Honda Pilot — Family friendly crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Honda elected to retain its current mid-sized Pilot crossover for another model year, its seventh, which is somewhat perplexing in an industry that generally operates in five-year cycles — or less — in order to keep abreast with the ever-changing competition. It's even more baffling when you factor in Honda's decision years ago to endow the current-generation Pilot with boxy Jeep-like styling at a time when the crossover trend was skewing toward more rounded, sculpted lines.

But Honda has defied the odds and made the Pilot an exception to the rule with few styling changes and seemingly even fewer technology upgrades. Why?  Well maybe Honda in this case has realized that change for change sake is not always the best avenue for success.

Traditional SUV buyers, those who prefer their vehicle to look like a box, have found comfort behind the wheel of the unchanged Pilot. Not only does it meet their idea of design, but like most Honda fans they are looking for traditional Honda reliability and resale value. But here's the kicker — growing sales. Honda sold 51 percent more Pilots in 2013 than in 2009 when the current generation was introduced with total sales last year of 126,678, the best sales year in almost a decade.

With its boxy profile, the Pilot definitely puts function ahead of form. This mid-size crossover delivers full-size versatility with seating for eight; and transforming it into an 87 cubic-foot cargo hauler is a snap with flat-folding second- and third-row seats. A soft suspension soaks up bumps although causing some unpleasant body motions in corners.

The only engine available over the last seven years is an adequate 3.5-liter V-6 with front- or all-wheel drive. While the engine, which pumps out 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, is a good match for the 4,600-pound SUV, unbelievably Honda continues to offer it with a five-speed automatic. It may have the distinction of being the last five-speed left in the mid-sized crossover segment. The V-6 manages 0-to-60 runs in 8 seconds, performance that we found acceptable and should satisfy most people. Likewise, gas mileage is on a par with the segment average, rated at 18 mpg city and 25-highway in front-wheel drive and 17/24 with all-wheel. Towing capacity is rated at 4,500 pounds.

The Pilot was last bestowed with some changes and upgrades in 2012. Functional things like the audio volume and tuning knobs — in this age of sophistication, knobs are still the best design — and the traditional pre-set buttons for easily accessing favorite stations are pleasing. The radio information area in the navigation screen is easy to read and can be accessed, even while using navigation, simply by pressing an "audio" button. Climate controls are relatively straight forward, and the heated seat controls are clearly marked on the dashboard.

Honda also added several new features in 2013 such as Honda's HandsFreeLink Bluetooth connection for smartphones and music players and a USB connection. All are standard equipment, as is a rearview camera and an eight-inch touch screen.

The huge storage area between the seats is still one of the best designs in the business. We particularly like the cover that can be pulled over the storage bins and cupholders creating a large flat surface.

While the newest Pilot comes with the requisite safety features including full-length side curtain airbags, active head restraints, traction and stability control, rearview camera and antilock brakes, there are none of the so-called "advanced" technologies available such as blindspot warning, collision mitigation, lane keeping assist or adaptive cruise control.

The Pilot in five trim levels — LX, EX, SE, EX-L and Touring — starts at $30,700 for a front-drive LX and ranges up to an all-wheel-drive Touring with navigation and rear entertainment for $42,450. Perhaps the most popular trim will be the new-for-2015 mid-level SE, which adds 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, rear-seat entertainment and satellite radio for $33,950 in front-wheel drive configuration.

Our top-line all-wheel Touring test vehicle came with such good stuff as roof rails, front and rear parking sensors, second-row sunshades, an enhanced tire-pressure monitoring system and a premium 10-speaker sound system. Strangely, the Touring model is the only trim level where rear seat entertainment and navigation can be had together.

Road trips in the 2015 model reminded us just how effortless the relatively large sport utility drives. For those awaiting something all new, the third-generation Pilot is expected to arrive sometime in 2015 as a 2016 model based on the current award-winning Acura MDX platform. Look for it to have more rounded lines and feature a 3.5-liter V-6 with more than 300 horsepower. Meanwhile, the 2015 Pilot offers lots of features for traditional SUV buyers.

Base price: $30,700; as driven, $42,450
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 253 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 109.2 inches
Length: 191.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,608 pounds
Turning circle: 37.9 feet
Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 18 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 87 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 highway, 17 city
0-60: 8.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander

The Good
• Useful storage area
• Eight-passenger capability
• Comfortable ride

The Bad
• Dated styling

The Ugly
• Continues with a five-speed automatic