2013 Honda Pilot: A very competent SUV for the whole family

The 2013 Honda Pilot is the brand’s big rig SUV (although it’s considered a midsize) that can haul eight passengers in secure comfort in all kinds of weather. It’s available in six trim levels so it can be outfitted from functional to fancy.

The Pilot leans toward the sensible side of the SUV spectrum, which is great for most consumers. It excels at quality, spaciousness and excellent engineering rather than flash and bling.

The Pilot was freshened for 2012, so 2013 changes are limited to minor trim level upgrades.

Walkaround: The 2013 Honda Pilot has a traditional rectangular SUV look along the lines of the boxier Mercedes G-Class. It’s much more angular than either the Acura MDX or the Honda CR-V. That isn’t a bad thing, because many people like their SUVs to look like trucks rather than jacked-up sedans.

The box configuration provides tons of interior space. You can keep your cowboy hat on and still enjoy the sunroof. Adult headroom is great in all three seating rows.

Given the Pilot’s relatively big size a backup camera is standard. Our top-of-the-line Touring model came with front and rear parking sensors. The rear view mirrors tilt down to further aid backing. Visibility is excellent with the tall roof and big windows, so parking lot maneuverability wasn’t a problem.

Interior: We’ve come to expect a superior interior experience in all Hondas and Acuras and the Pilot was no exception. Seating construction, materials, adjustability, comfort, and legroom are all excellent. Our test Pilot was the Touring model, so the heated leather driver’s seat was ten-way power adjustable and the front passenger seat was four-way power adjustable.

Front legroom is stretch-out generous. Second row seating is more upright, but with plenty of knee room even with the front seats all the way back. There’s room for clunky snow boots underneath the front seats. The second row seats slide forward and back to adjust the third row legroom.

The second row’s flat floor makes the center position very livable. That position also puts you front and center for the excellent 9-inch flip-down DVD entertainment center and the rear HVAC. The entertainment screen and controls are overhead; the HVAC outlets and controls are in the back of the oversized front row console.

Adults can fit in the third row, but it’s tight on knees. Kids are perfect for the rear row. The third row is considered 3-person spacious, but it’s best for three kids or two adults. Seat padding is excellent; many third row SUVs skimp here. All three rows of seating have side curtain airbags.

Pilot’s boxy design is great for cargo. There is ample room behind the third row and when both rows are down the adjective jumps to cavernous. Both back rows split 60/40 for added versatility. The cargo floor is flat with a slight upward slope over the folded seats. There is an excellent plastic storage bin under the rear cargo floor. The power tailgate has a lift-up glass hatch for loading smaller items.

Miscellaneous interior storage is outstanding. Door bins are big and cup holder/bottle notches are plentiful. Even the third row has storage bins on both sides. The front center console is huge.

Under The Hood: A 3.5-liter V-6 engine is the sole powerplant, but with an output of 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque it provides power for a towing capacity up to 4,500 pounds. The Pilot’s curb weight is listed as 4,300 pounds. The only transmission is a 5-speed automatic, which is smooth and efficient. Pilots can be had in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive like our tester. For resale reasons and overall performance we highly recommend the AWD Pilot.

The engine is typically very smooth and quiet as is the norm for Honda motors. An added bonus is the Active Noise Cancellation System. The seamless Honda VTM-4 four-wheel-drive system has a locking differential feature that’s activated by a dashboard button. There is also Hill Start Assist, which isn’t as big a deal with an automatic transmission as with a manual, but it still inspires confidence in steep off-road situations. Ground clearance and approach/departure angles are impressive. The AWD Pilots can traverse 18-inches of water, which could be helpful during seasonal downpours.

The engine features cylinder deactivation for better fuel economy. Our mixed driving conditions put us right around 17 mpg, which is the EPA city estimate.

Behind The Wheel: The 2013 Honda Pilot is a pleasant, but not very exciting vehicle to drive. Functionality tops fun, which is expected in an SUV this size. The horsepower is on the low side of the midsize SUV class, but the engine’s refinement makes it seem quicker than mere numbers would suggest.

The freeway ride is smooth and comfortable. Brakes are good and the suspension is a fine compromise between mostly paved driving and occasional dirt road jaunts. The Pilot looks tall, but it never felt top-heavy or unstable.

Whines: The Pilot is a little thirsty, but it runs on regular grade gas.

Bottom Line: The 2013 Honda Pilot is a very solid vehicle and a solid value. The spacious, multi-purpose interior is its most visible attribute, but the underlying quality construction and engineering add the long-term value and customer satisfaction that defines Honda vehicles.

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