Pros: Exceptional interior space; strong all-wheel-drive system; diverse trim level options

Cons: Relatively low towing capacity; only one engine and transmission offering

The Honda Pilot mid-size SUV has been on the U.S. market since 2003. Now in its second generation and built in Lincoln, Alabama, the Pilot gets a mid-cycle refreshing for 2012 that includes a new front fascia, new wheels and updates to the interior.

The Pilot is available in LX, EX, EX-L and Touring models in both front- and four-wheel-drive. There are also EX-L models with either a rear DVD entertainment system or a satellite navigation system, as well as Touring models with both. Pricing on the Pilot begins at $28,470 and tops out at $40,820.

Comfort & Utility

With more than 152.7 cubic feet of passenger space spread across three rows of seats, the Pilot feels modern, spacious and versatile. There's great visibility in the front row, and the three-passenger second row has a 60/40 split folding seat that can slide forward for better third-row access. The third-row bench seat is also 60/40 split folding; there's enough legroom back there for an average-size adult and enough room for a folded-up stroller or a cooler to fit behind the row.

For maximum cargo space, the second and third rows fold flat into the floor to create 87.0 cubic feet of storage capacity while also providing sufficient width for four-foot-wide items. The cargo area behind the third row of seats has been designed to accommodate items as large as a cooler or a folded stroller. The cargo area also has a hidden storage well that provides 2.8 cubic feet of space and can be combined with the above floor storage area with the quick removal of the storage cover. The Pilot Touring features a load-supporting cargo net that separates and restrains rear cargo items.

Technology

The 2012 Pilot isn't the most tech-heavy SUV on the market. All Pilot models have an auxiliary audio input jack for digital music players, and models equipped with the navigation system also get Bluetooth connectivity and a USB audio interface.

The Pilot's instrument panel has a wide center stack design that intelligently groups controls for the audio system, climate controls and, on Pilots so equipped, the navigation and DVD entertainment systems.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Pilot is available with only one engine and transmission combination: a 24-valve 3.5-liter V6 producing 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The standard front-wheel drive Pilot is capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds; in all-wheel-drive form, that number goes up to 4,500 pounds.

The front-wheel-drive Pilot has been rated by the EPA to achieve 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel-drive Pilot's fuel economy is slightly lower at 17/24 mpg.

Safety

The 2012 Pilot has been designed with safety at its core. The Pilot's safety technology includes the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure-found on all Honda products-that helps redirect crash energy around the passenger cabin and enhances chassis strength during a frontal collision.

The Pilot has three-row side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, driver's and front passenger's side airbags with passenger's-side occupant position detection system and active front seat head restraints. Additional safety equipment on the Pilot includes ABS, brake assist and both vehicle stability assist and electronic stability control. Lastly, every Honda Pilot incorporates anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist to ensure a short stopping distance.

Driving Impressions

The Pilot feels a bit softer and smoother than the Acura MDX with which it shares its underpinnings, but not quite as powerful. Although it's not as peppy as its Acura cousin, power delivery in the Pilot is decent yet smooth. Around town, the Pilot is comfortable and easy to maneuver. On the highway, the Pilot remains smooth, but drivers will wish for a sixth gear in the transmission above 60 mph since fuel economy isn't what it could be with a sixth gear.

Ultimately, the Pilot is an average mid-size SUV, reliable and family oriented. It's good but not great. The ride quality is adequate, handling is responsive, braking is crisp and the four-wheel-drive system is capable. Few will be disappointed with the Pilot, but nothing about it truly stands out to separate it from the rest of the SUV herd.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Explorer - Starting at $28,870 for a front-wheel-drive model with a 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V6, the Explorer is very similar to the Pilot. Unfortunately, the Explorer has a lower fuel economy rating than the Pilot.

Jeep Grand Cherokee - Starting at $26,995, the Grand Cherokee is an exceptional rear-wheel-drive American SUV based on the Mercedes ML-Class. Although it has a 3.6-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission, we presume the Grand Cherokee will have Chrysler's eight-speed automatic sooner rather than later, which will make it even more fuel efficient and enjoyable.

Mazda CX-9 - Starting at $28,470, the CX-9 is an interesting SUV. Notably, the driving position of the CX-9 is reminiscent of the Range Rover; drivers sit high and feel in command of the road. Fitted with a 3.7-liter V6, the CX-9 is surprisingly peppy.

AutoTrader Recommends

Many customers buy a vehicle for capability and features they only really need a few times a year. Buyers look for big, all-wheel-drive SUVs for the occasional snow day and because they want enough power to pull a boat. In actuality, most of the time they only really need enough room for their kids and their stuff. Keeping that in mind, we recommend customers look at the $31,320 front-wheel-drive Pilot EX. For that price, the Pilot will do most everything the average American customer could want from a well-built SUV without adding too many needless frills.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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