In the crowded world of the midsize SUV, many automakers put forth great effort to earn strong sales and widespread acclaim. The Honda Pilot has always been near the top of the charts in both respects. Sales are typically among the best of any midsize SUV, and they have been since the Pilot's debut in 2003. The Pilot constantly earns praise for its family-focused design and interior.
All of that remains true with the 2015 Honda Pilot. While sales are slowing down due to updated rivals and the Pilot's aging design, the crossover still offers everything that always made it so popular: a standard third row, a no-nonsense interior, comfortable seats and a lot of equipment.
What's New for 2015?
We suspect that 2015 will be the Pilot's last year in its current form, so Honda has added a new value-packed SE model, slotting between the EX and the EX-L, to entice shoppers before the redesigned model is revealed.
What We Like
Exceptional interior space; strong all-wheel-drive system; diverse trim-level options
What We Don't
Relatively low towing capacity; only one engine and transmission offered; design starting to get a little dated
The Pilot is available with only one engine: a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 250 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed automatic is the only available transmission. Front-wheel-drive Pilot models return 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, while the all-wheel-drive Pilot is rated at 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
In years past, the Pilot has only been available with four trim levels: base-level LX, mid-level EX and EX-L, and upscale Touring. For 2015, there's also an SE model that slots between the EX and EX-L.
Drivers who opt for the base-level Pilot LX ($30,700) get a long list of safety features such as a rearview camera, 3-row side-curtain airbags, vehicle stability control and anti-lock brakes, but the trim offers only the basics (keyless entry, Bluetooth, a USB port for music and tri-zone automatic climate control) in convenience equipment. The Pilot LX also comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels.
Shoppers who step up to the EX ($32,700) get 18-in alloy wheels and a power driver's seat.
Above the EX is the new SE ($34,000), which offers unique alloy wheels, a power sunroof, satellite radio and a rear-seat DVD player.
Next up is the EX-L ($36,200), which includes a power rear lift gate, leather upholstery, heated rear seats and a power passenger seat. The EX-L also offers two options: a rear-seat DVD player and a navigation system.
Topping the range is the Pilot Touring ($40,700), which includes the navigation system and rear DVD player that were optional on the EX-L. The SUV also includes an 8-in center-mounted touchscreen, memory for the driver's seat and mirrors, a 15-gigabyte hard drive and a 10-speaker audio system.
Like most Honda models, the Pilot doesn't include options aside from the aforementioned DVD player and navigation system on EX-L models. The only choice drivers have to make is whether they want 2-wheel drive, which is standard, or all-wheel drive, which adds $1,600 to the base price.
The Pilot has 3-row side-curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, driver- and front-passenger-side airbags with a passenger-side occupant-position detection system, and active front-seat head restraints. Additional safety equipment on the Pilot includes an anti-lock braking system, brake assist, and both vehicle stability assist and electronic stability control.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Pilot received four overall stars, a rating consisting of a 4-star frontal-crash rating, a 4-star rollover rating and a 5-star side-impact score. In crash tests conducted by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Pilot earned a Good rating in four categories and a Poor score in the group's newest small front-overlap test, which simulates hitting a pole or a tree on the driver's side. Several vehicles have found difficulty with the small front-overlap test, so the Pilot doesn't stand alone in its weak performance.
Behind the Wheel
On the road, the 2015 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.
With more than 152.7 cu ft. of passenger space spread across three rows of seats, the Pilot feels spacious and versatile. The front row offers excellent visibility, and the 3-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-sized adult, and there's enough room behind it for a folded-up stroller or a cooler.
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. Previous-model-year Pilots are not the most tech-heavy SUVs on the market, but updates for 2013 moved 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-in 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.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Explorer -- The Explorer is similar to the Pilot in many ways, including sizing, features, power and pricing. 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/28 mpg hwy.
Jeep Grand Cherokee -- The Grand Cherokee is an exceptional SUV with a long list of equipment and a refined driving experience. Now offered with an 8-speed automatic, 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.
Toyota Highlander -- The newly redesigned Toyota Highlander is a formidable foe in the Pilot's battle to stay relevant in spite of its older design. The Highlander offers a totally new design, boasting a long list of modern conveniences, new safety features and improved crash ratings.
Many drivers buy a vehicle for capabilities and features that they only really need a few times a year. Buyers look for big, all-wheel-drive SUVs to tackle the occasional snow day or a V8 engine because they need enough power to occasionally pull a boat. Most of the time, though, they only need enough room for kids and their stuff. Unless your needs include heavier capabilities, we recommend the 2015 Pilot SE. 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.