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2016 Honda Pilot vs. 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2016

If you're interested in a new midsize SUV, you're probably considering the usual suspects, including the 2016 Honda Pilot and the newly updated 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe, which is just arriving in dealerships nationwide. Given how competitive the midsize-SUV segment is, you're probably wondering which one is better and which one you should get. As a result, we've created a close comparison between the latest Pilot and the latest Santa Fe that should help answer your questions, but first let's see what's new with both SUVs for the latest model year.

2016 Honda Pilot

The Pilot is fully redesigned for the 2016 model year with new exterior styling, a new interior, new features and an updated powertrain.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe

The Santa Fe is face-lifted for 2017 with a new front end that includes a new bumper, a new grille and new headlights. It also offers revised taillights. More importantly, it touts a few new features, including adaptive cruise control, LED running lights, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and automatic forward-collision braking.

Reliability

Because the Pilot is so new, experts at J.D. Power have not yet rated the SUV for reliability. Outgoing models earned only average scores, however. It's the same story with the face-lifted Santa Fe, which only recently went on sale and also earned average scores in its previous form.

As for warranty coverage, however, the Hyundai has a huge advantage over the Pilot. It touts 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection (versus 3 years or 36,000 miles for the Pilot), along with 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage (versus 5 years or 60,000 miles for the Pilot). In our book, this alone gives the Santa Fe a slight leg up over the Pilot when it comes to reliability.

Fuel Economy

Both the Pilot and the Santa Fe only offer one engine. In the Pilot, it's a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that boasts up to 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with the standard 6-speed automatic or 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy if you go with an upper-level model fitted with the 9-speed automatic.

The Santa Fe, meanwhile, comes standard with a 290-hp 3.3-liter V6 that's mated to a standard 6-speed automatic. It reaches as high as 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. As a result, the Pilot is the fuel economy winner here.

Safety

In crash-test ratings carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pilot earned a perfect 5-star overall score. The Santa Fe is not yet rated, though the slightly smaller Santa Fe Sport also earned a 5-star overall score. In crash-test ratings carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2016 Santa Fe fell short of the firm's Top Safety Pick rating after a troubling marginal score in the front small-overlap test -- something that may improve with updates to the 2017 model. The Pilot, however, earned the firm's highest-possible Top Safety Pick+ score.

As for safety equipment, both the Pilot and the Santa Fe offer virtually everything, especially after updates to the 2017 Santa Fe added more features. Indeed, both SUVs tout basically all of today's latest gadgets, including automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind spot monitoring system. The Pilot's sole advantage comes from its excellent LaneWatch blind spot camera, which you can't get in the Santa Fe.

Between the Pilot's slightly stronger IIHS crash-test ratings and its excellent LaneWatch camera, we're giving the safety category to the Honda -- but only by a hair. Should this year's updates to the Hyundai produce an improved IIHS crash-test score, this category would essentially be a toss-up.

Technology

Because technology is an increasingly important component of today's midsize-SUV segment, both the 2016 Honda Pilot and the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe are loaded up with virtually all of today's latest gadgets and features.

We've already covered a few items in the safety section above, but it doesn't end there. The Santa Fe and Pilot also tout a long list of comfort and convenience items, such as ventilated front seats, multispeaker premium sound systems, heated steering wheels, advanced infotainment systems with excellent smartphone integration, rear-seat DVD entertainment systems and more. While you may find a few technology differences between the Pilot and the Santa Fe, we suspect that even die-hard technophiles will find these two SUVs to be largely satisfactory.

Value

When it comes to pricing, the Santa Fe and Pilot are close. The Santa Fe starts at $31,700 with shipping, while the Pilot is $31,100. Still, that $600 difference is noticeable, and the Hyundai's value is hurt by a lack of trim levels, forcing you to choose between the $31,700 base model or the $35,800 Limited trim -- or else look for option packages that suit your priorities. The Pilot, meanwhile, offers a happy middle ground -- the EX for $33,500 -- which strikes us as an especially intriguing proposition.

Our take: The Hyundai is a little more expensive than the Pilot without offering much more to show for it. And we wish the Hyundai had more trim levels rather than costly option packages. As a result, the Pilot is our winner when it comes to overall value.

Autotrader's Advice

The 2016 Honda Pilot and the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe are both excellent midsize crossovers with reasonable pricing, a lot of equipment and room for the whole family. But our choice is clear: The Honda Pilot is the better vehicle here. It offers lower pricing, better fuel economy, a newer design and the excellent LaneWatch blind spot camera, which you can't get anywhere else. With that said, we'd hardly be disappointed to end up with the 2017 Santa Fe, as it remains one of the top models in this segment, and we'd probably pick it over the Pilot if we negotiated a good enough deal.

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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.
2016 Honda Pilot vs. 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe: Which Is Better? - Autotrader