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PowerSteering: 2017 Honda Pilot Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Honda Pilot Review

By Liz Kim, May 03, 2017

Introduction

In many ways, a crossover utility vehicle is a compromise. It’s not as fuel efficient or dynamically astute as a sedan. It’s not as spacious and practical as a minivan. It’s not as rugged as a traditional SUV. But crossovers combine the most desirable attributes of all of those vehicles. And consumers are gobbling them up in droves.

The 2017 Honda Pilot is one of the most popular midsize crossover SUVs, especially among people who want the functionality of a minivan without the soul-crushing minivan packaging. Its 3-row, 8-passenger capacity and loads of amenities serve the needs of drivers who want to move around their families and their gear in a relatively stylish and efficient manner. And, you can get a 2017 Pilot LX for as little as $31,535.

2017 Honda Pilot Elite front quarter right photoFor this review, we evaluated a top-of-the-line Pilot Elite, and because everything is included as standard equipment except for dealer-installed accessories, the test vehicle’s final cost exactly matched the Elite trim level’s base price of $48,010, including the $940 destination charge.



What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 Pilot, it’s helpful to understand who buys this SUV and what they like most and least about it.

Based on information gathered about buyers of the redesigned 2016 Pilot, 62% of Pilot buyers are men. Their median age is 50 years, and their median annual household income is $127,885. Looking at the Midsize SUV segment as a whole, 58% of owners are male, with a median age of 55 years and a median annual household income of $111,964.

Given the Pilot’s younger demographic, it is not surprising that 53% of buyers identify themselves as members of Gen X (those born 1965 to 1976) or Gen Y (1977-1994), compared with 43% of total Midsize SUV buyers. Despite their greater median annual household income, Pilot buyers identify themselves more often as price buyers (29% vs. 23% for the segment).

Naturally, 61% of Honda Pilot buyers disagree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (vs. 42% for the segment). In all other aspects, Pilot buyers are fairly well aligned with the average Midsize SUV buyer, with minor exceptions related to vehicle styling and versatility.

Among Pilot buyers, 64% say that they like a vehicle that stands out from a crowd compared with 69% segment average. Also, 91% of Pilot buyers agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates a busy lifestyle, compared with 88% of Midsize SUV buyers.

Buyers say their favorite things about the Pilot are (in descending order) the exterior styling, visibility and safety, driving dynamics, interior design, and storage and space. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Pilot are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, seats, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2017 Honda Pilot performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior

It makes perfect sense that exterior styling is the thing that buyers like most about the Pilot. After all, the reason for the Pilot’s existence is that, as a crossover utility vehicle, it visually distinguishes itself from the mechanically similar Honda Odyssey.

Clearly, the Pilot is not a minivan. You can tell because the front end is taller and more prominent and it lacks the Odyssey’s tremendously useful sliding doors.

Otherwise, Honda’s latest Pilot design replaces the previous version’s squared-off styling with more rounded forms and smoother edges all around. In Touring and Elite trim, the whole package is dressed up with 20-in. alloy wheels.

Interior

One of my biggest complaints about the previous-generation Pilot was its industrial-flavored interior. It was carefully assembled, but lacked cohesive design.

In the current Pilot, Honda has worked hard to improve the cabin’s aesthetics. While it won’t win any awards for style, it is more upscale and refined than its predecessor, and competes handily with other midsize crossover vehicles. All the surfaces are composed of touch-friendly materials, and the controls feel solid and secure.

Seats

Supportive and comfortable, the Pilot’s front seats have height-adjustable inboard armrests that allow you to find an ideal place to rest your elbow. I do wish that the front passenger’s seat offered height adjustment, but it sits high enough off of the floor that this omission is a minor annoyance rather than a major irritation. The test vehicle’s heated and ventilated seats proved soothing in variable weather conditions.

The Pilot Elite test vehicle also had captain’s chairs in the second row, a novelty for my kids but not as versatile as a 3-person bench seat. In the test vehicle, rear-seat occupants were treated to a panoramic sunroof, side window shades, and both HDMI and USB inputs.

Any Pilot can serve you better than most 3-row crossover vehicles because the third-row seat is comparatively spacious. It is also easy to access thanks to the power-release, easy-entry system that effortlessly moves the second-row captain’s chair as far out of the way as is possible.

Climate Control System

The Pilot’s automatic climate control system is easy to use and provided 3-zone temperature settings in the test vehicle, allowing rear passengers to separately adjust comfort levels. All rear outboard seating positions have their own vents, too, and the system supplies a humidity control function that should prove invaluable during muggy summer afternoons.

Infotainment System

Someone needs to sit down and have a serious conversation with Honda about the Pilot’s infotainment system, because no one is really happy about it. I’m not, and Pilot buyers aren’t, either.

