Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2018
Pilot fends off challengers to retain the title
The Honda Pilot has been the yardstick for the midsize SUV class since this third-generation's introduction a couple years ago. Combining style, substance, features and a class-leading reputation for durability and reliability, the Pilot has proven tough to beat. And despite strong new challengers, the 2018 Honda Pilot retains its title for the third year in a row as our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2018.
However, we should point out that it wasn't a cakewalk for Honda. A surprising challenge by the new Volkswagen Atlas showed that despite the Pilot's inherent qualities, strong competition means Honda can't sit still. The Atlas impressed us with its cavernous interior space, excellent third-row access, sharp driving dynamics and masculine appearance. If seven passengers is enough for your lifestyle, and you value ease of cargo loading and ultimate cargo space, the Atlas is worth your time.
However, when we got to the numbers game, resale value and 5-Year Cost to Own data skews in Honda's favor, giving the Pilot the win.
Features and Utility
The 2018 Honda Pilot nails the essentials. There's ample seating for up to 8 (7 in Elite models), good cargo space behind the third row that includes a cool hidden compartment below the floor, easy maneuverability, and enough storage bins, nooks and holders to accommodate just about any flotsam and jetsam you'll accumulate.
But stuff like that is just the jumping off point in this segment. What helps the Pilot stand out is its additional features, and the low price point where they're available. The $1,000 Honda Sensing option package on the $34,000 Honda Pilot EX adds active cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and automatic braking, and road departure warning. This adds to features like 8-passenger comfort, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, three-zone automatic climate control and much more. Aside from the somewhat inexplicable lack of a volume knob for the audio system, at no point will a Pilot driver ever feel short-changed.
Neither will passengers. The second row of seats offers ample leg and headroom for even tall passengers, with enough adjustability that anybody should be able to get comfortable, including the center position. On EX-L, Touring and Elite models, the second-row seats slide forward with the touch of a button, allowing easy access to a third row large enough to accommodate adults. To keep everyone entertained in back, there's an available rear-seat entertainment system with its own 115-volt power supply, plus RCA and HDMI inputs for game systems and the like. There are also multiple USB ports to keep devices charged, and reclining seats in all positions for when your passengers just want to nap.
Behind the third row, Honda offers more cargo space than many of its competitors, and augments it with a clever underfloor storage system that not only lets you hide valuables from prying eyes, but acts as a catch-all for items that might slide out onto your sloping driveway. Need more space? One tug of the strap on the rear seatbacks stows the headrests and folds the seat down, and the second row folds quickly as well for the ultimate in cargo space.
The 2018 Honda Pilot exhibits the kind of driving response you'd want in a 5,000-pound, all-wheel-drive, 8-passenger family hauler. It's comfortable, refined and civilized, offering the best all-around balance you can find.
The suspension, for example, offers up a comfortable and satisfying ride around town. Yet the Pilot never feels too soft or bouncy, with enough control to keep the body in check. Likewise, the brakes have no issue stopping this SUV time and again. Maneuvering around town is made simpler with technology like Honda's LaneWatch side-view camera (or blind-spot monitoring in the Elite model), backup cameras and parking sensors. But the Pilot also benefits from plain ol' good visibility, meaning this big SUV drives small and is easy to maneuver into and out of tight parking spots. With the additions of lane keeping assist, active cruise control and other electronic safety and drivability enhancements, this Honda is ready for a cross-country road trip.
Under the hood, the Pilot comes with only one engine: an excellent 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower. It's more than enough to put the "haul" in family hauler, with power and torque left over to tow up to 5,000 pounds in all-wheel-drive models (3,500 pounds in front-wheel-drive Pilots). Opt for AWD and you get an Intelligent Traction Management system in EX and higher trim levels, with specialized traction-enhancing settings for snow, sand, and mud, along with dry pavement. Honda Pilot LX, EX, and EX-L models all come with a 6-speed automatic, which some of us prefer to the newer 9-speed automatic that's on Touring and Elite models. Through it all, the Pilot offers fuel economy that's notably superior to many of its competitors, a definite "win-win" for Pilot buyers.
What seals the deal for the Honda Pilot is its long-term cost of ownership and resale value, powerful arguments that play heavily in the Honda's favor. Over the years, the Pilot has retained an edge over its competitors with its excellent reputation for long-term durability and reliability. This helps make it one of the most sought-after vehicles in its class in the used car market.
This gives Honda Pilot buyers a two-way benefit. First, there's the lower likelihood of problems down the line, the kind of peace of mind onto which it's hard to put a price tag. Second, those high resale values mean lower overall ownership costs. If you spend $35,000 on a 2018 Honda Pilot, in the long run it will cost you measurably less than if you'd spent the same money on many of its competitors.
If you're looking for a midsize SUV that's virtually free of compromises, you can't do better than the 2018 Honda Pilot.
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