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2021 Honda Pilot Review

The 2021 Honda Pilot is an excellent choice in the 3-row midsize crossover SUV world. Which is really saying something, because this class is crammed with great rivals (check out our Other Cars to Consider section below for extensive proof).

The Pilot’s overall selling points include plenty of space (despite smaller exterior dimensions and a lower curb weight than many competitors), the right amount of features for the price, superb build quality and reliability, an unruffled driving experience, impeccable safety credentials, and sturdy resale values. All-wheel-drive versions can even tackle a tricky dirt road.

It’s a well-rounded, well-judged package. That’s how the Pilot excels. Honda’s metaphorical trophy cabinet is full of awards like best buy, best to own over five years and best-in-class resale values, all bestowed upon the Pilot. Yes, it’s absolutely necessary to consider all the alternatives, but if you end up heading for a Honda dealer, we won’t argue with you.

What’s New for 2021?

The 9-speed automatic transmission that used to be reserved for the Pilot’s higher trims is now fitted as standard throughout. A new Special Edition (SE) trim level replaces the EX-L Nav/RES, although the navigation and rear entertainment systems are now in the next-up Touring trim. The base LX trim gains dual-zone climate control. And the Black Edition can now be ordered with Platinum White Pearl paintwork. See the 2021 Honda Pilot models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Roomier and more versatile than most rivals
  • Clever storage ideas
  • Comfortable ride
  • Good price-to-feature ratio

What We Don’t

  • Not the most sophisticated safety technology
  • So-so styling

How Much?


Fuel Economy

The 2021 Pilot employs a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This is linked to a 9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted beneath the steering wheel. Most Pilots come with front-wheel drive as standard, except for the Elite and Black Edition models, which come with otherwise optional all-wheel drive.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fuel consumption estimates are 20 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in combined driving (front-wheel drive) or 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 mpg combined (all-wheel drive).

Standard Features and Options

The 2021 Honda Pilot is available in LX, EX, SE, Touring, Elite and Black Edition trim levels. Depending on trim, this midsize 3-row crossover can seat up to eight occupants. Where it’s optional, all-wheel drive costs $2,000.

LX ($33,370) comes standard with 18-in alloy wheels, forward-collision warning system, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, three rows of flat-folding seats, Bluetooth, two USB ports and a 7-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio input plus a media player interface.

EX ($36,050) adds automatic headlights, LED fog lights, extra color-coded exterior trim pieces, remote start, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, one-touch sliding rear seats, 8-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, and HD/satellite radio. All-wheel drive also entails low-traction driving modes (Snow, Sand and Mud).

EX-L ($39,480) brings a powered lift gate, sunroof, acoustic windshield glass, leather upholstery, 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, driver’s-seat memory settings, leather-wrapped steering wheel, second-row sunshades, powered moonroof, and a self-dimming rearview mirror.

SE ($40,080) adds 20-in alloy wheels, roof rails, wireless charging and hands-free lift gate operation.

Touring ($44,040) includes navigation, 115-volt outlet, LED headlights, heated second-row seats, front/rear parking sensors, extra sound insulation, 590-watt/10-speaker audio system, wi-fi, and a rear entertainment setup with a 10.2-in roof-mounted display, Blu-ray player, HDMI input, built-in streaming apps and CabinTalk (which feeds the driver’s voice into the rear speakers and wireless headphones).

Heated second-row captain’s chairs ($300) can replace the standard second-row bench seat, reducing seating capacity to seven.

Elite ($49,540) has those captain’s chairs as standard, along with all-wheel drive, self-dimming/power-folding mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic roof, heated/ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Black Edition ($51,040) is little more than an appearance package. Basically, everything chrome on the Elite is black on the Black Edition, including a gloss black grille and 20-in black-finished alloy wheels. The cabin has red ambient lighting and a special leather interior with two-tone black and dark red seats with red stitching.

Other options include things like attachments for snowboards, kayaks or bicycles, plus cargo bay organizers.


All 2021 Pilot trim levels come standard with front side airbags, side-curtain airbags, forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is in every Pilot trim expect for the base LX.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Honda Pilot a maximum 5-star overall rating (including four stars for front impact protection and five stars for side impacts).

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) made the Pilot a Top Safety Pick, by earning scores of Good in most crashworthiness categories (minus the new passenger-side small overlap test, where it received an Acceptable rating), plus a Superior for accident avoidance tech. Headlights were considered Acceptable.

Behind the Wheel

The 2021 Pilot drives almost like a minivan. Which is a compliment of sorts. Neither spry nor sporty, the Pilot is comfortable and sure-footed, offering a well-controlled drive without the cumbersome feeling that often afflicts larger SUVs. Yet it’s still sufficiently muscular for reaching freeway speeds with ease.

The steering is more precise than that of competitors like the Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander and GMC Acadia. In general, the Pilot feels nimbler than those. A sophisticated, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system also helps in this respect.

Passenger and cargo spaces are better than most, with seating for up to eight occupants. Even adults can fit in the third row. Only the Subaru Ascent and the Chevrolet Traverse are noticeably more accommodating. The Pilot’s clever center console excels at storing everything from purses to smartphones and other smaller items.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Toyota Highlander — A mainstay of this vehicle class. Offered as a hybrid as well.

2021 Kia Telluride — This seems to be everyone’s favorite 3-row midsize crossover at the moment. It’s easy to see why. Lots of space, style, equipment and ability for the money.

2021 Hyundai Palisade — Sister vehicle to the Telluride.

2021 Subaru AscentSubaru’s 3-row crossover is similar to the Pilot, but the company has a solid core of faithful buyers who may well prefer this take (plus its extra space). And all-wheel drive is standard.

2021 Chevrolet Traverse — The most spacious of the class for both people and cargo. Its technology is also impressive.

2021 Mazda CX-9 — Conversely, the CX-9 is one of the smallest in this segment, but the most athletic. This Mazda’s classy interior, efficient engine and relatively engaging nature justifies its place here.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas — Extremely spacious. Designed especially for the United States and built in Tennessee. Upgraded for 2021.

Used Acura MDX — Think of the Acura MDX as a luxury version of the Pilot with high-end features, gadgets and materials. It’s also available as a hybrid. Take a look at Acura’s certified pre-owned (CPO) program.

Questions You May Ask

What’s the difference between the Honda Pilot and the Honda Passport?

The Pilot is a midsize-crossover SUV with three rows of seating. The Passport answers to approximately that description and shares the same drivetrain, but has only two seating rows. The all-wheel-drive version of the Passport also has slightly higher ground clearance. 

Where is the 2021 Honda Pilot built?

In Lincoln, Alabama.

What generation of Pilot is the 2021 model?

The Pilot is now in its third generation, which launched in 2016 and received a substantial update in 2019.

Autotrader’s Advice

For a good balance between price and equipment, the EX-L does the trick. The base LX is too bare-bones, while the top Elite and Black Edition trims spin off into extravagance. Find a Honda Pilot for sale

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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