Behind the Wheel Honda Pilot a winner

Sunday January 6, 2013

Associated Press

The Honda Pilot remains the most fuel-efficient eight-passenger sport utility vehicle for 2013, is rated above average in predicted reliability and offers a comfortable ride and versatile cargo hauling.

Built in an Alabama factory, the Pilot also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports and was named the Ideal Vehicle in the mid-size premium crossover SUV segment this year by automotive research company Auto-Pacific of Tustin, Calif.

Despite the accolades, Honda keeps adding new standard equipment while keeping the Pilot price on par with competitors that also have three rows of seats.

For 2013, a rearview camera, which helps drivers better know what’s behind the vehicle, is standard on all Pilots. And drivers have a good-sized, 8-inch, standard display screen in the Pilot dashboard.

Meantime, the 2013 Pilot gets other new standard equipment including three-zone automatic climate control and Bluetooth hands-free phone calling for Pilot occupants who have Bluetooth-enabled phones.

Best of all, the 2013 Pilot has a starting retail price of $30,350 for a front-wheel drive model with 250-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission. The lowest starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2013 Pilot with four-wheel drive is $31,950.

Competing SUVs include the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $29,495 for a two-wheel drive model with 260-horsepower V-6 and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A four-wheel drive 2013 Pathfinder starts at $31,095. A rearview camera is not standard on the two lowest trim levels of Pathfinder.

Meantime, the 2013 Ford Explorer has a starting retail price of $29,995 for a front-wheel drive model with 290-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and no rearview camera. The four-wheel drive 2013 Explorer starts at $31,995.

The Pilot has only one engine -- a 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that rations gasoline automatically when a computer module detects that a driver doesn’t need all six cylinders powering the vehicle.

Indeed, when a driver lets up on the accelerator to coast, for example, the engine can move to three- or four-cylinder mode, and the Pilot moves along just fine, with no one inside detecting that all six cylinders aren’t working. Just as seamlessly, when the driver presses down on the accelerator again, all six cylinders can get working again.

The technology, which Honda calls variable cylinder management, is one of the ways Honda maximizes fuel mileage.

As a result, the 2013 Pilot scored a top federal government fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

This is for a front-wheel drive Pilot that operates with a five-speed automatic transmission that smoothly shifts gears.

In the test Pilot, neither the engine nor transmission conveyed strained or annoying sounds. In fact, most transmission shifts were imperceptible and the Pilot interior was quite quiet, save for when the V-6 responded strongly and confidently in pedal-to-the-metal driving.

Power came on smoothly and steadily in city travel and at highway speeds, with the Pilot powering along on flat terrain and moving with purpose up mountainous roads.

Best of all, the Pilot needs only regular gasoline.

The Pilot’s 18/25-mpg rating is matched by the 2013 Flex, but the Flex only offers seats for up to seven. The same maximum seating is true of the newly revised, 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which comes with a CVT and posts a 20/26-mpg rating from the government.

Still, the test Pilot, which had all-wheel drive, averaged just 17.5 mpg in travel that was 70 percent in the city.

The Pilot looks neither brutish nor plain. It’s cleanly styled outside, and the interior is well-organized so anyone can get inside, setting up a bit on the seats for good views out, and just drive.

A thoughtful touch: A commodious, covered center console storage that’s big enough for many purses and that’s positioned just below the center stack of the dashboard.

At 16 feet in length and 6.5 feet wide, the Pilot is nicely sized in between the competition. It’s nearly 10.5 inches shorter in length than the Flex but is a tad wider than the Pathfinder.

The Pilot doesn’t feel like an extremely long vehicle when it’s driven. The turning circle is an accommodating 37.9 feet.

Second-row passengers in the Pilot have a generous 38.5 inches of legroom, while the 32.1 inches for third-row riders can be expanded if second-row seats are moved forward a bit on their tracks.

Second- and third-row seats folded down easily in the tester, providing a maximum 87 cubic feet of cargo room, which is more cargo volume than the Pathfinder has.

All but the biggest road bumps were kept away from passengers in the tester.

Passengers could notice some weight shifting from one side of the vehicle to the other on curvy roads.

The Pilot has a maximum towing capacity of 4,500 pounds and earned four out of five stars in government crash tests.

Consumer Reports puts the Pilot’s predicted reliability at above average.


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