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Est. 2004

Honda Pilot, 2012: Best buy midsize SUV/minivan

The mid-size Honda Pilot hits all the sweet spots when it comes to three-row family minivans—plenty of space, good power, decent handling, comfort and even optional all-wheel drive.

The Pilot is generally called an SUV, but lines between vehicle categories are blurring. Car and Driver magazine says the Pilot has "minivan-based underpinnings" and thus it is essentially a minivan with an SUV-style body. It could be called an SUV/minivan. Or just a minivan.
 
The 2012 Pilot has sleeker front styling, a redesigned instrument panel, upgraded audio systems and more sound-deadening. Never mind the boxy old-school general styling—it allows plenty of room for passengers with the third-row seat in its normal position.

Honda claims the four-door hatchback Pilot seats eight, but six is a more reasonable number, at least for adults. The second-row split seat, which has a center armrest with cupholders, slides fore and aft. But climbing in and out of the third-row seat to add to that number is awkward. And leg room is tight for adults behind the second-row seats.

The high floor causes a high step-in, although occupants have a good view of surroundings once settled. 

Cargo room is modest with all seats in place, but the fold-flat second-and third-row seats significantly enlarge it.

There are four trim levels (LX, EX, EX-L and Touring). List prices start at $28,470 for the base front-wheel-drive LX and go to $40,820 for the top-dog Touring model. The LX costs $30,070 with all-wheel drive, an extra $1,600 for all trim levels. That drive system allows decent off-road capability, although the Pilot is no Land Rover.

This Honda has a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V-6 that provides good 65-80 mph passing and Variable Cylinder Management that lets it shut down certain cylinders to maximize fuel economy. But towing capacity isn’t very good.

Honda Pilot, 2012: Best buy midsize SUV/minivan 3

Fuel economy is an estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on highways with front-drive and 17 and 24 with all-wheel drive. A 21-gallon fuel tank provides a respectable highway driving range.

Economy probably would be a little better if the Pilot had a six-speed automatic transmission instead of a five-speed unit, which seems dated. But the easily reached short shifter juts from the center of the dashboard so it doesn’t take up room. 
 
I tested the full-boat $40,820 Pilot all-wheel-drive Touring. Its wealth of items include a DVD rear entertainment system, navigation system, Bluetooth connection, seat and mirror memory, backup camera and sensors and a power tailgate, which is handy when your arms are full of groceries. The hatch has a strap and indented interior slot to help close it you don’t want to wait for the automatic tailgate operation.

Still the base model has plenty of stuff, including a premium sound system, air conditioning, keyless entry and power windows and mirrors. The EX adds a power driver seat, multizone automatic air conditioning and steering wheel audio controls.

The EX-L adds a sunroof, power front passenger seat, heated leather-covered front seats and the power tailgate.

Safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist and strategically placed air bags.

I couldn’t tell when the smooth V-6’s cylinders were cutting out or in during highway cruising. Acceleration was strong off the line and during 65-80 mph passing. The transmission works effectively, and the ride is comfortable, if a bit soft. After all, this is no sports sedan, but a vehicle designed for family passenger comfort.

The variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering is nicely geared, although a little heavy. Handling is pretty good, assisted by the Pilot’s standard stability and traction control systems, along with front and rear stabilizer bars—not to mention my test vehicle’s all-wheel-drive system. However, you can feel this is a heavy, rather softly sprung 4,300 to 4,600-pound vehicle during quick maneuvers.

The brake pedal has a nice linear action, and stopping distances during normal driving are good. The foot-operated emergency brake, though, seems old-fashioned.

The interior has easily read gauges, but the audio and climate controls are small to medium in size, and there are many similar-looking dashboard buttons. Front seats provide good support.

The front console has two conveniently placed cupholders with a large sliding cover, and the other two seating rows also have cupholders. Rear windows lower all the way so kids don’t spill drinks handed to them by workers at fast-food drive-through lanes.

Large rearview mirrors and my test Pilot’s backup camera helped a lot when maneuvering in tight spaces, but the turning circle for this rather long minivan is just average.

The outside hood-opener latch is easy to find, which isn’t the case with many vehicles. But the hood is held open with a prop rod, instead of more convenient hydraulic struts.

The solid, nicely built Pilot should be on every minivan shopper’s list.

Pros: Ungraded front styling. Roomy. Good punch. Nice ride. Decent Handling. Available all-wheel drive. Acceptable highway fuel economy.

Cons: Fairly high step-up. Hard-to-enter third-row seating. Only a automatic.

Bottom Line: A "best-buy" among minivans.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for moe than 40 years. To read more of new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.
 

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