- Impressive fuel economy
- Pleasant ride
- Roomy third-row seat
- Clever interior storage features
- Sluggish acceleration
- Some cheap interior plastics
- Feels cumbersome to drive
Sometimes meaningful change can be achieved with just one or two thoughtful adjustments, and so it is with the 2012 Honda Pilot. For years, the Pilot was at best a mediocre alternative in a segment led by outstanding picks, but this year, the crossover gets tweaks that address its most nagging flaws. As a result, Honda's boxy hauler gains some ground, climbing the compact-SUV hierarchy to become a more appealing choice.
The Pilot's biggest shortcoming concerned unacceptably long braking distances; in this respect, its performance trailed that of rival models by a significant margin. Happily, this worrisome fault has been addressed; the 2012 Honda Pilot's braking distance shows improvement of almost 30 feet, bringing the crossover in line with segment averages. Fuel economy also gets a boost, with the 2012 model upping mileage by 1 mpg city/2 mpg highway and 2 mpg combined thanks to various efficiency tweaks made to the engine and body aerodynamics. These gains are enough to make this Honda one of the most fuel-efficient models you can choose if you're looking for a V6 midsize crossover.
These upgrades help bring the Pilot's core strengths into sharper focus. Though it may not be reflected in the dimensions you'd see on a spec sheet, this crossover's boxy shape affords it more usable space than most rivals for both passengers and cargo, with a third row that's spacious enough to seat adults. It also has agreeable ride quality in its favor.
Despite the Pilot's flurry of refinements, weaknesses remain. Its acceleration is sluggish, it can feel cumbersome to drive and some interior materials are cheaper than those found in rivals. The Dodge Durango and Mazda CX-9 all brim with more vigor off the line and are generally better to drive. Of course, these vehicles can't beat the Pilot in terms of interior spaciousness, but if that's a priority, we'd suggest considering the similarly sized Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex. Overall, though, the Honda Pilot is finally a worthy contender, well-rounded enough to shine as an attractive proposition in this closely fought segment.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
The 2012 Honda Pilot receives a host of changes this year. Honda has freshened up the exterior with restyled headlights and a new look for the front fascia and grille. Also on the docket this year are improved noise insulation, upgraded interior materials, a revised instrument panel, a new center stack layout, an upgraded navigation system and additional standard features. All Honda Pilots see fuel efficiency gains of 1 mpg city/2 mpg highway and 2 mpg combined, thanks to aerodynamic and powertrain improvements.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Honda Pilot is a midsize crossover SUV offered in four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring.
The LX comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, rear privacy glass, a trailer hitch, automatic headlights, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, front and rear air-conditioning, 60/40-split second- and third-row seats and a seven-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack and CD/MP3 player.
The EX adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, painted body molding (versus black plastic), heated exterior mirrors (on AWD models), an eight-way power driver seat (with two-way power lumbar), tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls and 2GB of digital music storage.
The EX-L upgrades include a sunroof, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, a rearview camera, a multi-informational display for audio and vehicle information, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an iPod/USB audio interface and satellite radio. Two optional features are offered on the EX-L: a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a voice-activated navigation system bundled with voice controls, a multi-angle rearview camera and a 15GB music server.
Both the EX-L's optional features are included on the high-end Touring model, which further adds roof rails, parking sensors, driver memory functions and a 10-speaker premium sound system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
Revisions for 2012 give the current Honda Pilot a center stack that's less button-heavy than that of its predecessor. The buttons and knobs are also more logically clustered, which makes this Pilot's controls more user-friendly than those seen in last year's model. Unfortunately, there are more cheap-feeling plastics in the cabin than you'd find in the comparatively more upscale environments of its competitors.
You won't feel short-changed by the Pilot's third-row seats. In a segment where third rows are meant for child-size passengers only, the Honda Pilot is one of the few that can accommodate adults in relative comfort. Unfortunately the seat cushions for the second and third rows are too low, forcing longer-legged passengers into more of a squatting, knees-up position. The larger Chevy Traverse and Ford Flex are much more comfortable in this regard.
With the second and third row seats stowed, the 2012 Honda Pilot can hold up to 87 cubic feet of cargo. It's a respectable figure, and the Pilot's boxy shape works to its advantage, allowing it to accept bulkier items with ease. For smaller items, there are plenty of thoughtful storage bins and pockets throughout the cabin.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the 2012 Pilot came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet. This is average for the class but substantially better than the poor distances we registered in past Pilots.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pilot earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side crash protection. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests saw the Pilot earning the top "Good" rating for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashes. In the Institute's roof-strength test, however, the Pilot earned a second-lowest score of "Marginal."
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2012 Honda Pilot is motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 that generates 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only available transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all Pilot models are available with an all-wheel-drive system that automatically apportions power to the rear wheels -- up to 70 percent -- when front slippage occurs. This system also has a driver-selectable "lock" feature that routes maximum torque to the rear wheels at speeds below 19 mph.
In Edmunds performance testing, we clocked a Pilot Touring from a standstill to 60 mph in a slow 9.1 seconds. Fuel economy is quite good, though. The Pilot's EPA estimates of 18 mpg city/25 highway and 21 mpg combined (17/24/20 for AWD models) place it near the top of its segment.
When it comes to performance, the 2012 Honda Pilot is hindered by a lack of power and a hefty curb weight. Off-the-line acceleration is lethargic, and we found that hilly terrain can flummox the five-speed automatic transmission -- especially when cruise control is engaged. Around corners and in tight spaces, the Pilot feels rather cumbersome due to its slow steering and boxy dimensions. However, on choppy city pavement its soft suspension tuning pays dividends, as it readily soaks up ruts and bumps. In total, the Pilot is pleasant enough to drive, but it lacks the sharpness one might expect from a Honda.
Though the 2012 Honda Pilot boasts strong fuel economy and roomy accommodations, it's outpaced by more well-rounded choices.