What was that old Volvo ad tagline, "Boxy but good"? That's how I feel about the 2012 Honda Pilot Touring.
Personally, I like the chunky look, and I like driving these for the most part. I'm always struck by how smooth Honda engines are, and this is no exception. The V6 is sweet and smooth and the gearbox is silky--though only five speeds seem a little passé these days.
It rides and handles OK, and by that I mean it feels tight from a squeaks-and rattles-standpoint, though this is one SUV that I'd actually like to see get a slightly firmer suspension. This car feels a little mushy to me and a wee bit clumsy. In fact, except for the smooth V6, it's a bit un-Honda.
There's a ton of room inside and I generally like the design, though the center stack is ginormous, and I still think Honda puts too many buttons on there--witness our long-term Odyssey. Speaking of which, other than the Pilot's all-wheel drive, I don't really see an advantage over the Odyssey (except that in the marketplace, minivans are so unhip).
As for the $41,000 sticker, it seems high until I remember that the Nissan Murano that I drove the other day-which doesn't have a third row-is $3,000 more, the GMC Acadia Denali is $50,000-plus, and the Dodge Durango--which I really liked--is $6,000 more. So maybe this Pilot's as-tested price is not so bad after all.
Overall, I think the Ford Explorer and the Durango have surpassed the Honda now.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Currently in its second generation, the Pilot received a number of updates for the 2012 model year. On the outside, the SUV got a revised front fascia complete with a new three-bar grille, air dam and wheel designs. The interior sports new gauges, trim colors and a reconfigured center stack that Honda says is more intuitive. For a quieter ride, the body-seam sealing on the unibody connection points was upgraded and new rear-suspension subframe mounts were added, along with body-seam sealants, beefed-up sound-deadening materials and acoustic windshield.
From behind the wheel, all of those quieting measures appeared to work. The cabin is buttoned up well from road noise and wind noise to allow for a passenger over the weekend to drift off for a short nap during an expressway run. I would say the ride can be considered carlike, which is in stark contrast to its boxy, trucklike looks. At 80 mph, the Pilot is smooth.
Around corners, it doesn't fall over onto its side and feels surefooted for a 4,600-pound vehicle with a high center of gravity. But I do agree with Wes that the Pilot could benefit from slightly stiffer suspension tuning, while maintaining good ride quality. Steering is lightly weighted but responsive to help make the Pilot easy to maneuver around parking lots.
I've gone on record with my admiration for this 3.5-liter V6 numerous times, which also sees duty in the Odyssey and the Ridgeline. It's one of the slickest V6s out there, but the five-speed box is a bit of a disappointment when most competitors are rocking six-speed units. In mixed driving, I managed about 17 mpg to match the EPA city rating. On a tank driven almost entirely on the expressway with the cylinder deactivation and all, I saw 19.7 mpg. That's a far cry from the 24 mpg that the EPA gives the Pilot on the highway. I would guess an extra gear would help the Pilot squeak out an extra mpg or two.
To be fair, the Pilot, even with its five-speed gearbox, is still competitive with newer midsize-SUV offerings such as the Ford Explorer. When the Explorer is equipped with the 3.5-liter V6, six-speed automatic and AWD, the EPA rating for it in the city is 17 mpg and 23 mpg on the highway.
So the Pilot is a comfortable and flexible midsize SUV. The interior is built with nice materials, there are plenty of storage compartments in the massive center console and the seats are supportive and good over the long haul. And, even with the five-speed automatic, it returns competitive fuel-economy figures. I'm sure that Honda is working feverishly on that for the next -generation model, and improving fuel economy is probably at the top of the list of objectives. I guess we'll see when it gets here, which should be within the next couple of years. Until then, the current Pilot is a still more than a serviceable midsize-SUV soldier.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: The real question is, "How much are you willing to pay for your anti-mini vanity?" Secondary to that: "Do you really need all-wheel drive?"
The 2012 Honda Pilot Touring edition is a perfectly fine alternative to the Honda Odyssey Touring, offering many of the same features (navigation, rear-seat entertainment) and smart packaging (three rows of fold-flat seating for eight, shifter on the console), but you'll pay for your choice over the long haul.
Topping the list is fuel economy--we posted mpgs in the 17s to 19s with the Pilot, not quite the EPA-combined 20 mpg. Our long-term Odyssey averages 22 mpg consistently (smack on its EPA combined number)--a significantly better fuel number over the life of your stewardship. And if your driving includes lots of highway, consider the Pilot's 24 mpg highway versus Odyssey's 28 mpg. Three things--aerodynamics, AWD and what now seems like an antiquated five-speed automatic transmission--contribute to the Pilot's poorer showing.
In addition, though this Pilot is stable and quiet, the Odyssey is far more carlike in ride and handling. Finally, a minivan such as the Odyssey is so much more functional and flexible in use and passenger access, and it still includes ample ability to tow and haul loads.
All of that said, there's much to like about the Pilot as a reasonable option if you have to have a ute--good V6 power, good ride and bulletproof build quality. Other automakers have now caught up and passed Honda on these measures, however, offering more powerful and fuel-efficient V6s and turbo engines, six-speed automatics at minimum, along with all of the extras. Next time around, the Pilot needs a major makeover to jump back to the head of the class.