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2006 Honda Pilot Test Drive Review

Picture of 2006 Honda Pilot EX AWD Perfectly sized and equipped for a typical American family, the 2006 Honda Pilot feels improved in several ways while retaining what’s made it popular since it first went on sale a few years ago.

8.7 /10
Overall Score

After dipping its toes into the SUV pool with the Isuzu Rodeo-based Passport, Honda took what it learned from that experiment and applied it to the Honda Pilot, which debuted for the 2003 model year.

An instant hit, the Honda Pilot immediately soared in terms of sales. But Honda is never content, so the company has made several changes to the 2006 Pilot in order to ensure its continued success.

For starters, there is a new front-wheel-drive (FWD) version offering better gas mileage, and side curtain airbags are standard, protecting occupants in all three rows of seats. The optional navigation system boasts improvements, and Honda freshens the Pilot’s styling this year.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

Honda continues to offer the Pilot in LX, EX, and EX-L trim. Each gets styling updates that produce a bolder, more rugged look, but the wheels still look too small in comparison to the Pilot’s boxy design and oversized styling elements. Note that if you want dark tinted rear privacy glass and aluminum alloy wheels, you’ll need EX or EX-L trim.

Offering equal parts style and function, the Pilot’s interior is a model of tasteful detailing, proper ergonomic layout, quality materials, and practical storage solutions. Especially in EX-L trim with leather seats, the cabin has an upscale look even if the materials don’t always feel that way. Still, the hard plastic within the cabin boasts low gloss finishes and consistent texture for a cohesive appearance.


9/ 10

Every 2006 Pilot has a 244-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. The power rating is lower for 2006 due to the new Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) measurement changes. It uses a 5-speed automatic transmission to power the front or all four wheels, and with all-wheel drive (AWD) and the right equipment, it can tow up to 4,500 pounds.

New for 2006, a less expensive and more efficient version of the Pilot arrives. It has FWD and Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology, which allows the SUV to operate on fewer engine cylinders when cruising on the highway or descending a grade. In turn, this burns less gas and provides better mileage. With FWD, the Pilot averages 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. With AWD, the ratings are 15 mpg and 20 mpg, respectively.

When equipped with AWD, the Pilot employs Honda’s Variable Torque Management 4-Wheel-Drive (VTM-4) system, which variably distributes power depending on your driving style and surface conditions. With AWD, the Pilot supplies 8 inches of ground clearance and has a locking rear differential so the driver can lock the power split for low-speed travel in deep snow, mud, or other tricky situations.

The Honda Pilot is good to drive, thanks to its car-like 4-wheel-independent suspension. This is a heavy vehicle, though, regularly providing the V6 engine with a challenge. Nevertheless, refinement permeates every part of the driving experience, from how the accelerator and brake pedals respond to how the SUV rides and handles.

Form and Function

9/ 10

With seating for up to eight people, storage nooks and crannies seemingly everywhere, and as much as 87.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity, the Honda Pilot is perfectly sized and outfitted for family duty.

The front- and second-row seats are mighty comfortable, and with EX-L trim, they’re wrapped in leather. Standard equipment with LX trim includes air conditioning with rear vents, power everything, cruise control, and a remote keyless entry system. Upgrade to EX trim for alloy wheels, fog lights, a power driver’s seat, and automatic climate control front and rear. The EX-L adds leather, heated front seats, a power sunroof, and satellite radio.

Best used for kids, especially if you’re thinking of cramming three people into it, the third-row seat is on the small side. Behind it, the Pilot offers a fairly meager 15.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Fold the seat down to enjoy a sizable 47.6 cubic feet of volume. The maximum figure with the second-row seats dropped is 87.6 cubic feet.

Tech Level

9/ 10

A CD player is standard for the 2006 Pilot, and the popular EX trim adds a 6-disc CD changer, an MP3 player, a premium sound system, and believe it or not, a cassette player. Satellite radio is standard with EX-L trim, but unlike in some of the latest models from Honda’s luxury Acura brand, Bluetooth cell phone pairing remains unavailable.

Pilot EX-L buyers can choose between a navigation system with voice recognition technology or a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-inch display screen. Unfortunately, these upgrades are not compatible with one another, so you must pick between one or the other.


9/ 10

Honda doesn’t skimp on airbags when it comes to the 2006 Honda Pilot. Dual front, front-side, and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats are standard, along with a rollover sensor. Additionally, antilock brakes are included on every 2006 Pilot, but stability control is unavailable.

The Pilot’s underlying vehicle architecture is ready to protect you in a collision. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Pilot gets the top rating of Good in every assessment, including the moderate-overlap frontal-impact, side-impact, and head restraints and seat evaluations.

Tested conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are similarly impressive. The 2006 Pilot gets 5-star ratings in every individual crash test, plus a 4-star rating for rollover resistance.


8/ 10

A 2006 Honda Pilot is not cheap, with prices ranging from just over $27,500 for the base LX with FWD to nearly $36,000 for a Pilot EX-L with AWD and the navigation system.

With that said, this combination of size, capability, safety, and reliability in a family-sized SUV that drives more like a car than a truck is still fairly rare. Plus, if past Hondas are any indication, the Pilot should hold its value exceptionally well, too.


Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. 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.

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