By Jim MacPherson
If you read the press release from Honda, you'd think that the Honda Pilot has undergone significant updates.
It proclaims the 2012 version, “…debuts with a sleek new look, improved fuel economy and upgraded interior features.”
Certainly, there are new features, including a full-color 8-inch information display on some models and free traffic updates on vehicles with the navigation system.The EPA highway rating is also much improved on the two-wheel drive versions of this family-sized crossover utility vehicle.
The “sleek new look,” however, is not quite so obvious to some people. An owner of a 2009 Pilot could not specify the differences, though he did agree that the look was different.
He may be the exception, however. “People do notice [the styling updates],” said Craig Peters, a manager at Manchester Honda. The grill, bumper and headlamps have all been updated, he said.
If all these changes fall short of being revolutionary, Honda has a good excuse. The Pilot, which received its last major redesign in 2009, has turned out to be a very good vehicle. Highlights include a smooth, refined and tractable drivetrain, seating for eight in three rows, a comfortable ride and predictable handling.
Four trim levels are offered: basic LX, EX, EX-L and the top-of-the-line Touring model that Honda supplied for this review. Each of these is powered by a smooth V-6 engine that will actually shut down two or three of its cylinders when full power is not needed. The result is improved fuel economy. Performance is also acceptable, with 60 miles per hour arriving in 8.9 seconds.
If you are worried that running a V-6 as a V-4 or inline three-cylinder motor might mar its smoothness and silence, Honda has included active control engine mounts and active noise cancellation in all models. Thanks to these two features changes in the number of active cylinders are nearly indiscernible.
Only the illumination of the green “Eco” light on the instrument panel will alert the driver in most cases that the motor is using fewer than six cylinders. The five-speed automatic shifts well and its control lever, which is mounted on the instrument panel rather than the steering column or center console, is easy to operate.
Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive an option. All-wheel drive versions are rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds and have a control that locks in equal torque distribution, front to rear, for when the going gets rough.
The interior is roomy. The front seats are supportive and spacious; the second row seats also accommodate adults nicely. The third row is best for children but can take adults. Second and third row seats fold easily to handle cargo.
“People are impressed by its flexibility. There’s plenty of room and adults can use the third row,” Peters said.
All is mostly quiet on the highway, though the tire noise can be a little high on some surfaces. As for handling, the Pilot displays near car-like responses. Only its height, which produces noticeable but not disturbing lean in corners, will remind passengers that this is a crossover utility vehicle.
“It's very quiet and very comfortable,” Peters said. “It has a luxury feel.”
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with 250 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque; EPA ratings 18/25 with fwd; 17/24 with awd.
Starts at: $28,470