We recently tested the VW Atlas, and came away impressed with the 3-row SUV’s nice driving manners and European feel. A VW through and through to be sure. And now we have Honda’s competitor for your same hard-earned dollar the 3-row Pilot. So how does it stack up? Let’s take a look!
Dressed to Impress
Following the sensible design of such models as the CR-V and Passport, the Pilot was never one to knock you over. In fact, we loved the original Pilot, which was a big, square and blocky – so functional it was stylish in its own way.
Our tester is stylish in its own right. Being a Black Edition, you get some nice contrasting trim on the grille, window trim, door sash, and blacked out 20-inch alloys. You can really appreciate all the goodies thanks to our tester’s new-for-’21 Platinum White Pearl paint. A little menace that goes along way.
The Black Edition helps the Pilot’s conservative lines – it’s a handsome beast, and with the blacked out grille reaching across the top of the LED headlamps has a “don’t mess with me” vibe. Blacking out the lower side grilles helps sell the shape of the fascia as well.
The Pilot’s profile remains familiar and modern, the Black Edition’s 20-inch alloy adds a more rugged look. If the new Subaru Outback was designed to look like a hiking boot, we’d say the Pilot looks like a good skateboarding shoe – chunky, clean and ready to have fun!
The rear is instantly recognizable as a Honda, and the familiar wraparound taillights help accent the rear fender flares. On our Black Edition tester, you also get the benefit of hands-free tailgate opening. A nice touch. (Or is that non-touch).
The House of Honda
Inside is typical Honda – smart, thoughtful and easy to use. The instruments will be familiar to anyone who’s been in a Honda SUV or Ridgeline – Honda hasn’t gone full-digital yet – with clean analog gauges, a digital speedo, and a slender ribbon tachometer. New for 2021, all models now get paddle shifters, all the better to enjoy that silky V6.
Our tester’s large 8-inch info-tainment screen works great with Apple CarPlay, and the recent addition of an actual volume knob makes this a user-friendly experience. Those craving tech will like smartphone charging, 2nd row flip-down screen, and Honda’s Cabin Talk® in-vehicle public address system – perfect when the kids are plugged in with headphones on!
Depending on model, you can seat 7 or 8. Our top of the line tester had the 2nd row captain’s chairs, and with the Pilot’s one-touch walk-in feature getting into the third row is easy. That third row is spacious for kids, but tight for adults – pretty common for vehicles in this segment. Folding them down yields a flat cargo floor with loads of room. Fold the 2nd row, and it’s a cavernous cargo hold with room for just about anything you’d like to bring along.
The front row seats are comfy and provide excellent visibility, making it a snap to maneuver the big SUV around town and into parking spaces. No 360-degree screen like our recent Mazda CX-5, but we didn’t miss it here.
No matter which Pilot you go for, you get a pretty luxurious experience. The base LX model has goodies like dual-zone climate control, pushbutton ignition and privacy glass. Adding features is as easy as stepping up the trim ladder– the EX gives you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, EX-L adds leather, memory seats and a moonroof.
The new for ’21 Special Edition adds wireless phone charger and hands-free tailgate. The Touring kicks in Rear Entertainment System and 590-watt audio. The Elite gets you 2nd row captain’s chairs, heated and ventilated front seats, and the Black Edition like our tester gets special Black Edition leather, LED interior lights and more.
The Big Easy
Driving the Pilot shows Honda’s skill at making things simple and secure. Under the hood is the familiar 3.5-liter V6 that produces a silky 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft of torque. It’s paired with the smooth and efficient nine-speed automatic transmission – now standard on all models – and even gives you paddle shifters if you’re feeling sporty. Actually, if you engage Sport Mode on the transmission, it is notably quicker and more responsive to the throttle.
Our tester featured standard all-wheel-drive that enjoys torque vectoring to help it turn in to corners as well as deal with poor weather conditions. Okay, this is a big vehicle, so don’t expect that it’s going to take on mountain roads like a Subaru WR-X. But in the real day-to-day world, the steering is light and accurate, the ride is smooth and relaxed. It’s an excellent commuter and long distance cruiser. And you’ll eat up those distances without a lot of pit stops – we saw 25 mpg highway, which is really impressive.
Family vehicles need to be safe, and Honda makes sure you feel confident. All Pilot trims come standard with the Honda Sensing® suite of driver-assistive and safety technologies and feature standard forward collision warning and auto emergency braking, standard lane departure warning and lane keep assist, and standard adaptive cruise control. It even earned a 5-star crash test rating from NHTSA. Comforting, indeed.
A Pilot’s life for me?
Aye matey, there be value thar..…The entry-level Pilot LX starts at $32,550, and with seating for 8, that powerful V6, 18-inch alloy wheels, and more, it’s an excellent value in a big SUV. We’d probably pop for the EX at $35,230 to get added goods like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, one-touch second row seats and more.
Our Black Edition is the priciest version of the Pilot family, with everything you get on all the other models, including standard AWD, plus the unique Black Edition trim. Standing out in a crowd will set you back $49,920. Add in $395 for the Platinum White paint, and $1,120 for destination, and we rang the bell at $51,435.
Competition would include the VW Atlas at $52,735, the Kia Telluride SX at $48,355 and its sibling the Hyundai Palisade at $48,935. The VW gives the Euro experience, the Kia and Hyundai are value packed, bet you do feel you’re getting hit over the head with tech. The Pilot does everything they do, but has the friendly, easygoing Honda style.
The 2021 Honda Pilot brings the brand’s goodness to the 3-row SUV. Spacious, powerful, efficient, with proven quality and reliability. It’s at the top of the class – where it’s always been!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.