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Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin Varela

The Honda Pilot is actually the vehicle that started this whole “quest for the quintessential mom-mobile” about a year ago. I learned about the Pilot when trying to find family vehicles with three rows of seats. After doing some research online (not easily I might add, flipping from one car website to another only to give up in frustration after sensory overload had set in and I still didn’t find the info I needed), I decided that the Pilot was the car for me. Of course, I hadn’t actually driven it (a minor detail, I figured) but all the online reviews I read ranted and raved about Honda’s safety and durability.

I wonder if the automotive journalists who wrote those reviews ever put children in the Pilot. Since Honda claims that “The Pilot continues to lead the sport utility segment as the ultimate SUV for family adventure” it would be logical to test it in real life with a real family.

The Honda Pilot has seating for eight, so it can be a great alternative for carpooling families who don’t want to drive a small school bus. The two Latch connectors are easy enough to use. Both the second and third rows split (60/40) and recline, making child car seat installation easy. They also fold flat with a simple lever pull (although it requires first removing the headrests in the third row and sliding the second row forward).

My biggest complaint about the Pilot is the seatbelts. I hate to say that it’s overshadowing all the positives things about this vehicle. The center seatbelt in both the second and third rows extends down from the ceiling (instead of the seat back, like many other cars). The problem with this is threefold: When in use, they obstruct my rear line of sight; they’re a pain in the butt to unhook and recoil back into the roof; and most importantly, they don’t fit children well. For older children just outside of booster seat size (the ones that are most likely to sit in the center position), the seatbelt crosses too high on the neck to be comfortable, causing them to push the seatbelt behind their back, where it doesn’t do them a lick of good.

The other issue is the seat belt buckle receptors (my newest pet peeve). They are on flimsy bases requiring a person to hold the receptor steady with one hand while using their other hand to insert the buckle; simple enough for adults, but very difficult for children.

OK, now that my gripe session is over – oh, wait. I lied. I have one more thing to gripe about. The head restraints in the front two seats have a square hole cut out of the center. I’ve heard it’s to improve visibility for backseat passengers, although numerous attempts to contact Honda public relations to verify this yielded no response. This design is quite uncomfortable for a driver or front passenger who is on the short side. The crown of my head fits right into that hole, as opposed to resting on the head restraint.

Enough complaining! On to the good stuff: The center console features an innovative and fabulous design. The flat surface with mesh-like sides is a perfect spot to hold a purse. The flat part slides open for access to a multitude of compartments to hold everything from coffee cups and snacks to travel tissues and wet wipes. The main compartment has tons of room for CDs, DVDs, a cell phone and even has a power outlet to charge that cell phone.

Two mesh pockets on the back of both the driver’s and passenger’s seats hold all the kiddy stuff that has a tendency to otherwise end up under the seats, never to be found again.

The DVD and rear audio system is a pleasure to use. It simply requires opening the TV screen and putting in the DVD (located just below the front radio controls in easy reach for the driver). Everything else happens on its own. No complicated system here – just the way I like it.

I do in fact enjoy my week in the 2005 Honda Pilot. It’s easy, smooth and comfortable to drive and has enough power to still be fun. With all the positive publicity surrounding it, I guess I have overly high expectations. With the exception of the (huge) oversight of the seatbelts, it mainly lives up to its reputation.

*For more information on the Honda Pilot and its safety features visit

© 2005 Mother Proof – All Rights Reserved

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