Back in the day, the Honda Pilot was the quintessential mom-mobile — and one of the few SUVs with three rows of seats that wasn’t a Suburban. When my own brood outgrew our Subaru Outback about a decade ago, the Pilot was the first car that came to mind.
Faced with some stiff competition, the 2014 Honda Pilot hasn’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the fleet, but Honda will redesign it soon.
The 2014 Pilot hasn’t changed since last year’s model. You can check out the two side by side here. The Pilot comes in both front- and four-wheel-drive versions of LX, EX, EX-L and Touring trim levels. See four-wheel-drive versions of each of the trims compared here. I drove a 4WD Touring.
If the Pilot feels a little tired to you, as well, you may want to look into the more recently updated Dodge Durango, Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Explorer. Compare them all here.
Love it or hate it, the Pilot’s square-edged, breadbox-on-wheels appearance looks like nothing else on the road. It’s boxy, upright and looks rough and tumble on the outside despite the fact that it was designed to appeal to the softer side of family life.
When this new square body style came out in 2009, the rest of the auto industry was beginning to transfer over to smooth and sleek lines. Given how polarizing the Pilot’s square shape seems to be, I’m very curious to see what Honda does with it next year. Stick to its square guns or cave in to peer pressure?
The Pilot’s 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine gets an EPA-estimated 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined with four-wheel drive. The front-drive version does slightly better, at 18/25/21 mpg. This compares well with others in the class: The all-wheel-drive Dodge Durango V-6 gets 17/24/19 mpg, and the all-wheel-drive Hyundai Santa Fe is rated 18/24/20 mpg.
Where the Pilot falls below the pack is in its driving dynamics. It feels pleasant enough around town, with a suspension that damps out much of the feel of rough roads. However, once you get up to highway speed — a process that feels heavy and cumbersome — the Pilot becomes unrefined and harsh.
Honda says “low noise, vibration and harshness provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for passengers in all three rows.” I disagree. Wind noise and road noise penetrate the cabin easily (possibly exacerbated by the Pilot’s non-aerodynamic shape), making it difficult to carry on a conversation with third-row passengers.
Because I recently drove the similarly sized, redesigned Dodge Durango and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Pilot instantly showed its age on the inside. Its abundance of cheap-looking and cold-feeling hard plastic surfaces did not make me feel like I was driving a $40,000-plus vehicle, which is the zone into which the top trim of the Pilot reaches.
The Pilot was originally designed as a family-hauler, and as all of us breeders know, families come with a lot of stuff in tow. Honda has thought through this issue thoroughly and added tons of nooks, crannies and storage spaces throughout the Pilot’s three rows. Dual in-door bins in the front doors provide much-needed space for me to stash snacks, trash and reading material close at hand for the wait in the carpool lane. My 13-year-old daughter, who has recently graduated to the front passenger seat, also loved the compartmentalized shelf above the glove box right in front of her. The center console has an open rectangular bin and two cupholders along with a second storage bin with a sliding cover.
The sliding and reclining second-row seats are great, allowing me to choose more legroom for either second- or third-row passengers as needed. The Pilot is also unique in the width of its second-row seats, potentially allowing a family to squeeze three child-safety seats or booster seats in shoulder-to-shoulder (depending on the size of your child seats).
However, the center shoulder belts for both the second and third rows were annoying. They extend down from the roofline, not only creating a visual distraction for the driver but also adding an extra buckle connector to attach the shoulder belt to the seat. The buckle pressed into my girls’ hips, creating an issue for whoever sat in the middle seat. Luckily, with seating for eight in the Pilot, this didn’t happen to us often. Also obstructing rear visibility are the oversized third-row headrests. While I can appreciate this safety feature, I had almost no view out the rear window when they were raised into their proper position.
What I did have was a great view of my rear-seat passengers. A conversation mirror (standard in the EX-L and Touring) folds down above the rearview mirror, helping propagate the illusion that Mom has eyes in the back of her head.
Standard on the Touring trim only, sun shades can be extended upward along the second-row side windows — a great feature for families with infants in the rear outboard seats. Ever wonder why your baby always screams bloody murder when you’re driving south? The sun is in her eyes!
When my 9-year-old stepdaughter jumped into the Pilot’s backseat for the first time, she said with very dramatic inflection, “Wow! There are a ton of buttons up there!” I agree. It’s a little over the top and flustering to make sense of initially. The center control panel has an 8-inch multi-information display at the top, and below that are the old-school audio controls. Below that is the optional DVD player (without Blu-ray) and its controls, and the climate controls are even farther down. At the very bottom of the stack are the controls for that 8-inch screen up at the top. Using a control dial at the very bottom to control functions on a screen at the very top felt strangely disconnected to me, like rubbing my head and patting my tummy — while driving. Doing away with that and making the display a touch-screen would make much more sense for today’s touch-addicted tech fans.
The Pilot has a standard backup camera, but the angle of the screen made it impossible to see anything in the glare of mid-daylight. Also, as my husband got in to drive for the first time, he was visibly flustered trying to find the button for the optional heated seats, which is hidden beside the gear selector. It’s not visible when the Pilot is shifted into Reverse.
Inside the center console, AC and 12-volt outlets and an audio aux jack are tucked out of the way.
The Pilot’s boxy shape does have one major benefit, and that’s the wealth of interior room and cargo space it provides. There’s plenty of space behind the third row (18 cubic feet) for the usual daily haul of backpacks and groceries. With the second and third rows folded flat, the Pilot has a massive 87 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. In order to accomplish this, however, you’ll have to first struggle to get the third-row head restraints down.
In comparison, there are 84.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space in the Durango, 80.7 in the Explorer and 80.0 cubic feet in the Santa Fe.
The 2014 Honda Pilot received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest rating of good on all tests to which it had been subjected as of publication. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also performed crash tests on the Pilot and awarded it four out of five stars overall.
The Pilot has six standard airbags, including side curtain airbags that extend all the way back to protect all three rows of occupants in the event of a rollover. The backup camera is standard on all trim levels, and rear parking sensors were included in the Touring model I drove (they’re optional on other trims). Due to the large head restraints, visibility could be improved upon with the addition of a blind spot warning system, which is not currently offered.
Due to the fact that the Pilot’s center shoulder belts in the second and third rows extend from the ceiling and require additional hardware to tether to the seat cushion, installing child-safety seats in the Pilot can be slightly complicated. The extra buckling hardware hinders access to the inboard lower Latch anchors behind it. The seat belt buckles in the second row are on floppy bases, which could make them difficult for youngsters in booster seats to buckle independently. Check out our Car Seat Check of the Honda Pilot here.
See all the Pilot’s standard safety features listed here.
The Honda Pilot was an early entry into the world of non-minivan mom-mobiles. While Honda got a lot right from the beginning (specifically seating capacity and well-thought-out storage spaces), the Pilot has aged faster than someone addicted to tanning. It’s not only due for a few laser skin treatments, but a complete head-to-toe extreme makeover is needed to keep the Pilot good enough to compete with tomorrow’s next best thing.