12 Best Family Cars: 2014 Honda Pilot
Older, but not obsolete
The Honda Pilot has been on the market in its current form since the 2009 model year, making it one of the oldest vehicles in our test. So imagine our surprise when Honda's venerable box-on-wheels out-classed all but one of the newer midsize SUVs we tested when it came to family friendliness.
We can't point to a single feature about the Pilot that puts it on our list, but rather it's the whole package that makes it a great family car. Like its smaller sibling, the Honda CR-V, the Honda Pilot is just extremely well thought out. For example, there's a net in the cargo area that acts as a shelf, virtually doubling the floor space behind the third row. The Pilot's boxy SUV shape may not be sexy, but its width and height make it one of only four vehicles in our test available with eight seats.
Of course, age is starting to catch up to the Pilot. It lacks a lot of the gadgets available on newer SUVs, such as blind-spot detection or collision warning. The interior isn't exactly stylish, despite its functionality, and the same is true for the exterior. It's a testament to the fundamental goodness of the Pilot that this midsize SUV lands on our list. Besides, these issues will likely be fixed soon, as an all-new, 3rd-generation Pilot is waiting in the wings.
Key Family Car Strength
Like many of its large vehicles, Honda puts the Pilot's shift lever on the dash. This makes the center console a massive storage compartment. Under a sliding cover is a storage bin with movable dividers, letting you customize how you want to organize your stuff. It's deep and wide, and supplemented by a big bin under the armrest.
Key Family Car Weakness
One way the Pilot's age is showing is in its lack of high-tech options. There's no active cruise, no collision warning, not even blind-spot sensors. While most of Honda's lineup is converting to touch screens on the dash, the Pilot is still awash in buttons. The transmission is an old-school 5-speed automatic, which hurts fuel economy. There's more, and we're guessing that most of these gripes will be addressed when the new Pilot debuts in a few months. But for now, they're hard to ignore.
The Pilot comes in four trim levels -- LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. The base LX model costs $30,500, and includes things like 3-zone climate control, Bluetooth and USB interfaces, and a color screen with a rearview camera. The Pilot EX costs $32,750, and paints the door handles and mirrors body color, adds 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat. Opt for the EX-L and you'll get leather seats (heated up front), a power moonroof, a power tailgate with glass that opens separately, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. With the EX-L you're also able to get the $1,600 rear-seat entertainment system, or the $2,000 navigation system. If you want both at the same time, you'll have to step up to the $40,650 Touring model, which includes both, plus a high-end audio system. Models with all-wheel drive -- a $1,600 option -- also get power-folding side mirrors with memory and integrated turn signals. The prices above include an $830 destination charge.
The good news is that the Honda Pilot is one of only a handful of vehicles that offers more than two LATCH positions for child boosters. The second row has two locations that can be used at once -- there's even room for an adult between the two seats -- and the third row has a LATCH location as well. The cushions in all three spots were stiff though, making it hard to clip in the lower anchors. The front-passenger seat also needs to slide far forward to make room for an infant seat behind it. Additionally, the Pilot doesn't have a way to access the third row with two child seats mounted in the second row, and its high stance means it's difficult for very small children to climb in without assistance. However, unencumbered by a booster, the second row's tilt-and-slide mechanism makes 3rd-row access a snap.
That third row has good headroom, and decent enough legroom that adults can be comfortable for short stretches. Three people can fit, but they should be kids if the trip's longer than a quick lunchtime jaunt. The second row is much better -- the seats adjust for fore-aft travel and seatback angle, and there's enough headroom and legroom for longer journeys. The ceiling-mounted DVD screen is easy to see, and the multiple headphone jacks make it easy for more people to listen in, too.
Cargo and Storage
One of the Pilot's strengths is its cargo management. There's decent space behind the third row, and it's augmented by a handy net system, which essentially acts like a shelf to expand the "floor" space there without knocking down the seatbacks. There's also underfloor storage. If you do need to make space for bigger items, the 3rd-row seatbacks fold and unfold easily. The 2nd-row seatbacks fold just as quickly, although the resulting load floor slopes toward the rear hatch, so be sure to open the hatch glass separately to unload the Pilot on a hill.
There's a ton of space for small-item storage inside. In addition to the big center bin noted above, there are shelves, pockets, and compartments galore. Even in the rear, it's surprisingly good: The outboard 3rd-row passengers get two cupholders each, and a bin on each side as well.
On the Road
The 2014 Honda Pilot isn't quick, but power is adequate, and it's comfortable on the highway. The driving dynamics -- ride quality, steering and braking -- are also top notch. The high stance makes for a good view, and the big outside mirrors almost obviate the need for blind-spot detectors. The Honda Pilot's squared-off shape generates a considerable amount of wind noise out on the road, and there's a surprising amount of road and engine noise that accompany it. The Pilot wasn't the noisiest car we drove, but it certainly stood out. Good sight lines and the backup camera make parking the Pilot easy as well.
It's getting hard to hide the wrinkles on this older vehicle, but still a solid family hauler.
More 2014 Honda Pilot
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