2021 Honda Pilot FAQ Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Mar 17, 2021

Life sometimes demands utility above all else. But human beings often balance their needs with their wants, giving emotion an equal voice. They know they need a large, roomy, 8-passenger vehicle, but they don't want to drive a minivan. Enter midsize, 3-row, crossover SUVs, like the 2021 Honda Pilot.

American families love 'em, and the Pilot is one of the best-sellers in the segment. It supplies much of the practicality of a minivan with the more rugged look of an SUV. 

Yes, you give up some third-row comfort and overall cargo space compared to a 2021 Honda Odyssey. But an Odyssey doesn't offer 7.3 inches of ground clearance or a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. And it certainly does not convey an adventurous lifestyle.

What's new for the 2021 Honda Pilot? - Find the best Honda deals!

This is the last year for the current-generation Pilot before a completely redesigned model arrives for 2022. As such, changes to the 2021 Pilot are few.

  • 9-speed automatic transmission standard on all trim levels (previously reserved for higher trims)
  • Pilot LX adds standard triple-zone automatic climate control
  • New Special Edition trim builds on the EX-L trim level with black 20-inch wheels, blacked-out trim, wireless smartphone charging, and a hands-free power rear liftgate.
  • Black Edition now offered with extra-cost Platinum White Pearl paint

2021 HONDA PILOT SPECS - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition White Front Quarter Left

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

What are the 2021 Honda Pilot configurations?

The Pilot is a family-sized crossover SUV that seats up to eight passengers. Most versions have standard front-wheel drive (FWD) with all-wheel drive (AWD) optional. The two highest trim levels include AWD as standard equipment.

If you prefer cloth seats, get the Pilot LX or EX. Starting with EX-L trim, the Pilot includes leather. The new Special Edition has the popular blacked-out look and bigger 20-inch wheels, and costs about $40,000.

Rear-seat entertainment is standard, starting with Touring trim. The Pilot Elite is the most luxurious version of the SUV, while the top-shelf Black Edition adds blacked-out trim and wheels with unique red interior accents and ambient lighting.

What is the 2021 Honda Pilot price?

The least expensive Pilot LX with FWD costs $32,550. The Pilot Black Edition price is $50,220, and it includes AWD. The destination charge costs another $1,175.

What is the 2021 Honda Pilot cargo space/trunk space?

Honda provides two sets of cargo space numbers for the 2021 Pilot. We are reporting the SAE J1100 cargo volume measurement standard without taking into account the floor space.

With that caveat, the Pilot supplies 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat, 46.8 cu.-ft. behind the second-row seats, and a maximum of 83.9 cu.-ft. A hands-free power liftgate is standard, starting with Special Edition trim.

Note that Elite and Black Edition trims supply just a little less interior volume due to a panoramic glass sunroof. Here, the numbers are 16 cu.-ft., 46 cu.-ft., and 82.1 cu.-ft., respectively.

What is the 2021 Honda Pilot gas mileage?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2021 Honda Pilot returns 23 mpg in combined driving with FWD and 22 mpg with AWD. Based on these numbers and the Pilot's 19.5-gallon fuel tank, the SUV should travel between 429 and 448 miles on a full tank of gas.

During our testing, a Pilot AWD averaged 21.5 mpg. That translates into 419 miles on a tank of gas, which means you'd need to stop every 375 miles or so.

Is the 2021 Honda Pilot safe?

Generally speaking, the Honda Pilot is safe. But there is cause for concern about front-passenger protection in certain types of crashes.

In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2021 Honda Pilot earns a 5-star overall rating. The only assessments in which it got a 4-star rating pertain to front passenger protection in a frontal impact collision and for its ability to resist a rollover accident.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also downgrades front passenger protection, this time in a small overlap frontal-impact collision. Here, the Pilot earns an Acceptable rather than a Good rating. The standard headlights also rate Acceptable instead of Good. The SUV does not earn a Top Safety Pick designation for 2021.

What is the 2021 Honda Pilot towing capacity?

If you choose a Pilot with FWD, the maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. Get a Pilot with AWD, and that rises to 5,000 pounds.

2021 HONDA PILOT REVIEW - Find the best Honda deals!

JDPA_2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition Interior Front Seats

The test vehicle for this review was a 2021 Pilot Black Edition equipped with extra-cost paint. It carried a price tag of $51,790, including the $1,175 destination charge.

How is the 2021 Honda Pilot interior?