From my perspective, the lack of radio knobs and buttons is the problem. Sure, the flat, flush touch screen looks slick. And yes, there are radio controls on the steering wheel. But knobs for volume and tuning work best, and that’s what Honda needs to add to the Pilot.

You can use knobs without thinking about it, or even looking away from the road. Knobs are completely intuitive and even instinctive to a certain degree. It is hard, if not impossible, to improve upon them.

Beyond this, the Pilot’s 8-in. display screen seems small and is crowded with information, and in my experience the navigation system balked when asked to respond to voice commands.

On the other hand, the rear-seat entertainment system was simple to use and plays both DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. A set of HDMI jacks allows for gaming, and a 115-volt power outlet keeps your devices juiced up.

Storage and Space

Compared with other midsize crossovers, the Pilot is generously proportioned when it comes to cargo space. With all three rows of seats in use it provides 16.5 cu. ft. of room including a useful bin under the floor to keep your groceries from rolling around. Fold the third-row seat down to get 46.8 cu. ft, while maximum stowage measures 83.8 cu. ft. with all rear seats collapsed.

Honda thoughtfully provides for the needs of the American family when it comes to interior storage. The center console is a multilayered affair, as are the integrated door bins. You can stash your shades behind the parabolic “conversation” mirror above the rearview mirror, and there are little bins and cupholders for every passenger.

Visibility and Safety

The Pilot’s slim windshield pillars and high ride height provide the driver and front passenger a commanding view of the road, even more so than in key competitors. Speaking personally, this extra visibility is one of the main reasons that I prefer crossovers to sedans, and given how highly buyers rate the Pilot’s visibility and safety, I’m not the only one who appreciates this vehicle attribute.

Additionally, the Pilot is a safety rock star. It gets highest-possible 5-star ratings in all parameters from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (except for a 4-star rollover-resistance rating, which is the highest that any crossover SUV can score). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also rates this Honda highly, giving the Pilot a “Top Safety Pick+” rating.

My test vehicle included Honda’s latest crash-avoidance technologies, housed within its Honda Sensing package. It includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and a road-departure mitigation system. And while my Pilot Elite test vehicle came with a traditional blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, you can’t get it on any other version of the Pilot. Instead, you’ll have to settle for the inferior LaneWatch system, which only works for the right side of the SUV.

Engine/Transmission

Honda’s workhorse 3.5-liter V-6 engine motivates the Pilot. Capable of 280 horsepower, it pulls strong across the rev range and is a model of refinement. Notable for smoothness and quiet, it emits a nice little snarl when you put the pedal to the metal, which complements the surge in acceleration.

In front-wheel-drive form, the Pilot can tow up to 3,500 lbs., while versions with all-wheel drive (AWD) can pull up to 5,000 lbs. Even with a full load of passengers on board, a Pilot can climb long, uphill grades without breaking a sweat.

A 9-speed automatic transmission put the power to my test vehicle’s torque-vectoring AWD system. Upon first driving my test vehicle, I was dismayed at the transmission’s performance because it tended to hesitate and hunt for gears with unbecoming harshness. However, Honda says that this transmission is programmed to “learn” your driving behavior and alter its behavior accordingly, and true to form, within a few days I barely even noticed how it was shifting.

But I never did get used to the push-button transmission controls on the center console, which take the place of a conventional lever.

Fuel Economy

After driving the Pilot Elite more than 600 miles in mixed conditions, the fuel-economy average corresponded exactly with what the EPA said to expect: 22 mpg (19 city/26 highway). It’s always remarkable when this happens, as many vehicles fall short of the EPA’s predicted numbers.

Unless my test vehicle was an anomaly, I’m not really sure why Pilot buyers are so unhappy with their vehicles’ fuel economy. Perhaps they’d be better off in a Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Driving Dynamics

Honda is known for making vehicles that are fun to drive, even if this characteristic isn’t one associated with its brand image, and the Pilot is no exception. Light, precise steering and well-modulated brakes, combined with a smooth ride and the aforementioned robust drivetrain, make using a Pilot during the daily commute a genuine pleasure.

On mountain roads, the Pilot won’t be confused with a sport sedan, but the SUV feels nimble and confidently connected to the road, exhibiting little in the way of excess body motion in corners or over undulating pavement. Should the blacktop come to an end, the Pilot can tackle light off-roading in the form of well-worn trails. Any terrain more rigorous requires a different vehicle.


Final Impressions

With high marks for functionality, fuel efficiency, safety, and its amiable manner on the road, the 2017 Honda Pilot gets plenty of traction when it comes to families seeking a vehicle that can do just about everything…and do it well.

If, however, you truly want maximum room for people and things, you should look into Honda’s more practical family vehicle, the Odyssey. After all, it’s basically the same thing as a Pilot but without AWD, a squared-off nose, and ungainly rear doors.

American Honda Motor Company supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Honda Pilot review.


Additional Research:


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