2011 Honda Pilot Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jun 16, 2011

Pros

  • Confidence-inspiring road manners
  • Great space without great girth
  • Top safety ratings and strong resale value

Cons

  • Tries to look tough. Tries too hard
  • NASA called, it wants its instrument panel back
  • Suspension is reluctant to absorb bumps

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2011 Honda Pilot Buying Advice

The 2011 Honda Pilot is the best SUV for you if you haven’t completely crossed over.

The 2011 Honda Pilot expands availability of its navigation system – slightly – but is otherwise a rerun of the 2010 Pilot. That’s no bad thing, really. This sweet-driving midsize crossover packages eight-passenger seating in a body that won’t overwhelm your garage. It could overwhelm your sense of decorum, however. Unlike crossover competitors like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, Pilot tries mightily to look like a truck-tough SUV.

Should you buy a 2011 Honda Pilot or wait for the 2012 Pilot? Waiting for the 2012 Pilot could get you the look and features that’ll carry this design generation to its conclusion. But only Honda knows when Pilot’s freshening will come. It can’t come soon enough. Pilot’s enduring its first real sales slump, relinquishing title of America’s most popular three-row midisize SUV to an onslaught of newer rivals, including the slightly smaller Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento and the notably larger Traverse and GMC Acadia. Any model-year 2012 freshening, however, won’t change Pilot’s interior dimensions or basic engineering. That’s a good thing.

2011 Honda Pilot Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Honda Pilot is visually unaltered from the 2010 model and returns in four levels of trim: basic LX; midline EX; leather-upholstered EX-L; and top-of-the-line Limited. The 2011 Pilot LX has plainer wheels than the other models and lacks their roof rails, fog lamps, and chrome exhaust tips. Otherwise, all Pilots look almost identical. Their blocky body is large enough to fit three rows of seats yet is a relatively brief 16 feet long, compact enough to be easy to maneuver and garage. Honda says Pilot’s squared profile, blistered fenders, and chunky front end answer customer demands for a masculine look. We can’t imagine customers demanded a snub nose with a grille inspired by preteen orthodontia, but that’s what Pilot got. This is what SUVs used to look like when they were little more than enclosed bodies bolted to truck frames. But Pilot’s among the new breed of crossover SUVs that integrates body and frame for “unibody” construction. Pilot’s basic unibody architecture is shared with the Honda Odyssey minivan and the MDX crossover SUV from Honda’s premium Acura division. Crossovers are lighter than truck-type SUVs for better fuel economy and more car-like handling. Pilots have four side doors and a top-hinged tailgate with separate-opening glass. Exclusive to Touring models is a power tailgate. While many rivals offer wheels in generous 18-, 19-, and 20-inch diameter – the 2011 Ford Edge Sport comes with 22s -- all 2011 Pilots have relatively modest 17-inch wheels and tires.  

Mechanical: The 2011 Honda Pilot continues with the only engine it’s used since this second-generation design bowed for 2009. The all-aluminum single-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6 is rated at 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the muscle that gets you moving, horsepower as energy that keeps you moving.) The 3.5-liter V-6s in many rivals boast more horsepower, but few beat Pilot’s for torque and none matches Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology. This automatically transitions between six, four, and three cylinders, with the onboard computer determining which mode best optimizes fuel economy and power requirements. VCM partly compensates for Pilot’s continued use of a five-speed automatic as its sole transmission. Most rivals use six-speed automatics, the additional gear ratio benefitting fuel economy. All 2011 Pilots continue with a choice of front-wheel drive or Honda’s Variable Torque Management (VTM-4). VTM-4 is an all-wheel-drive system that operates in front drive unless sensors detect front-wheel slip. Then it can temporarily reapportion up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels and automatically return to front-drive when traction is restored. Pilot isn’t intended for rugged off-road use and VTM-4 lacks separate low-range gearing for that purpose. Nor does it have hill-descent control, an increasingly common crossover-SUV feature that limits speeds to a crawl on steep slopes. But to aid traction in extreme conditions, VTM-4 includes a lock function that sends maximum torque transfer to the rear wheels. Activated by a button on the instrument panel, it works only when the Pilot is in first, second, or reverse gears, and automatically disengages above 18 mph. All Pilots have four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock technology for better control in emergency stops, plus traction and antiskid systems for better grip on takeoffs and improved stability in turns. Pilot’s maximum towing capacity is at the upper end of the scale for V-6 crossover SUVs, with AWD models capable of pulling trailers weighing up to 4,500 pounds and front-drive Pilots able to pull up to 3,500 pounds.    

Features: Until now, the only Pilot buyers who could get factory-installed onboard navigation were those who could afford the top-of-the-line Touring model, on which the satellite-linked system was standard.  We published reviews urging Honda to expand that availability, and it’s done so for the 2011 Pilot, though not by dint of our advice, we’re certain. If it had, it would have extended eligibility beyond just the second-most expensive model in the lineup, the EX-L, where navigation is now available for an additional $2,000. That’s a start, though it’s still a bit pricey and unlike on the Touring, it isn’t offered in combination with the rear-seat DVD entertainment system. In another anachronistic decision, only Pilots with navigation get a USB interface for iPods or a Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone link. All Pilots come with a digital audio auxiliary jack, but an increasing number of rivals make USB and Bluetooth connections more widely available or even standard. The 2011 Pilot is otherwise solidly competitive for features and amenities. All models have head-protecting curtain side airbags that deploy in side collisions as well as in impending rollovers. Seating is for eight and consists of front buckets and second- and third-row bench seats. (Second-row captain’s chairs aren’t part of the Pilot program.) The second- and third-row benches each hold three people and Honda’s proud that Pilot is among the few SUVs with anchor positions for four child safety seats – three in the second row and one in the third. Both rear benches split and fold, allowing Pilot to haul a 4-foot-wide plywood sheet laid flat. Folding the third row drops it into a well in the rear floor. Honda offers no factory-installed options, instead adding features with each step up the model line. The 2011 Pilot is again available with a sunroof and power heated front seats, depending on model. EX-L versions come with a backup camera that projects a rearview image onto a portion of the inside mirror when the transmission is shifted to reverse. Touring and EX-L models with navigation display this view on the dashboard screen.

