Going on more than a decade in the midsize three-row SUV market, the 2013 Honda Pilot is now a well-established player in the segment, coming just after the introduction of the Toyota Highlander and other unibody SUV rivals. The basic formula hasn't changed much from when the Pilot first debuted, when it replaced the Isuzu-based Honda Passport: Three-row room, plenty of storage cubbies and nooks, and a design squarely focused on practicality, rather than over-the-top flash or style.

The Pilot's redesign for the 2008 model year gave it an even more truck-like look than its squarish predecessor, and although we wouldn't say the Pilot is a drop-dead beauty, neither is it off-putting or at all controversial. A new grille design for 2012 adds a little more visual refinement, but the look definitely does not bring the term "car-like" or "rounded" to mind. The Pilot's greenhouse has minimal tumblehome, and the rear hatch is nearly completely vertical. While this does little for eye-catching style, it does wonders for packaging and practicality, areas where the Pilot excels.

Despite its rather trim 191.4-inch overall length and 109.2-inch wheelbase, the Pilot has a cavernous interior, and a third row that's actually habitable, if briefly, by adults. The emphasis here is on "briefly" because we still wouldn't recommend sitting there for more than 15 minutes at a time if you're more than five feet tall. But if you need to pile half your department in for a company birthday lunch, it's a realistic proposition for short drives.

The front- and second-row seats need no caveats or conditions. The driver's seat is very comfortable, with fatigue-free seating for commuting or longer road trips. The second row seats recline as well, making for contented second-row carpoolers or teenagers. Helping to keep the rear-seat peace is a rear entertainment system, which also includes a 115-volt AC power outlet as part of the package.

The dashboard design is not particularly elegant or attractive, but once again, function and practicality are the focus, with the dash-mounted shifter freeing up storage space in the center console, and a passenger-side dash cubby slot providing plenty of space for cell phones, iPod Touches, tissue packs or wet wipes. Our only thumbs-down for the ergonomics is the low-mounted knob controller for the navigation and audio display. Although we don't recommend distracted driving, the design basically necessitates using the physical controls of the system when parked or stationary. The one design feature we did find slightly intriguing is the Pilot's gauge design with the needles behind transparent gauge faces, rather than the more conventional needle-overl-gauge design.

The driving experience is neither remarkable nor dreadful. The most succinct summary of the experience would be "solid." Nothing about the Pilot feels flimsy or fragile. The doors shut with a reassuring thud, and despite its blocky styling, wind noise is appropriately hushed, with no squeaks, rattles or resonance to spoil the experience. Ride and handling likewise strike a reasonable balance between impact absorption, and keeping body roll in check. Maximum lateral acceleration was an unremarkable 0.73 g, but for its intended target market, the ride and handling balance hits the bulls-eye.

In terms of power, Honda's 250-hp 3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve VTEC serves duty without fuss, mated to a five-speed automatic. Despite being short a ratio to many of its contemporary peers, the Pilot's powertrain delivers respectable EPA figures of 17/24 city/highway mpg for 4WD models and 18/25 for 2WD. Part of the credit goes to Honda's Variable Cylinder Management technology, which allows the engine to operate in three or four-cylinder mode under partial- or light-load conditions. While the Pilot never felt gutless, we would have liked a little more low-to-midrange torque, as it can feel a tad lazy under 4000 rpm. An extra gear ratio would probably help as well. Our tester posted a respectable, if not class-leading 8.1-second 0-60 time.

The 2014 Acura MDX we recently tested, with its 290-hp, 267 lb-ft direct-injected Earth Dreams V-6, six-speed transmission, and lighter weight, felt substantially lighter, more responsive, and more nimble. Since the MDX's chassis will be shared with the Pilot's soon-to-be-introduced successor, as well as the next-generation Honda Ridgeline a few years later, we have high hopes that the next Pilot will have the nimble, athletic feel of its upscale cousin, without sacrificing the practicality it's become known for.

At $42,100 for our fully-equipped Touring example, the Pilot is certainly not the bargain-basement choice, but offers ample amenities for the class and potential buyers. In many ways a bigger, beefier CR-V, the Pilot builds on the strengths of its best-selling little brother, with an extra dose of refinement, solidity and capability. Although nearing the end of its current model cycle, the 2013 Pilot still is a competent and solid entry in the midsize segment, and worth consideration. But if we were writing the check, we'd be inclined to wait a bit for the next-generation model. The improvements seen on the 2014 MDX make the prospect of a better Pilot to come too tempting.


2013 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD
BASE PRICE $31,950 (4WD LX)
PRICE AS TESTED $42,100
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 8-pass, 5-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/250-hp/253-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4580 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 109.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 191.4 x 78.5 x 71.0 in
0-60 MPH 8.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.3 sec @ 86.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 133 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.2 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 17/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.99 lb/mile