When it comes to hauling families, the 2014 Honda Pilot and 2014 Toyota Highlander are among the more popular choices in the midsize-crossover-SUV segment. For years, the Pilot has split the difference between midsize and large SUVs, offering a compelling combination of cargo-carrying and people-toting capabilities. Toyota was first to perfect the recipe with its original Highlander model, and for 2014, the Highlander is redesigned and better than ever.

Naturally, since these two crossovers are frequently cross-shopped, it makes sense to determine which of them is the best one to buy. Before we dive into the details, let's find out what changed for the 2014 model year.

2014 Honda Pilot

It's been 6 years since Honda last redesigned the Pilot, and 2 since the automaker made any changes worth noting. For 2014, the Pilot is the same as it was in 2013.

2014 Toyota Highlander

Because the Pilot is nearing the end of its life cycle, the completely redesigned Highlander makes a strong case for itself. The engines are carried over from the previous model, but the new Highlander offers 8-passenger seating, a new transmission with the V6 engine, a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system with Dynamic Torque Control, and additional infotainment, safety and comfort features.

Reliability

One of the reasons why people like to buy Honda and Toyota products is that they enjoy a reputation for reliability. That's certainly the case with the Pilot and Highlander.

According to Consumer Reports, each model is expected to provide reliability that is better than average for the class. Based on J.D. Power data, Pilot owners rank their vehicles higher for quality than Highlander owners do, but the Highlander has historically been more dependable than the Pilot is.

Average these ratings together, and it comes to a tie between two SUVs that are both likely to prove quite reliable over time.

Fuel Economy

For such a large vehicle, the Honda Pilot's fuel economy ratings are fairly impressive, which is a credit to the 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine's standard Variable Cylinder Management technology, which shuts half the engine's cylinders off when the Pilot is cruising or coasting, in order to conserve fuel. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency rates the brick-shaped Pilot at 21 miles per gallon in combined driving with front-wheel drive and 20 mpg with AWD.

Thanks to a new 6-speed automatic transmission, the 2014 Toyota Highlander, equipped with the V6 engine, matches the Pilot's fuel economy ratings while offering 270 hp and greater towing capacity. The Highlander is also available with a 4-cylinder engine in base LE trim with front-wheel drive, which gets 22 mpg. Buyers can also select the Highlander Hybrid, which includes AWD and is rated to return 28 mpg.

Overall, the Toyota Highlander claims the fuel economy victory.

Safety

If there's anything that Honda really needs to change about the Pilot (and the company likely will when the next-generation Pilot arrives for the 2016 model year), it's related to adding technologies designed to help the SUV avoid an accident, and if that's not possible, adding tech that excels at protecting its occupants.

The current Honda Pilot receives a 4-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and gets a Poor rating in the small-overlap and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Furthermore, aside from a standard reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, the Pilot doesn't feature modern safety technologies.

Contrast this with the redesigned 2014 Toyota Highlander, which earns the top 5-star overall crash-test rating from NHTSA and passes IIHS's small-overlap and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests to receive a Top Safety Pick rating. Also, thanks to an available Pre-Collision System, the Highlander gets an Advanced front crash-prevention rating.

If you're wondering which of these two crossover SUVs is the safest, the Toyota Highlander is clearly the answer.

Technology

While the 2014 Honda Pilot lacks modern safety technologies, it does come standard with a reversing camera, a triple-zone automatic climate control system and an 8-inch infotainment system display screen, all of which require an upgrade to the LE Plus trim level for the Highlander. Additional exclusives for the Honda include front parking sensors to complement the rear sensors, and a standard 2-gigabyte music hard drive that can be upgraded to 15 gigabytes and operated using Song by Voice track retrieval. A multiangle reversing camera is also offered for the Honda, along with a navigation system and a premium audio system.

While these are appealing features, the Toyota's roster of tech-related equipment clearly reflects this year's complete redesign. A standard wiper deicer is handy for the parts of the country that get whacked by snowstorms for a part of the year, while the Highlander LE Plus model adds HD Radio reception. The Highlander XLE features smart key entry with push-button starting, a navigation system with an 8-in touchscreen display, and App Suite technology.

Upgrade to the Highlander Limited, and the SUV comes equipped with LED running lights, ventilated front seats, rear parking-assist sensors, a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross-traffic alert system. The Limited can be optioned with the Safety Connect telematics service, including automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance, and buyers can choose a dynamic cruise control system with a Pre-Collision System, a lane-departure warning system, automatic high-beam headlights, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. A rear-seat entertainment system with a Blu-ray/DVD player is optional for both the Limited and XLE trim levels.

Given the number of modern infotainment and safety features offered for the Highlander, it gets the nod as the more technologically sophisticated choice.

Value

Midsize crossover SUVs designed to carry eight passengers aren't small or lightweight, and as a result, they aren't cheap to own and operate. Both the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander receive average 5-year cost-of-ownership ratings from Kelley Blue Book, with the valuation company estimating that the Highlander will cost just two more dollars to drive during that first half-decade of ownership.

As far as residual value ratings (an indication of how well a particular vehicle will retain its value over time) are concerned the Highlander proves superior to the Pilot, with the Toyota receiving a 5-star rating from ALG compared to the 3-star rating for the Honda. The Highlander also comes with free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles of ownership.

We think that the Highlander will ultimately save its owners more money, even if the savings are inaccessible until it comes time to sell the SUV.

AutoTrader's Advice

If the Honda Pilot were a safer SUV in terms of crash-test performance and available crash-avoidance technology, this would have been a closer contest to call. Aside from besting the Honda on the safety front, though, the 2014 Toyota Highlander is more powerful, more fuel efficient, tows more weight, offers more stuff, and will be worth more of its original price as a used SUV.

Taken together, this collection of positive attributes also means that the latest iteration of the Highlander is the better of these two midsize 3-row crossover SUVs.

Find a Honda Pilot for sale

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Christian Wardlaw is passionate about the cars, trucks, and SUVs people actually buy, not the models about which they fantasize. An industry veteran and former editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com, this father of 4 loves to inform and entertain everyday car buyers.

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