Like it or not, minivans have been getting a bad rap among car buyers for years. Which is where three-row crossover SUVs like the Honda Pilot come in. With a strong V6 under the hood, respectable handling and a versatile, comfort-oriented interior with seating for up to eight passengers, the midsize Pilot offers much of the people- and cargo-hauling practicality that comes with parking a minivan in your garage, without the incalculable "Gee, I hope no one sees me driving this" shame that seems to afflict some minivan owners.
While the Honda Pilot has spawned a long line of imitators over the past 14 years, its third-generation still offers many strengths. That said, it is not without its faults, which include a quirky nine-speed automatic transmission on the top Touring and Elite trim levels and overly sensitive advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning and intervention that come as part of the optional Honda Sensing system. An infotainment system with less than user-friendly controls is also a minor annoyance.
Just the same, we've been impressed enough with this latest Honda Pilot's overall comfort, handling and refinement to recommend it to anyone shopping for a three-row crossover.
Current Honda Pilot
The current Honda Pilot is offered in five trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and top-of-the-line Elite. Seating for eight is standard on the LX, EX, EX-L and Touring, while the Elite model gets a pair of second-row captain's chairs that drop capacity to seven passengers.
All Pilots come with the same 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 under the hood; a six-speed automatic transmission is standard on LX, EX and EX-L models, while Touring and Elite versions get a nine-speed automatic. A choice of front- or all-wheel drive is offered on all models except the Elite which is all-wheel-drive only.
Even the entry-level LX comes well equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a three-person second-row seat and a 60/40-split folding third-row seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a 5-inch center-mounted display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a seven-speaker sound system, an auxiliary audio input jack and a USB port.
The EX adds a long list of desirable extras including automatic headlights, foglights, LED running lights, heated mirrors, remote engine start, tri-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, a larger 8-inch central touchscreen, dynamic guidelines for the rearview camera, Honda's LaneWatch blind-spot camera, smartphone integration including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an upgraded seven-speaker sound system with satellite radio, Pandora internet radio and two extra USB ports. The EX-L starts with much the same content then adds leather upholstery, a sunroof, a power tailgate, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Both are available with navigation or a rear-seat DVD video entertainment system (but not both). The Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, and a lane departure warning and intervention system, is offered as an option on both top-level trims.
Stepping up to the Touring models gets you all the above plus 20-inch alloy wheels, a nine-speed automatic transmission, automatic engine stop-start, front and rear parking sensors, roof rails, driver-seat memory settings, ambient interior lighting, noise-reducing acoustic glass and a 10-speaker sound system.
The top-drawer Elite trim level adds LED headlights with automatic high-beam control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a panoramic sunroof, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain's chairs, a heated steering wheel and HD radio.
No matter which Honda Pilot trim level you choose, you'll get a moderately sized crossover with strong acceleration, confident handling and an exemplary ride quality. All-wheel-drive models even offer mild off-road capabilities and a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds (front-wheel-drive versions are rated to tow 3,500 pounds).
Inside there's seating for eight (the seven-passenger Elite model being the exception) in three rows, with relatively easy entry and exit. Overall room and comfort earn high marks, though it should be noted that — like many of its competitors — the Pilot's third-row seats are not particularly adult-friendly.
All of these positive traits make the current Honda Pilot a fine way to get around, whether you're headed across town or across the country. Still we'd like to see Honda's engineers tweak the nine-speed automatic transmission for smoother operation and make its advanced safety features — which tend toward harsh intervention — a little less intrusive in everyday driving. Our other main criticism is reserved for the infotainment system that uses touch-sensitive switches instead of traditional knobs, a design choice that can prove aggravating, especially when the vehicle is in motion.
Ultimately, though, we find the current Honda Pilot's combination of above-average ride and handling, interior room, and long list of desirable standard features and options to be compelling enough that we think it compares favorably with any seven- or eight-passenger crossover on the market.
Used Honda Pilot Models
The current third-generation Honda Pilot was introduced for the 2016 model year. In addition to a new top-of-the-line Elite trim level with seven-passenger seating, Honda engineers and designers gave this new model a nicely updated and noticeably more refined interior with better-quality materials and improved visibility. There's also more space inside, including additional head- and legroom in the third row, though access to the way-back seat is still on the tight side. There are also more storage spaces to hold the necessities of modern life. The new 8-inch touchscreen adds to the dash's classy look and includes all the latest must-have features (except traditional knobs), but its function lags that of similar units in competing models. A more powerful V6 and a significant weight reduction all contribute to making this latest Pilot ride like a luxury car and drive like a somewhat smaller vehicle than its dimensions might suggest.
The second-generation (2009-'15) Honda Pilot debuted for the 2009 model year and represented a huge change from the vehicle it replaced. There was more usable interior space and Honda's latest selection of features and interior controls, but in terms of character it was more trucklike. This generation spent its first three years essentially unchanged, though it should be noted that we find the '09-'11 Pilots hard to recommend because of their disappointing braking performance, so-so fuel economy and confusing layout of dashboard controls. With that in mind, we suggest buyers looking at this second-generation Pilot concentrate on the 2012 through 2015 models.
The first-generation (2003-'08) Pilot was introduced for the 2003 model year, making this Honda one of the first midsize crossover SUVs available with a third-row seat. A 240-hp 3.5-liter V6, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, was the only available power source. From 2003-'05, all Pilots sold had all-wheel drive; a front-wheel-drive version was offered starting in 2006..
Honda originally offered the Pilot in three trim levels: LX, EX and EX-L. The Pilot LX came with a respectable collection of convenience features, while the EX added upgrades including a power driver seat and automatic climate control. The EX-L had leather seating and could be ordered with an optional navigation system or a rear-seat entertainment system. Alas, the nav and entertainment systems couldn't be ordered together.
Changes for this generation Pilot were minor, though some important safety features became more readily available as the years went on. For 2005, the V6 was revised, and horsepower increased to 255. This was also the year that stability control became available, but only on the EX-L.
In 2006, some minor changes were made to the Honda Pilot's exterior design. The adoption of revised engine certification procedures also saw this model year's horsepower rating dropped to 244, but performance was unaffected. ABS and front-seat side airbags were always standard on Honda's midsize SUV, but 2006 models gained a three-row side curtain airbag system with a rollover sensor. Honda also made stability control standard on all Pilots for this model year. For the final model year, the LX trim was replaced by the Value Package, and a new SE trim debuted that slotted above the EX and added a sunroof and DVD player.
In reviews, we found the original Honda Pilot to offer good handling and a smooth ride for a midsize SUV. We also enjoyed its well-organized instrumentation and the quality of interior materials — both hallmarks of Honda. Although seating accommodated seven to eight passengers, we considered the third row uncomfortable for adults. Cargo capacity, on the other hand, was always sufficient to handle what most families required.
Read the most recent 2018 Honda Pilot review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Honda Pilot page.