Well-rounded crossover with some shortcomings. The Honda Pilot has long been one of the top-selling three-row crossover SUVs for good reasons. It is roomy, can tow a respectable amount, has plenty of available features, and boasts a smooth powertrain.
Recently, though, the competition has caught up and, in some areas, surpassed the 2021 Honda Pilot. This gives buyers reasons to pause and consider the Chevrolet Traverse, Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, and Subaru Ascent.
We dive deep into the Pilot below to see if it still offers enough to fend off its fast-rising competition.
Legit eight-seater that lacks style. There are plenty of three-row vehicles touting their eight-person capacity, but at least two of those eight people are often twisted up like pretzels in the third row. The Honda Pilot is one of the few with plenty of space in all three rows, including 31.9 inches of leg room and 57.6 inches of shoulder room in the third row.
The Explorer offers just 54.5 inches of third-row shoulder room. The Palisade has 31.4 inches of third-row leg room and 55.2 inches of third-row shoulder room, while the Ascent offers 31.7 and 57.2 inches, respectively.
While roomy, the Pilot’s cabin won’t win any design awards. This cabin wears black and grey with honor while focusing on simplicity and outward visibility over style and panache. Buyers looking for more interior style will find it in the Palisade and Kia Telluride, which feature cleaner dashes, more contrasting colors, and higher-grade materials.
Great tech but avoid the base LX. The Pilot boasts an available 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with a slick, easy-to-use interface. It also has available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto starting from the second-tier EX trim. Plus, there’s available in-car wi-fi and other advanced in-cabin tech bits.
Sadly, these high-tech features are all limited to the EX and higher trims. The base Pilot LX is a tech letdown with a standard 5-inch non-touchscreen audio system and no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The competition puts much more focus on its base tech. The Traverse includes a standard 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Explorer and Palisade come standard with 8-inch touchscreens and smartphone integration. Finally, the Ascent has a smallish 6.5-inch standard touchscreen, but it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in all trims.
On the safety side of tech, the Pilot leaves buyers satisfied with its standard automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
The Traverse comes up short in safety, offering standard automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist only on the LT and higher trims. The Explorer offers standard automatic emergency braking, but adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist are optional. The Ascent and Palisade match the Pilot’s standard safety gear.
Potent powertrain with a few hitches. The Honda Pilot boasts a standard V6 engine with a potent 280 horsepower that offers a smooth powerband. The Explorer trumps it in power with a 300-hp base 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, but the high-strung four-cylinder isn’t as smooth as the Pilot’s V6. The Pilot also outright beats the 260-hp, 2.4-liter turbo four-cylinder in the Ascent.
The Traverse and its 310-hp V6 and the Palisade with its 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine manage to beat the Pilot in power and match its smooth acceleration.
The biggest sore spot in the Pilot’s powertrain is its nine-speed automatic transmission. While it does a good job enhancing fuel economy, it can be indecisive as it hunts for the right gear at low speeds and when passing at highway speeds.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Honda Pilot is a great do-it-all three-row crossover with plenty of tech in its higher trims and comfort in all three rows. Plus, its old-school V6 powertrain is refreshing amid the growing popularity of turbo four-cylinder engines.
Buyers seeking more power can look to some of the turbocharged options, like the Explorer. Those who want more power and a smooth V6 will find this in the Traverse.
The Pilot’s simple interior may not appeal to some buyers. Those seeking more interior class and style will find this in the Palisade and Telluride.
Finally, those looking for value in a base trim level will want to skip the Pilot, as its LX trim lacks Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a touchscreen. All the Pilot’s key competitors have standard touchscreens and smartphone integration.
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