I recently spent a week in the 2014 Honda Pilot. This 8-seater three-row Alabama-built SUV has been around since 2009 in its current form, although it got treated to a mild facelift and some interior changes in 2012. Despite the mild updates, I wondered whether it remains competitive with the current crop of vicious competition. I spent part of the week commuting to and from work, and threw in a little road trip of over 600 highway kilometres.
Pricing: 2014 Honda Pilot
Base price (Touring trim): $48,810
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $50,746
This generation of Pilot became much more muscular and truck-ish and I appreciate the boxier exterior. Lines are simple and basic. There are no swoopy tricks, no fancy-shmancy things going on. It looks rugged enough and refined enough – at the same time.
I found the Pilot to be surprisingly large when I stood next to it. It looks good in white diamond pearl as my review sample was, and the Touring edition gets handsome 18-inch wheels with 235/60-sized tires.
Honda did a good job with the overall package, and the Pilot’s bolder beveled lines still look good. The styling comes across as honest, and it suits the vehicle and its purpose.
The cabin is large but not as spacious as I expected, but the headroom is fine (I’m 5’10”). Once I made my way over the high door sill lip, I was a bit taken aback by the interior. The materials feel dated as does the styling and honestly, it’s not a very exciting place to be. The entire dash is crafted out of hard plastics with cheaper-feeling textures. You’ll find a bit of soft plastic and padding on small parts of the door panels but this falls far behind the current competition. Thankfully, the fit and finish remains excellent.
I found the heated leather seats very comfortable and supportive, including on longer road trips. They are power-adjustable, and the driver’s side gets a two-position memory. The steering wheel is comfortable and nicely sculpted with buttons for the cruise control, driver information screen, media and phone. Honda has an interesting take on the Pilot’s gauges – they are clear plastic pieces with dark markings floating over a white background. I thought it worked well and was easy to read.
OK, so let’s just get this out of the way. The centre stack is a mess. Frankly, it’s a nightmare. I’m not sure how Honda looked at the 47 separate buttons, knobs and switches and decided, yes, this is ergonomically sound in terms of driving and keeping their eyes on the road – let’s move ahead with this. It is virtually impossible to do anything without taking your eyes on the road, and then you’re trying to focus on this dizzying array of switchgear and buttonry. There’s a screen set into a hooded bin at the top, which you control with Honda’s rotary joystick knob and some hard buttons at the very bottom of the stack. It handles your audio, phone, navigation and some fuel efficiency read-outs. The user interface is decent once you get used to it. The sound system, comprised of 650 watts of amplification and 10 speakers, sounds fine but isn’t anything special. Below the screen (and making up the bulk of the mess) are controls for media and the tri-zone automatic climate control. There’s also a 12V plug under a flip-up lid and the gear selector on the left side.
Overhead is a standard size tilt/slide sunroof. Driver assistance tech is limited to front and rear distance sensors with audible and visual warnings as well as a backup camera, all of which make parking easier.
The Pilot’s second row has three seats. The heated outboard seats are particularly comfortable and even the middle seat accommodates an adult, which is nice (and unusual) – thanks to its generous width and a flat floor. Head room and leg room is excellent, and the second row seats recline as well as slide fore and aft.
Passengers back here get a panel for the rear automatic climate control zone, some air vents, a 12V plug and three headphone plugs with volume controls – a nod to the old school. The side windows have sunshades, and the middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with cupholders.
Moving back, you’ll find a third row that, unusually, also has three seats. The third row is not really usable for adults, unless the second row is pushed forward to the extent that it’s no longer useful. However it is great for kids – two of mine sat back there on the road trip and loved it. They get cupholders and air vents for their trouble.
There are a total of four sets of LATCH anchors for child seats, which is more than the competition offers. Overhead is a 9-inch rear entertainment screen serving both rear seating areas – which irritatingly blocks your rear view when it’s down. It is controlled with a pop-down remote on the roof. This is another old-school touch, and you’d be way better off getting each kid an iPad, but in this case, it’s included in Honda’s Touring packaging.
The Pilot does an outstanding job at offering in-cabin storage. For starters, you get a cubbyhole in the centre stack, a decent glove compartment and a divided open shelf in front of the passenger – perfect for throwing a phone and personal effects into. But the kicker is the entire centre console, which is covered by a scrolling lid. You can open the lid to various stops, exposing more and more of the wonderful storage options below. Slide the cover back to the first step and you get a deep drop-in bin. Slide it further forward and you’ll adds dual cupholders. Open it all the way, and you’ll also find a large drop-in bin at front of console. There’s also a very large armrest – under the lid is a little carpeted bin with a 12V plug, 115V household plug (yes!) and the USB and auxiliary connectors.
