THE 2012 HONDA PILOT EX-L REVIEW
Full Review by Andy: Crossing Over
The Honda Pilot EX-L is often ranked in the middle of the pack in its segment. Sometimes, the Pilot EX-L may get lost in the huge list of new crossover SUVs on the market in recent years. But while top competitors may outperform the vehicle in certain areas, the Pilot EX-L is not to be overlooked, especially for drivers who desire durability in a well-equipped eight passenger SUV.
In the world of midsize crossovers, eight is a big deal. While there are many seven-passenger SUVs, including the Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander and Toyota 4Runner, there are few eight-passenger options besides gas hogs and relics like the Chevrolet Suburban. Experts often give the short end of the stick to the Pilot, citing Toyota’s extra powertrains and GM’s superior space and comfort.
At first glance, it may seem that the Pilot EX-L is suitable only for saps and misguided Honda loyalists. Fortunately, the Pilot is hiding a trick up its sleeve. It is called the outdoors.
Contrary to popular myths perpetrated by trim-and-tucked urbanites of America’s smog-swilling cities, the outdoors is a wonderful place. A casual jaunt to the local woodlands affords endless hours of fun and discovery. A week-long adventure through Arizona’s twisted sandstone ravines, the enchanted forests of Idaho, or the labyrinth of the Louisiana bayou is sure to change lives. The outdoors is America’s last great treasure, and the Pilot is just the vehicle for an eight-person family to get there.
Simply put, the Honda Pilot is the only eight-passenger crossover SUV capable of trundling over river bedrock, through glacial silt and shale or savannah grasses. The Pilot, though built with a monocoque frame, has integrated perimeter frame rails. This bolsters its structural stamina and allows it to tow up to 4,500 pounds with all-wheel drive. Of course, the trucky Pilot EX-L, complete with power liftgate and trail hitch, looks as conservative as Ron Paul.
Those three things set Honda’s largest crossover apart from its competition: a boxy stance, a rugged body and powertrain, and a competent off-road all-wheel drive system.
Equipped with Honda’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter SOHC V6, the Pilot has 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of twist. Power is routed through a burly if antiquated five-speed automatic transmission. With only five cogs spinning, one might expect poor fuel economy figures, but the wizards at Honda figured out how to coax up to 25 mpg out of the powerplant, thanks to variable cylinder management and i-VTEC, Honda nicknames for cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. Twenty-five mpg is exceptional fuel economy for an eight-passenger vehicle, better than body-on-frame large SUVs and most comparable crossovers.
(See annual fuel costs with the Honda Pilot EX-L).
Urbanites, pejoratively known as city slickers or tenderfoots, are not likely to understand the following paragraph. Yet heartland dwellers and hillbillies appreciate the importance of a capable all-wheel drive system, and the all-wheel drive system available on the Pilot EX-L is wonderful for casual off-roading with eight inches of ground clearance.
The Pilot’s optional four-wheel drivetrain is comprised of Variable Torque Management 4WD, Grade Logic Control, and Hill Start Assist, which is standard across the lineup. The vehicle operates in front-wheel drive by default and switches to four-wheel drive on detection of slippage, such as in gravel or during acceleration. A rear locking differential can be manually activated at speeds up to 18 mph. Grade Logic Control implements engine braking on steep inclines and holds lower gears when the Pilot is driving up hills. In a Car & Driver comparison test, a 2009 Pilot EX-L 4WD forded 19 inches of water. Comparatively, dipping a Chevy Traverse in 19 inches of water is like throwing a house cat into a jet jacuzzi.
The remainder of the Pilot EX-L is also commendable. In a segment where pizzazz often valued more than practicality, the Pilot goes against the grain with myriads of storage nooks, respectable safety ratings, and an adult-friendly third row. Interior materials are mediocre as is cabin ambiance and drive quality. A Pilot and a Mack truck would close the quarter-mile in a dead heat, regardless of hyperbole.
The EX-L trim atones for its blue-collar roots with a gamut of high-end features. The interior, however chintzy, is still swathed in leather and comes with a sunroof. A giant center multi-informational screen displays audio and vehicle information and a rearview camera. An upgraded stereo accommodates iPod and USB input and satellite radio.The Pilot EX-L also comes with many amenities not exclusive to its trim level.
3.5-liter V6, 250 horsepower @5,700 rpm/253 lb-ft of torque @4,800 rpm
18/25 mpg (FWD)
17/24 mpg (AWD)
-Base MSRP: $34,720
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