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2014 Honda Pilot Test Drive Review
A 2014 Honda Pilot has lots of room for people, lots of room for cargo and lots of room to stash all your stuff. If you can’t find a place to put passengers or things in a Pilot, you’re not trying hard enough.
You buy a 2014 Honda Pilot because you need one, not because you want one. Form follows function with this midsize crossover SUV, a family-size vehicle designed to carry as many people and as much stuff as is possible while still fitting within owners’ budgets and garages. It might not be pretty or the most technologically sophisticated conveyance, but you’ll love it anyway.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
No doubt you’ve heard the design adage regarding form over function, which describes compromise in how a product works in order to make it more beautiful and appealing to the eye. That’s not the 2014 Honda Pilot. This SUV is all about function, wrapped up in a boxy body that looks like a 20-year-old Isuzu Trooper. That’s just fine, though, because the Trooper was appropriately rugged looking in its day, and so is the Pilot. The difference is that a Trooper could go almost anywhere at any time, whereas the Pilot is best kept on pavement or well-established trails.
The least appealing aspect of the Pilot’s design is how the grille and headlights wrap up into the hood, giving the SUV a perpetually perplexed appearance, like a grade-schooler wearing thick Coke-bottle glasses. Had Honda resisted the urge to wrap those elements up into the hood, the Pilot would wear a meaner look more appropriate for an SUV.
A Honda Pilot also lacks in terms of luxury, unless you define luxury as having lots of room for people, lots of room for cargo and lots of room to stash all your stuff. If you can’t find a place to put people or things in a Pilot, you’re not trying hard enough. Though the cabin isn’t fancy, Honda does use quality materials rendered in pleasing finishes, giving the Pilot’s interior a sense that this crossover SUV will take plenty of abuse over a long period of time.
My test vehicle was the loaded 2014 Pilot Touring with 4-wheel drive, wearing a window sticker of $42,250, including a destination charge of $830. The only way to spend more on a Honda Pilot is to add dealer-installed accessories, of which there is no shortage.
The least expensive 2014 Pilot is the LX with front-wheel drive, at $30,500. Add 4WD for an extra $1,600, and you’ll also get a heavy-duty automatic transmission fluid cooler. Next up is the Pilot EX ($32,750), equipped with 18-inch aluminum wheels, a 10-way power driver’s seat, remote keyless entry and a security system. With 4WD, heated body-color side mirrors are a part of the deal.
Not surprisingly, the Pilot EX-L ($36,000) is a popular choice for its standard leather seats, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power sunroof and power tailgate with separate liftglass. Options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 115-volt power outlet ($1,600) or a navigation system with an upgraded multi-angle camera and a 15GB music hard drive with Song by Voice technology ($2,000). Unfortunately, Honda does not allow buyers to select both of these options.
If you want navigation and a rear-seat entertainment system, buying the Pilot Touring ($40,650) is a requirement. This model also comes with a premium audio system, memory for the driver’s seat and a unique 18-inch machined-finish wheel design.
Out of 10
Honda installs a 3.5-liter V6 engine into every version of the Pilot, one generating 250 hp at 5,700 rpm and 253 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology shuts down half the engine’s cylinders under certain driving conditions to help conserve fuel, and a 5-speed automatic transmission drives the Pilot’s front wheels.
As an option, buyers can choose a 4WD system with Variable Torque Management (VTM). Under normal driving conditions, the system automatically sends engine power to the rear wheels as is necessary. At low speeds, the driver can engage a Lock mode that splits power evenly between the front and rear wheels in order to maximize traction. A Pilot provides nearly 8 inches of ground clearance, but that’s still less than a Subaru Outback, Forester or XV Crosstrek, which is why it’s best not to tackle serious off-road trails in this Honda.
My Pilot Touring 4WD carried EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg city/24 highway/20 combined. I averaged 18.9 mpg during a week of family schlepping in the suburbs, duty for which the Pilot is well suited. If you want to get better fuel economy, skip the 4WD system, and the EPA ratings rise by 1 mile per gallon in each environment.
Though it weighs between 4,300 and 4,600 pounds, depending on trim level and drivetrain, the Pilot never feels as though it lacks power. The V6 likes to rev, and thanks to what some might consider an archaic automatic with only 5 forward gears, the Pilot is quick to respond when the driver mashes down on the gas. Neither slow nor speedy, the Pilot’s acceleration and power prove just right, and when cruising or coasting the V6 operates on just 3 cylinders to help conserve fuel.
Around town and on the highway, the Pilot’s suspension provides a connected, sure-footed feel combined with a comfortable ride quality. The steering wheel feels good in the driver’s hands and responds well to direction, proving accurate whether navigating a crowded mall parking lot or a twisty mountain road. Despite its size, this is a nimble SUV, easy to park and to drive in traffic.
It must be noted, however, that a Pilot is not designed to tackle curves at much faster than the posted speed limit. It sits tall with a high center of gravity on relatively modest 18-inch wheels with P235/60R18 all-season tires, and they like to squeal when provoked, effectively keeping the driver in check.