Open the Pilot's door, get inside, and you'll find a cabin emphasizing function over form. In fact, in some ways, it looks and feels more like a minivan than it does a crossover SUV.

Both front passengers sit in captain's chairs with inboard armrests. There is a huge center console dividing them, but it's low and features a rolltop cover that turns it into a tray when you don't need to access the storage bin's contents.

Speaking of storage, it is seemingly everywhere you look. For example, all four of the Pilot's door panels have shelves and bins carved into them, and there is a large storage area underneath the cargo floor behind the third-row seats.

Quality is evident throughout the Pilot's interior, from the materials to construction. Black Edition models have unique black leather with red-accented perforations and red ambient interior lighting.

The view out is excellent, especially to the front. Thin windshield pillars, front quarter window glass, door-mounted side mirrors, and a nearly invisible hood deliver a panoramic 180-degree view forward, much like a minivan. 

Is the 2021 Honda Pilot comfortable?

Whether or not you find the Honda Pilot comfortable depends on the age, size, and where you are sitting.

The front chairs are exceptionally comfy. All Pilot versions except for the LX get heated front seats and a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat. Leather-lined Pilots have soft and supple upholstery, and both the Elite and Black Edition trim have ventilated front seats. A front passenger's seat height adjuster is not available.

Pilots are roomy inside, so the second-row seats are also comfortable. Triple-zone climate control is standard, and starting with EX trim, the rear occupants can adjust their own temperature. Rear side window sunshades come with EX-L trim, while heated rear seats are standard, starting with Touring trim.

Adults can ride in the third-row seat for short periods, which means this location is best reserved for kids. That's typical of the segment, though some competitors offer greater comfort.

Does the 2021 Honda Pilot drive itself?

No, the 2021 Pilot does not drive itself. It does, however, include standard Honda Sensing, a collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) that includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and a lane-centering assistance system. This means the Pilot offers a Level 2 ADAS that is supposed to reduce stress on longer drives.

Unfortunately, the Pilot's ADAS is an older design, so it's not as accurate or as smooth as what you might find in an SUV featuring the latest iteration of similar technology.

Does the 2021 Honda Pilot have AWD?

Yes, the 2021 Pilot has AWD. Called Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4), it features torque vectoring and can put up to 70% of the engine's total output to a single rear wheel. It is essentially the same system you'll find in the previous-generation Acura MDX, where it is called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD).

A smooth, refined, and robust 3.5-liter V6 delivers 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission. Versions of the Pilot without AWD feature FWD.

Is the 2021 Honda Pilot fun to drive?

When equipped with its torque-vectoring AWD and larger 20-inch wheels and tires, the 2021 Pilot is enjoyable to drive. 

Effortless acceleration, a deft blend of ride compliance and athletic handling, agreeable steering effort levels, and responsive brakes make a Pilot perfect for its mission. However, with lots of weight aboard, or when towing, mind the SUV's braking performance. The brake rotors can quickly heat up, vibrate, and grumble, especially in mountainous areas.

With just 7.3 inches of ground clearance and modest approach, breakover, and departure angles, you won't want to tackle challenging terrain in a Honda Pilot. But, for snowstorms and well-traveled trails, it works fine.

IS THE 2021 HONDA PILOT A GOOD SUV? - Find the best Honda deals!

JDPA_2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition White Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to J.D. Power studies of dependability, quality, and overall appeal, the Honda Pilot is not among the best vehicles in its class. Remember, these studies are based on the opinions of the people who own this SUV. Verified owners simply don't rank it highly enough in any of these areas.

In fact, in the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), Honda ranks below average as a brand. Among upper midsize SUVs, the Pilot did not rank among the top three models.

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) study, Honda ranks above average. Its upper midsize SUV, the Pilot, did not earn a top-3 ranking in this study.

From an expert's point of view, yes, the Honda Pilot is a good SUV. There is plenty to like about this vehicle, especially in terms of its comfort, utility, and driving dynamics. If you like the way it looks, and feel as though it's the right choice for you, get one and rest assured that it will serve you well. 

However, competition in this segment is fierce, and depending on your priorities, there are better choices in this segment.

What is the 2021 Honda Pilot competition? - Find the best Honda deals!

Among Honda Pilot competitors that perform better in J.D. Power studies, three are similar to this SUV in terms of size and mission. They include the Toyota Highlander, which ranks higher for quality and dependability. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride both rank higher than the Pilot for overall performance, design, and execution.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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