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2006 Honda Pilot Test Drive Review

The 2006 Honda Pilot is the perfect family vehicle for people who can’t stand a minivan.

7.8 /10
Overall Score

The Honda Pilot has long been the family sport utility for people who can’t stand minivans. It gets lightly updated for the 2006 model year, with a refreshed exterior style that takes it a few steps further away from its smaller CR-V cousin. The Pilot is also offered with a front-wheel drive for the first time this model year, which lowers the cost of entry to the SUV.

The Pilot is targeted at new-car buyers that want a practical, dependable, and powerful SUV with the comforts of a true family vehicle. It competes with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner and Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Nissan Pathfinder. Honda offers the Pilot in three trim levels for the 2006 model year: LX, EX, and EX-L. All are available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, which Honda calls "advanced four-wheel-drive."

The Pilot is powered by a single engine for 2006—a 3.5-liter V6. It sends power to the wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine is equipped with a cylinder deactivation system that can disengage up to three cylinders to save fuel when not accelerating or pulling a heavy load.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

Though it has a more muscular look for 2006, the Pilot’s styling is still tame and welcoming. The new front fascia is more chiseled and sharper than in years past and has a more grown-up look than the previous Pilot, which drew heavily from the CR-V’s stylebook. Also differentiating the Pilot from other models like the CR-V and Odyssey, Honda gave the Pilot flared wheel arches and large badges all around, which further serve to build the Pilot's image as a brawnier family vehicle.

Inside, the Pilot can seat up to eight people in its plain-but-roomy cabin. The interior is laid out intuitively, especially up front, where the controls and displays are set up to be extremely visible and easy to use. Honda has opted for a large central dial to control most functions in the center stack, and for the most part, it works well. The rest of the Pilot’s interior is set up to be kid- and family-friendly to the max. Second-row storage is superb, with cubbies and pockets in all the right places, while a rear entertainment system provides enough distraction to get everyone to their destinations with patience to spare. The Honda Pilot EX-L trim level adds Honda's excellent leather seats to the mix for an upscale feel.


8/ 10

Minivans, despised creatures that they are, can actually be among the easiest and most comfortable vehicles to drive. People who love them cite this as a major selling point, and it’s one reason why some shy away from SUVs. The Honda Pilot is one of the few non-minivan family vehicles that manages to be as comfortable as a van without actually looking or functioning like a van. It’s a pleasure to use as a daily driver, with on-road performance that is refined, smooth, and effortless.

Honda’s 3.5-liter engine provides strong, smooth, acceleration, and makes a healthy sound while doing it. Its 244 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque pair well with the five-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox shifts smoothly and doesn’t hunt for gears. A Grade Logic Control system monitors throttle position and speed to make transmission shifting decisions. The result is a five-speed transmission that feels refined and decisive.

Despite its healthy ground clearance, the Pilot remains planted and confident on curvy roads and broken pavement. This is an improvement over last year's model, but only slightly. On a long test drive, the Pilot feels much closer to the Honda Odyssey than it does to the Ridgeline pickup, which means a comfy ride in nearly all situations.

Form and Function

9/ 10

The Honda Pilot is advertised as a go-anywhere, do-anything, family hauler, and for the most part, it succeeds. Cargo capacity is at the top of its class. With the second and third rows folded down, the Pilot can carry up to 90.3 cubic feet of gear. That’s better than the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Nissan Murano.

The Honda’s seating configuration is flexible and capable of carrying people, gear, or a mix of both, with ease. The front seats are wide, well-padded, and deep enough to be supportive on long trips. Second-row seats can slide, which gives passengers the ability to create more legroom in either the second or third row. Entry to third-row seats is aided by the ability to quickly move the second row with the flip of a lever.

Tech Level

7/ 10

The Pilot’s main entertainment functions are held back for the upper-tier EX trim. Standard tech includes an AM/FM stereo, power outlets, power windows, power door locks, a CD player, four speakers, air conditioning, and cruise control. The EX trim comes with SiriusXM satellite radio, automatic climate controls, a seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer, and 155 watts of output. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available, as is a navigation system.


8/ 10

Crash test results were positive for the 2006 Honda Pilot. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated it "good" in all three crashworthiness tests. In tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Pilot received five stars in front and side crash tests and four stars for rollover resistance.

Standard safety features include an electronic brake-force distribution system, four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), rear-door child safety locks, an engine immobilizer, side airbags for all three rows, dual front side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, emergency braking assistance, a passenger sensing airbag deactivation system, a tire pressure monitoring system, ventilated disc brakes, and airbags in all three rows.


7/ 10

Honda’s simplified trim structure makes it easy to find a model that has the exact features desired, but it also means that many features and options are only able to be equipped with the top trim. Even so, the Pilot’s pricing model is reasonable. The base LX model with front-wheel drive starts at $26,995 before destination, taxes, and options. The range-topping EX-L trim with navigation lands at $35,245, which is in line with the competition.

The single powertrain option makes understanding fuel economy much easier as well. The front-drive Pilot returns gas mileage of 16/22/18 mpg city/hwy/combined and the all-wheel-drive Pilot is rated at 15/20/17 mpg. That’s competitive in the class, but a smaller engine or a hybrid option would save fuel and bump the Pilot’s value proposition.

Updated by Chris Teague

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