Form and Function
Out of 10
The Pilot’s interior might look about as exciting as a Tupperware party at first, appearing and feeling far more functional than it does anything else, especially in the drab gray color found inside my test model. However, the Pilot’s cabin is also anything but cheap. Wherever you look and touch, the materials exude quality, infer durability and exhibit close attention to detail, both in terms of their finish and how they are assembled. Use the Pilot on a day-to-day basis, and you’ll find that the SUV’s inner beauty resides in the details.
Technically, the Pilot seats 8 people. Seven occupants will be happier, especially since the second-row seat is wide enough to accommodate 3 full-size adults. The second-row seat also slides on tracks to help add space for occupants seated in the third-row seat, which is surprisingly accommodating and offers large windows for an excellent view out. If the Pilot could be optioned with second-row captain’s chairs, people in the rearmost row of seats would be even happier.
While the Pilot is among the roomier models in its class, the front seats remain the best ones in the house. My Pilot Touring test vehicle’s 10-way power driver’s seat offered excellent comfort and support, and while the 4-way power front passenger’s seat did not adjust for height, neither did it need to.
In addition to comfortable seating for everyone, the Pilot impresses with regard to its ability to swallow cargo as well as the detritus of everyday life. Pretty much everywhere you look, the cabin provides plenty of storage space. From the rubber-lined tray embedded into the dashboard and the giant bin under tamboured cover in the center console to the triple-tiered trays in the front and rear door panels, there’s a spot to stash just about anything. Got wet stuff? No problem, thanks to the plastic-lined bin under the rear cargo floor.
As far as how the cargo space is configured, both the second- and third-row seats offer a 60/40-split design. Behind the third-row seat are 18 cubic feet of space. Fold that seat down, and the Pilot offers 47.7 cubic feet behind the second-row seat. A maximum of 87 cubes is available behind the front seats.
If the Pilot gets top marks for its ability to carry passengers and their belongings, there is room for improvement when it comes to the SUV’s control layout. There are lots of buttons and knobs inside a Honda Pilot. That’s great—preferable, actually—but they’re squeezed into a narrow vertical strip on the dashboard’s wide center section, serving as Exhibit A in any boardroom presentation extolling the virtues of touchscreen technology as a way to simplify controls. I don’t think a touchscreen is the answer. The Pilot’s buttons and knobs just need to be larger, more spread out and equipped with bigger markings.
The greater ergonomic sin, however, is the placement of the transmission selector on the center control panel to the left of the stereo and climate controls. When the Pilot is in Drive, the selector sits right in the natural arc of hand travel as the driver reaches to fiddle with the stereo or climate controls, and on several occasions I’ve accidentally knocked the Pilot into Neutral while cruising down the highway. More than any other vehicle I can think of, the Pilot represents a great case study in favor of rotary or push-button transmission controls.
Out of 10
Comparatively speaking, the 2014 Honda Pilot’s technology offerings are simplistic compared to other midsize crossover SUVs. Now, I happen to like this about the Pilot, but I realize that people who want features such as a telematics system with 911 Assist service, programmable safety and convenience features, push-button start, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, lane-departure warning and a blind-spot information system will find the Honda woefully inadequate.
Here’s what the Pilot does offer as standard equipment: Bluetooth, a USB port, a triple-zone climate control system with a humidity sensor and a basic reversing camera with poor resolution. Choose the Pilot EX-L for a power tailgate and to obtain either an optional navigation system with an upgraded reversing camera and hard-drive music storage or an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Pilot Touring adds both these features, plus a 115-volt power outlet, video input jacks and a premium sound system.
While Honda covers the basics with the Pilot, it still lacks modern safety and infotainment technologies, an increasingly unacceptable situation for a family-style SUV.
Out of 10
The 2014 Pilot might lack safety technology, but it proves itself to be a safe vehicle in crash tests. To assist in dispersing crash energy away from the passenger compartment, the Pilot employs Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure design, which is developed to deflect crash energy over, under and to the sides of the interior.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Pilot receives an overall rating of 4 stars, and the SUV doesn’t receive a rating lower than 4 stars in any individual assessment. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) called the Pilot a Top Safety Pick last year, reflecting top ratings in all assessments except for the tough new small-overlap frontal-impact test. As this review is written, the Pilot has not been subjected to that new small-overlap test.
Out of 10
Perhaps because it is unavailable with many modern safety, convenience and infotainment technologies, the Honda Pilot isn’t particularly pricey, which makes it an affordable proposition for families who can live without bells and whistles. Not only is the sticker price reasonable, Honda also offers excellent lease specials for the Pilot on a regular basis. Additionally, as this article is written, buyers can finance one for 72 months at 1.9 percent APR.
Once you’ve got a Pilot parked in your driveway, you’ll take comfort in the fact that Intellichoice gives this SUV an Excellent rating for overall cost of ownership. In my experience, the Pilot didn’t hit its EPA-rated 20 mpg in combined driving, but 18.9 mpg for a vehicle of this size isn’t bad. Plus, reliability is expected to be better than average, based on data from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.
If you decide to buy rather than lease, fuel is likely to be one of the biggest expenses associated with Pilot ownership. Well, that and depreciation, which is rated a middling 3 stars by ALG.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.