Pros: Exceptional interior space; strong all-wheel-drive system; diverse trim level options
Cons: Relatively low towing capacity; only one engine and transmission offered
What's New: Standard backup camera; USB connectivity; Bluetooth hands-free, 8-inch display and automatic climate control
After a mid-cycle update with revised styling appeared for the previous model year, the 2013 Honda Pilot arrives with a handful of features now standard throughout the lineup. The midsize SUV has been on the U.S. market since 2003. Now in its second generation and built in Lincoln, Alabama, the Pilot includes such standard equipment as automatic climate control, a backup camera and Bluetooth hands free.
The Pilot is available in LX, EX, EX-L and Touring models in both front- and 4-wheel-drive. EX-L models offer either a rear DVD entertainment system or a satellite navigation system, and Touring models come with both. Pricing on the Pilot begins at $29,420 and tops out at $41,170.
Comfort & Utility
With more than 152.7 cu ft of passenger space spread across three rows of seats, the Pilot feels modern, spacious and versatile. The front row offers excellent visibility, and the three-passenger second row has a 60/40 split folding seat that slides 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 there's enough room behind it for a folded-up stroller or a cooler.
For maximum cargo space, the second and third rows fold flat into the floor to create 87.0 cu ft of storage capacity while also providing sufficient width for 4-ft-wide items. The cargo area also has a hidden storage well that provides 2.8 cu ft of space and can be easily combined with the above floor storage area with the removal of the storage cover. The Pilot Touring features a load-supporting cargo net that separates and restrains rear cargo items.
Previous model year Pilots are not the most tech-heavy SUVs on the market, but updates for 2013 are moving the model in the right direction. A standard USB jack and Bluetooth for hands-free phone operation and music streaming are now included on all Pilot models. An 8-inch display in the center stack provides a more modern interface. A backup camera is now standard, and navigation and rear DVD entertainment systems are available.
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. Three-zone automatic climate control is standard across the 2013 Pilot lineup.
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 5-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel-drive Pilot is capable of towing only up to 2,000 pounds; with all-wheel drive, towing capacity jumps to 4,500 pounds.
The front-wheel-drive Pilot is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (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.
The 2013 Pilot is designed with safety at its core. Its 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 3-row side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, driver's and front passenger's side airbags with passenger-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.
Compared to the Acura MDX, with which it shares underpinnings, the Pilot feels a bit softer and smoother but not quite as powerful. Although it's not as peppy as its Acura cousin, power delivery in the Pilot is decent and smooth. Around town, the Pilot is comfortable and easy to maneuver. Above 60 mph on the highway, the Pilot remains smooth but could use a sixth gear to achieve better fuel economy.
Ultimately, the 2013 Honda Pilot is an average midsize SUV, reliable and family oriented. It's good but not great. The ride quality is adequate, handling is responsive, braking is crisp and the 4-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 $29,135 for a front-wheel-drive model with a 3.5-liter 290-hp V6, the Explorer is very similar to the Pilot. Despite its 6-speed transmission, the Explorer with the base V6 has a slightly lower fuel economy rating than the Pilot. But with the optional EcoBoost engine, the Explorer is rated at 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway.
Jeep Grand Cherokee - Starting at $27,495, the Grand Cherokee is an exceptional rear-wheel-drive American SUV based on the Mercedes ML-Class. Like the Pilot, it too has only a 5-speed automatic, but the Grand Cherokee is available with a choice of engines: a base 3.6-liter V6 engine or an optional 5.7-liter V8. The Grand Cherokee is strictly a 2-row, 5-passenger vehicle.
Mazda CX-9 - A refreshed 2013 CX-9 is reportedly on the way, but the 2012 Mazda CX-9, priced at $29,725, makes for an interesting comparison to the Pilot. The 7-passenger crossover has a peppy 3.7-liter V6, and offers drivers a high seating position and a commanding view of the road.
Many drivers buy a vehicle for capability and features they only really need a few times a year. Buyers look for big, all-wheel-drive SUVs to tackle the occasional snow day, or because they need enough power to pull a boat. Most of the time, they only really need enough room for kids and their stuff. Unless your needs include heavier capabilities, we recommend the $31,670 front-wheel-drive Pilot EX. At that price, the Pilot will do almost everything the average American expects from a well-built SUV without the added cost of extra frills.