2011 Honda Pilot First Look

Boxy and Cavernous Crossover Falling Behind the Competition

2011 Honda Pilot EX L Front Three Quarters

When a minivan just doesn't fit your image, midsize crossover SUVs are ready to serve. Consumers searching for a dependable midsize crossover have numerous options from brands including Toyota, Mazda, Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet and more.

The 2011 Pilot is the vehicle to which families turn when they discover you can't get a Honda Odyssey minivan with all-wheel drive. Like the Odyssey, the Pilot can seat as many as eight people and only offers a V-6 engine. The Pilot has a five-speed automatic transmission and can be had in front- and all-wheel drive from about $29,000 in base LX form past $40,000 as a Touring model fully loaded.

The Pilot's 3.5-liter V-6 makes 250 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 253 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. All Pilot trims benefit from Honda's Variable Cylinder Management technology, which allows the engine to operate on three or four cylinders in certain conditions to save fuel. Efficiency is average on the 2011 Pilot for its class. All-wheel-drive models are rated 16/22 mpg city/highway while front-wheel-drive 2011 Pilots get 17/23 mpg. We'd be doing readers a disservice if we did not mention that the similarly priced Odyssey minivan -- with a more spacious interior -- is EPA-rated at 18/27 and 19/28 mpg, depending on transmission.

For the 2011 model year, Honda now makes available the navigation system on the EX-L model as well as the range-topping Touring model. Otherwise, 2011 is a carryover year for the Pilot, which could get a minor redesign for the 2012 model year.

Honda probably won't mess with the eight-passenger seating, an interior packaging feat that is above average for the midsize crossover class. Towing capacity on the 2011 Pilot with front-wheel drive is 3500 pounds and 4500 pounds on all-wheel-drive models. The turning radius is a respectable 38.6 feet and, even if you are carrying three seating rows worth of people, cargo capacity is still 18.0 cubic feet. That figure expands to 47.7 cubic feet when you fold down the second row seats and 87.0 cubic feet when the second and third row seats are folded flat.

When Motor Trend magazine recently put a 2011 Honda Pilot in a six-SUV comparison test, the editors also appreciated the center binnacle storage solution, adding to the space efficiency. The handling was acceptable for a vehicle this large and the engine refined. What helped relegate the Pilot to fifth place in that test was the poor ride quality. As one editor said, "At first, it feels light and lively, but you feel and hear every bump and divot in the road. Lots of negative feedback through the steering wheel."

Slow steering and far too much road noise kept the Honda from being picked as a favorite in the crossover group. Another odd choice by Honda is making Bluetooth technology available only on trims that cost over $36,000. We hope this is fixed for the 2012 model year.

What needs little fixing is the 2011 Pilot's safety performance. In tests done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pilot received a four-star overall rating (out of a possible five stars). Broken down, that translates to a four-star front crash and rollover score, and a five-star side crash score. At the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the current-generation Pilot qualified for a "good" rating in the front and side impact tests, but only "marginal" in the roof strength test. Other similar vehicles that got the IIHS' Top Safety Pick designation include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander.

Unlike any of those vehicles, however, the Pilot has unapologetically traditional boxy SUV styling. If you're already considering a Pilot instead of an Odyssey minivan, this might not be an insignificant point. Beyond exterior design, the Pilot is now a midpack performer in the midsize crossover class.

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