On-road, the Pilot has a softer, less-sporty feel than its MDX cousin. While the Acura enjoys a heavier emphasis on sportier ride and handling, the Honda is more softly sprung, striking a good compromise between comfort and road-gripping manners. Utilizing an independent suspension on all four corners, it delivers a well-damped drive on pavement, yet maintains an impressive suppleness when the road ends and the rough stuff begins. Rack-and-pinion, with torque-sensing power steering, communicates what the front tires are doing with little vibration feedback. The suspension is well suited for soft-road forays, which is exactly the type of use Pilot buyers will be expecting to see.

Were you to cover all the name badging in the interior, most people would still identify it as a Honda by the feel and intelligent layout of the controls. The column-mounted shift lever might be a minivan touch, but it frees up the center floor space, allowing Honda to include the CR-V-esque flip-up center table. Supportive seats, plenty of storage for small items, and quality materials are a Honda hallmark, and the Pilot follows the pattern. Due to the narrow window pillars and large glass area, visibility is impressive for 360°.

Nowadays, a midsize SUV needs to have a third row of seats to be taken seriously and certainly allows the Pilot to call winner against the Toyota Highlander, but understand that most of these third-row seats are surely for children. Still, a clever design allows the fold-flat, disappearing third row to seat three real-world adults (with short legs). Something not even the MDX could do with its third row. Also, the seat is 2 in. higher than the other rows, allowing better vision for those lucky passengers. Cargo capacity, listed at 90.3 cu ft, is significant for a vehicle of this size. That compares quite nicely to others in this category and to even larger ones outside the competition (Highlander 81.4; TrailBlazer 80.1; MDX 81.5; Explorer 88.0; Tahoe 104.6). In addition, Honda is offering a clever DVD screen that hides in the interior ceiling, but has the head unit and controls where front passengers can adjust volumes. In fact, given the layout, rear passengers can watch and listen to the DVD with headphones, while others in cab can listen to favorite radio stations. And because the DVD player is not incorporated with the screen, the driver's rear visibility is not dampened when the screen is down. Figure that to be about a $600 option.

If a buyer can live without the sport-sedan reflexes of the MDX, the Pilot offers all of the excellent mechanical bits for thousands less. Base price for the Pilot is expected to start at $26,500 and work its way to the low $30s with all the options. This is value with a capital V.