– Very spacious interior
– Largely quiet ride
– Solid fuel economy
– Could be quicker
– Cabin hard plastics
– No low-range gearing
The Honda Pilot first debuted in this region back in 2009, replacing the somewhat-popular MR-V. Built in America and loosely based on the Accord platform, it was Honda’s largest model, pushing the boundaries for a midsize SUV in terms of size. For 2012, Honda has given the Pilot an ever-so-minor facelift as well as more available features to do battle with increasingly competent rivals.
There were enough complaints about the Pilot’s styling the last time around, so Honda went ahead and replaced everything between and below the headlights. The facelift indeed is that minor, with a new rear bumper and new alloys complementing the new front bumper and grille.
The interior is the same as before, save for a redesigned centre console, so we might as well just copy-paste our review of the 2009 version. The dashboard and upper door sills are all hard plastic, although there are more than enough cushy padded surfaces on the door inserts and armrests.
The gear shifter is still a stub on the dashboard to make way for huge storage cubbies. Storage is the Honda Pilot’s middle name. The centre console ‘bucket’ is by far the largest, designed to hold anything from drinks to jewellery boxes. There are also covers for most of the storage areas. The passenger-side dashboard has a tray moulded into it that came in handy for small items, while another exposed cubby under the stereo proved useful for holding a mobile phone. Cup-holders and bottle-holders are in no short supply for almost any passenger.
The passengers also enjoy massive interior room, easily besting many full-size 4WDs in legroom and headroom. First-row and second-row passengers have ample space, while the third can actually be used by average-sized adults, even if a bit cramped. Third-row access remains annoying for those with back problems, but it can be managed, with a second-row seat that split-folds out of the way. The leather seats in our tester had mild bolstering and padded armrests. Using the third-row leaves enough room for the monthly shopping in the cargo hold, but folding flat the last bench offers cavernous luggage space. Fold down two rows and the floor space is as big as a studio apartment. There is even a storage compartment under the boot floor.
In terms of features, there is more than enough, especially in the Touring model, such as ceiling-mounted holder for sunglasses that doubles as a wide-angle mirror to keep an eye on the kids in the back seats, as well as integrated roll-up sunshades in the side rear windows. The Touring now gets a decent CD/MP3 audio system that works in conjunction with a newly-offered navigation system, all making use of a larger LCD screen above the stereo deck. Alongside the six-disc changer and an AUX jack, a USB port and Bluetooth phone are also available now. While the interface is simple enough, using the screen to programme stuff on the move is a hassle, as the rotary controller is located very low at the base of the centre-console stack.
The automatic a/c wasn’t stressed in December weather. It has a full-featured rear a/c system with digital controls and vents. Various power outlets, sunroof, keyless entry, auto-dimming mirror, multiple front and side-curtain airbags, parking sensors, power windows, electric mirrors and cruise control round out the top-of-the-range Touring trim package. Fancier features such as keyless start and powered third-row seats are not available, something that competitors would brag about.
With 253 hp peaking at 5700 rpm, the 3.5-litre V6 seems underpowered on paper, but is still quicker than the Ford Explorer. The 347 Nm of torque comes up a bit late, at a high 4800 rpm, but is perfectly adequate for city driving. We managed a 0-to-100 kph time of 9.4 seconds, which isn’t terribly impressive, but it’s the engine’s extra features that caught our attention. With a cylinder-deactivation system, it can run with as few as three cylinders to save fuel while cruising. Honda even claims to have massaged the engine for better economy, and we can attest to that. We got consumption figures of 13.0 litres/100 km, down from 15.2 litres/100 km in the older model, pretty impressive for something almost as big as a Toyota Land Cruiser. Honda’s refined i-VTEC engine is very quiet too, thanks to a noise cancellation system and so-called ‘active’ engine mounts. The basic 5-speed automatic is dated, but does the job fine, invisibly shifting gears without hesitation.
Honda has left the suspension untouched however. It still rides a bit lumpily, handling corners like a truck-based 4×4, even though it’s technically a crossover with four-wheel independent suspension. It even bounces and jitters on some bumps, although it is largely comfortable on most road surfaces. Most of its target audience should be happy though, especially if they’re coming from a Toyota Prado or a Nissan Pathfinder, although we feel some new-age competitors, such as the Ford Explorer and the Dodge Durango, balance comfort and handling much better.
The Honda Pilot feels big on the road, but all-round visibility is reasonably good. The steering is soft and offers little feel, but the pedals fare better. Emergency brakes are easily handled by the four-wheel discs, aided by ABS and stability control when needed, but stopping distances are a bit long. Built to be a family cruiser, it is extremely quiet trundling along at highway speeds. Honda says the new model is quieter, and we won’t argue with that.
Oddly enough, while the Touring comes with larger 18-inch alloys, the 235/60 tyres are slightly less wide than the older model’s 245/65 tyres wrapping 17-inch wheels. While satisfactory on the road, the Pilot is actually good for moderate off-roading. The Pilot’s quick-acting all-wheel-drive barely bogs down in sand and the ground clearance is reasonable, although the wider tyres would’ve been better. There is no low-range gearing either, relying instead on a simulated diff lock for a 50:50 front/rear power split. It’s better than nothing if you end up having to cross a pile of soft sand just to get to your apartment building, a common situation in this part of the world.
While the all-new Honda Pilot isn’t a true offroader, Honda deliberately aims for the crowd that really require a minivan, but want to act like they safari regularly. It certainly hits the right notes, with ample cabin room, class-leading fuel economy and a badge that guarantees reliability. A couple of years ago, it was relatively pricey compared to its competitors, but now that the competitors have also jacked up their prices, the Pilot actually appears to be a decent value proposition.
Current Model Introduced in:
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