Of course, there’s plenty more space to be found behind the powered trunk lid. The Pilot gets a flip-up tailgate glass for getting smaller items into and out of the trunk more quickly- something we loved on our road trip.
Both second and third rows split 60/40. The trunk is large – bigger than the new Highlander’s – and you’ll find a very usable 589 litres behind the third row. If you fold it down, there’s 1351 litres of cargo space, and heck, if you need it, fold down the second row too – there’s a 2464 litre cavern waiting for you to move in. The trunk has a 12V plug, an additional storage bin in the side and a significant amount of underfloor storage.
Under the Hood
You won’t find anything exciting going on under the hood. Honda’s venerable 3.5-litre V6, putting out 250 horsepower at 5700 RPM and 253 lb.ft of torque at 4800 RPM, provides the Pilot’s motivation.
A tall, chubby (2091 kg/4610 lb) all-wheel drive SUV isn’t going to post impressive fuel economy numbers, especially when paired to a dated 5-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 12.3 L/100 km (19 US mpg) in the city, and 8.2 L/100 km (29 US mpg) on the highway. We averaged 9.6 L/100 km (25 US mpg) on highway which impressed me, and 14.9 L/100 km (16 US mpg) in the city, which was pretty sobering.
Kudos to Honda for putting an SUV-sized 79.5 litres fuel tank in the Pilot.
The driving experience in the Pilot was mostly positive. Its ride is firm in the city (firmer than I expected), and although it doesn’t get uncomfortable, you’ll definitely feel it over harsher road irregularities. Thankfully, that ride smooths out wonderfully on the open road, and we found it to be supremely comfortable on the highway. Handling is what you might expect in a tall 3-row SUV – it feels pretty squishy, obviously turn-in is reluctant and there’s plenty of body roll around corners, but it always felt safe and predictable.
The powertrain feels torquey off the line and around the city, but it’s not particularly fast when you really step on it. Part of that is the vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio, and I’m guessing an extra gear ratio or two would help matters too. The 5-speed transmission is relatively smooth but surprised me by hanging on to gears longer than I’d like in some instances. The extra ratio(s) offered by more current transmissions would make a difference on the highway too, as the Pilot cruises at higher-than-necessary RPMs.
The vehicle is pretty quiet in terms of engine, road and wind noise, including at highway speeds. I found it was very susceptible to sidewind gusts. Visibility is pretty good – shoulder checking and rear views are somewhat restricted by the large rear pillars and, when they’re in use, the third row head rests.
If you’re looking for off-road chops, the Pilot does try although you’re not going to go scrambling over boulders with it. It gets a Variable Torque Management all-wheel drive system with a manually locking rear differential – you can engage it when vehicle is in first, second, or reverse gears and it will stay engaged up to 30 km/h. The Pilot also gets what Honda calls a Grade Logic System which holds the engine in a lower gear when on steep inclines for better hill-climbing torque and increased engine braking when going down steep inclines.
The all-wheel drive system automatically drives all wheels when accelerating and when it feels slippage after that. I wanted the all-wheel drive to be invisible but I felt a slightly granular, grinding feeling in the drivetrain at slower speeds, especially when parking. Oh, and if you need to tow, there’s a built-in hitch receiver and wiring and you can lug up to 2045 kg (4500 lb) around.
In the end, the Pilot presents a bit of a dilemma. There are a number of ways from which you can really see some wrinkles and grey hair on the Pilot. The shape isn’t fresh anymore, though it still looks good. The interior’s styling, materials and horrifying ergonomics are way behind the curve. And the drivetrain has fallen behind what is in any competitor’s SUV in terms of modern engines, transmissions and overall efficiency. Yet, when you get it on the road, the Pilot doesn’t have to make excuses for its performance. It’s highly drivable, competent in the city and on the open road, and does what the competitors do.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) averaged somewhere in the middle. She enjoyed the Pilot as a road-trip vehicle, where it’s hard not to love the overall comfort level and roominess. But around town, she said it felt heavy, clumsy and very big – too big for what she’s after in terms of an everyday vehicle.
Shoppers in this category have a few new SUVs to pick from, and the Pilot is definitely the most mature of the bunch. And at this price level, the offerings are pretty deluxe. Yes, the Pilot is ready for its refresh, to be certain, but should you decide it’s the right vehicle for you in its current form, you’ll still get a reliable, able and willing SUV.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Wheaton Honda.
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