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Sat, Dec 20, 2014

AUTO CONNECT: Aging Honda Pilot still a good choice

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The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda
The 2014 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy of Honda

All new five years ago the Honda Pilot was one of the pioneers of the “crossover” movement that brought a stronger emphasis on softer and a more practical side of sport utility vehicles. Crossovers tend to be more comfortable and refined than the SUVs with an emphasis on their ability to handle adverse weather conditions more than the ability to climb mountains or traverse rocks.

In 2009, the Honda Pilot was a perfect example of those characteristics, and amazingly it still is, despite the fact that the 2014 Honda Pilot is still the same basic vehicle. There have been annual upgrades and tweaks but without the major revisions many brands would have experienced five years into a production cycle.

We recently spent a week driving the 2014 Honda Pilot and discovered that it’s still a contender in this very competitive category.

The Pilot is well equipped for highway driving riding on a stiff unibody platform and sophisticated independent suspension at both ends. It also has a nice tight 37.9-foot turning radius which makes it very agile in tight situations.

In standard trim, the Pilot is a front-wheel drive, but to make it a real all-weather vehicle it needs the available ($1,600) Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive (VTM-4).  This full-time system gives very good traction control in all weather conditions, plus works well off-road up to medium level conditions.  That mean no climbing over rocks and fallen trees, but it provides anything the average driver may need including the ability to ford water up to 19-inches deep.

Pilot even has hill start assist and a lock function on the four-wheel drive to deliver maximum traction at low speeds.

A 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine with five-speed automatic transmission powers the Pilot. The five-speed automatic works great, but a six-or eight-speed could make a significant improvement in performance and fuel economy.  The engine has Variable Cylinder Management, which switches between six-, four- and three-cylinder modes to maximize fuel economy with top-level performance.  The EPA rates the 4WD version, which we drove, at 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.  We averaged 20.6 mpg in a combination town and highway driving. The buff magazines list an 8.9 second 0 to 60 mph time.

The Honda Pilot drives very well, with good throttle response, accurate steering and strong brakes.  It tends to have a little body lean during harder cornering, but still feels controlled.  The passing power was good for a 4,600-pound vehicle with a V-6 engine. The Pilot has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds in its front wheel drive configuration and up to 4,500 pounds for the four-wheel drive model.

Passengers are very well treated with soft, yet supportive seats, a roomy interior and an abundance of storage areas in the cabin.  A good second row seat folding system provides good access to the third row for eight-passenger seating.  Cargo space is 18.0 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in place.  It expands to 47.7 cu. ft. when the third row is stowed and 87.0 cu. ft. with both rear rows folded.

Styling has never been a strong suite of the Pilot, and the competitors are showing more contemporary flare than the Pilot, but interior gets higher design marks with a bold dash and controls.  While most of the Honda sedans and coupes have a low unobtrusive dash, the Pilot is more in your face.  It is, however, well designed and organized.  Controls are large, easy to read and the shifter is conveniently mounted on the center stack, rather than the center console.  Our test vehicle was the top model -- the Touring edition with the tech package – which includes one of the better navigation systems in the business.  At one time we thought it was the best but changes the last couple of years have made it slightly less user friendly. The large screen is mounted in a shielded compartment just below the top of the dash for excellent visibility.

Honda is a leader in voice recognition commands and has a massive vocabulary used to control navigation and media functions. A more recent addition is the ability to order a particular song from your audio collection by name with the Song By Voice™ feature. The navigation system has a 60 GB hard drive which includes 15 GB for the owner’s music collection – meaning it can store hundreds of hours of music.

The 2014 Honda Pilot is available in four trim levels (LX, EX, EX-L and Touring) each in front- or four-wheel drive. Pricing ranges from $30,500, including the destination charge for the front drive LX up to $42,250 for the 4WD Touring model with navigation and the rear seat entertainment system. We like Honda pricing. You don’t have to add a bunch of costly options to get the vehicle properly equipped. You simply pick the trim level that best suits your needs and budget without playing the option games.

The top-of-the-line Touring model we drove included standard features like heated outside mirrors, heated seats, leather seating, power rear liftgate, 650-watt audio system, XM Satellite radio, Song by Voice®, all the communications connections and much more.

The 2014 Honda Pilot may not have all of the latest and greatest in design elements and features, but it’s a solid, proven SUV/crossover with all the safety equipment and most of the technologies we like to see. Sure, there will be an all new model coming in a year or two, but the 2014 Honda Pilot is high quality and an excellent value today.     

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auto, barbara, bill, connect, honda, pilot, schaffer
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