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2018 Honda Pilot vs. 2018 Toyota Highlander: Which Is Better?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill July 2018

The 2018 Honda Pilot and the 2018 Toyota Highlander are two of the leading 7-passenger midsize crossovers on the market today. They both offer similar engines and cargo room, and they both come from respected, trusted Japanese automakers, though they're both assembled in the U.S. Due to these similarities, deciding between the two can be challenging. To help with that decision, we've pitted the two head-to-head in a number of categories to help you learn more about each one, before offering our own thoughts on which is the better family crossover in 2018.

Basic Specs

The last time the Highlander was fully redesigned was 2014, though it received an update for the 2017 model year. An all-new Highlander is likely still a few years away. The Pilot was all-new for the 2016 model year, and an updated model is on its way for 2019.

The Highlander offers three different powertrains. While uncommon, the standard base LE model is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. Optional on the base model and standard on every other trim level is a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Expect this to be the volume-selling engine -- most Highlanders you see sitting on dealer lots will be equipped with the V6. We'd recommend avoiding the 4-cylinder if possible, as it makes significantly less power than the V6 while actually returning worse fuel economy.

All trim levels except for the sporty SE are also available with a Hybrid powertrain, a popular choice given its respectable fuel economy figures. The Hybrid is also the most powerful Highlander available, as it pairs the 3.5-liter V6 with Toyota's Hybrid system, making for a total output of 306 hp. The hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission and is only available with all-wheel drive.

The Pilot keeps things much simpler. The only available engine is a 3.5-liter V6 making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. On the base LX through the EX-L models, this engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, while Touring and Elite models get a new 9-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available across the board, though all trim levels but the Elite come standard with 2-wheel drive. A plug-in hybrid model is expected to be introduced as part of the 2019 update.

While the V6 Highlander is somewhat more efficient and powerful, the AWD Pilot actually manages a better 0-to-60 acceleration time of around 6.2 seconds, while both the AWD Highlander V6 and the Hybrid require around 7 seconds.

Both the Pilot and Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds and offer seating for up to eight people.

Fuel Economy

Equipped with AWD, the Pilot achieves 18 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg in combined driving. These figures increase by 1 mpg in all categories for Pilots equipped with only front-wheel drive.

When equipped with the V6 and AWD, the Highlander achieves 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg overall, slightly better on all fronts than the comparable Pilot. The 4-cylinder isn't so great, making only 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined, while making over 100 fewer hp than the larger V6. The Highlander Hybrid, on the other hand, is much more efficient. As they're propelled by electric motors at low speeds, the benefits of a hybrid powertrain are typically seen in city driving, and the benefits of the Highlander Hybrid are no different. This model achieves a respectable 29 mpg city/27 mpg hwy, good for 28 mpg overall. Buyers are looking at around a $3,000 premium overall for the Hybrid model. Estimating how long you'll keep the vehicle and then calculating the cost overall will help you decide if the Hybrid is right for you.

Reliability

Honda and Toyota are both known for making some of the highest-quality and most reliable vehicles on sale in the U.S. Both Pilot and Highlander owners should see above-average reliability, along with high resale value as their vehicles age, especially as compared to other 3-row SUVs.

Interior Design & Quality

When it comes to design and materials, the Pilot seems to have generally better interior quality overall than the slightly older Highlander. Both offer average storage space for a large family vehicle. One notable interior feature of the Highlander is a dash-length storage shelf, great for stashing phones, sunglasses or parking garage tickets. The Highlander also offers a power thigh extension on the driver's seat, a nice feature unavailable on the Pilot.

The Highlander and the Pilot approach gear selection quite differently. The Highlander, like most automatic transmissions today, offers a standard gear lever with a slot for "sport mode" that allows for manual shifting. The Pilot eschews the gear-selector knob for buttons and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection. Due to the lack of a protruding gear knob, the Pilot's center console feels much cleaner and more modern than the Highlander's.

Both vehicles offer a panoramic sunroof; the Highlander's is a one-piece, continuous opening design, while the Pilot's is segmented into two separate windows, divided by the ceiling-mounted rear-seat entertainment system. Both the Pilot and the Highlander offer physical buttons for controlling HVAC functionality, although the Pilot's dashboard doesn't include a physical volume knob, which could be seen as a drawback.

Space

Lower and mid trim levels of the Pilot and the Highlander offer a second-row bench with room for three, making room for eight passengers overall. Upper trim levels of both the Honda and the Toyota sub in second-row captain's chairs, reducing the overall seating capacity to seven.

Both the Highlander and the Pilot are offered with a power rear tailgate, but only on the Highlander can the rear glass be opened separately from the whole tailgate, convenient for getting things in and out of the vehicle in tight quarters or when in a hurry. The Highlander is significantly smaller inside than the Pilot, which offers considerably more space in most seating configurations. The Pilot offers 17 cu ft. of room with the third row up, 50 cu ft. with the third row folded and 81 cu ft. with both the second and third rows folded. The Highlander offers 14 cu ft. with the third row up, 42 cu ft. with the third row folded and 84 cu ft. with both rows folded. The Pilot offers a few more inches of third-row head and legroom, but both third rows are pretty tight, and therefore best reserved for kids.

Tech

The 2018 Pilot offers an available 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The Highlander offers an 8-in screen as well, but because Toyota has until recently pushed their proprietary Entune system instead of engaging with Apple or Android, the 2018 Highlander does not offer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay capability, a major drawback. The Entune system is competent, but is a clear step down from either of these smartphone OS-based systems, which will keep a car's infotainment system feeling new for years to come.

While both offer a rearview camera with multiple view angles, the Highlander offers a 360-degree camera view, with a very cool 3-D simulated perimeter-scan feature.

Safety

Both the 2018 Pilot and the 2018 Highlander earn Top Safety Pick designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Toyota offers its suite of driver-safety features standard on all Highlanders. This means that every single Highlander comes with radar cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking and all of the other driver-assistance features new car buyers should demand in 2018.

This technology is unavailable on the base Pilot LX model, optional on the EX and EX-L models and standard on Touring and Elite models.

Buyers should demand this technology because these systems will soon become the norm, and their presence will likely factor into the vehicle's resale value down the road and reduce your risk for accidents.

Autotrader's Advice

Overall, while the Highlander is both slightly more powerful and more efficient, the 2018 Honda Pilot is the better vehicle overall, given that it has a better-quality interior, available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, a better third-row seat and slightly more room overall. When equipped with driver-assistance features, the Pilot's only main drawback to the Highlander is its lack of a 360-degree camera system.

The updated 2019 Pilot should be released by the end of 2018, and should only stand to widen the gap between the two vehicles.

That said, if mpg is your number one consideration, the the Highlander Hybrid, with its excellent fuel economy, is a very intriguing option.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Honda Pilot vs. 2018 Toyota Highlander: Which Is Better? - Autotrader