with both rows of seatbacks down.
The Pilot’s performance is about average among large crossovers, meaning those looking for anything resembling a sporty driving experience will need to look elsewhere. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine generates an adequate, though not exhilarating, 250 horsepower, and it can shut down select cylinders to maximize fuel economy, which for 2012 is up to 18/25-mpg city/highway. While much of the competition offers smoother six-speed automatic transmissions, the Pilot continues with only five speeds.
A well-balanced suspension delivers a smooth ride with the ability to soak up bumps and potholes nicely while maintaining secure handling, even while taking highway on-ramp curves at challenging speeds. The available all-wheel-drive system helps maintain optimal traction on slick or snowy pavement. We found the steering to be heavier than we’d like around town, however, and would have appreciated a bit more power boost at slower speeds, especially when parallel parking.
The Pilot comes well equipped even in its base version, with front-side and side-curtain airbags, keyless entry and cruise control. Unfortunately, as in other Honda models, aside from the AWD system, no individual options are offered. Thus, you’ll need to choose a higher trim level to obtain amenities like a navigation system, backup camera, backseat DVD system and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity.
Even at that, the Pilot keeps close to the basics. While front heated seats are offered, they’re not available for the rear, nor are ventilated seats an option for summertime comfort. Ditto with some of the latest safety features fast becoming widely available, like blind spot and lane-departure warning systems.
Still, for those who like to keep things simple, the Honda Pilot delivers value-packed family transportation. Sticker prices start at $28,470 for the base front-drive LX and run as high as $40,820 for a fully equipped all-wheel-drive Touring model.