2011 Honda Pilot Test Drive back to top

From behind the wheel: Yes, it has comparatively modest horsepower and a transmission saddled with a prosaic five-speeds. But the 2011 Pilot is endowed with accessible torque and astute gearing. It gets off the line smartly, merges with authority, and overtakes slower traffic with plenty of breathing space.

The transition between six, four, and three cylinders is detected only by the subtlest powertrain shudder. Mostly you need to watch for illumination of the Eco (“economy”) icon in the instrument panel for a clue you’re running on fewer than six cylinders. Incidentally, cylinder-deactivation is why all Pilots come with a subwoofer; it’s part of a noise-cancellation strategy that counteracts the coarse exhaust resonances of a V-6 operating on three cylinders.

No seven-seat midsize crossover is easier to maneuver in tight spaces than the Pilot. And only one with a Porsche or BMW badge on the hood drives with more assurance. Pilot’s steering is accurate and linear. Straight-line stability and composure over wavy pavement are outstanding. Only the most aggressive changes of direction trigger troubling noseplow. Only the tightest fast turns generate undue body lean.

Dashboard and controls: Judging by the proliferation of controls on the dashboard and steering wheel, Honda apparently expects you to be a pilot to drive a Pilot. Most Pilot models have a Piper Cub-worthy 41 separate buttons and knobs on the central dashboard alone. Add navigation and Bluetooth, and 10 additional buttons busy the steering-wheel spokes. Further muddling matters, the buttons are not well delineated by size, marking, or groups. Hunt and peck is likely to be the rule well into your ownership experience. On the upside, Honda’s navigation system is fairly easy to program -- via the manual controls, at least. The voice-recognition software regularly misunderstands commands. It’s funny the first couple of times.

Not all is ergonomic chaos. Pilot’s instruments are large, clearly marked, and unobstructed. The gear-shift lever is conveniently located just above the center console, near the driver’s knee. It’s a breeze to reach and liberates territory between the front seats, leaving a perfect place to plant a purse or briefcase.   

Press a button, spin any knob -- you’ll be impressed with the precision feel of Pilot’s controls. Run your hands along most interior surface to experience richly grained surfaces and nicely padded panels. Hunting for uneven gaps and listening for creaks and rattles is fruitless. Still, it’s too bad the stylists responsible for Pilot’s blocky exterior forms were allowed a hand in designing the cabin. There’s little visual finesse to its collection of chunky surfaces joined at inelegant angles.

Room, comfort, and utility: The 2011 Pilot’s Amish-upright styling creates a delightfully roomy and airy cabin. Seating is spacious and supportive. In most crossovers this size -- and in many much larger – third-row accommodations are fit only for junior-highschoolers. Pilot’s third row is as comfortable as some minivans’. A generous 8 inches of ground clearance helps Pilot fit that macho-SUV mold, but also challenges easy entry/exit. You’ll thank Honda for thoughtfully providing strategically located grab handles. You’ll appreciate the tall roof for not forcing you to stoop as you board. And you’ll find getting into and out of the third row is unusually easy thanks to the high ceiling and smooth-sliding second-row seats.

Pilot’s laudable road manners come courtesy of a taut suspension that allows sharp bumps and abrupt ridges to thump through. Pilot recoups some refinement by being admirably isolated from disagreeable wind, road, and mechanical noises.

On paper, the 2011 Pilot’s maximum cargo volume of 87 cubic feet is middling for a midsize SUV, though to be fair, rivals that boast significantly more room also have significantly longer bodies. Honda makes terrific use of the space Pilot has. The floor well behind the third row helps create 18-cubic-feet of luggage space even with all seats occupied. A clever cargo net fashions a second level of storage for up to 20 pounds of stuff -- but shame on Honda for limiting this useful mini hammock to the Touring model. Every Pilot gets 60/40 split second and third row seats that fold -- without removing the headrests -- to create a level load floor. Raising the third-row seatbacks from the rear of the cargo bay requires an inordinately long stretch, however. Small-items storage space abounds: pouches, shelves, bins, and cupholders are almost everywhere you look.

2011 Honda Pilot Prices back to top

Honda’s no-options policy makes Pilot pricing appear steep when compared with the base prices of some other midsize SUVs. Comparably equipped, however, the 2011 Honda Pilot is priced competitively with key rivals, and 2011 Pilot prices increase a modest $150 compared with 2010 levels.

Base price range for the 2011 Honda Pilot is $28,755-$41,105. (All prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Honda’s fee is $710 for model-year 2011.)

The 2011 Honda Pilot LX is priced at $28,755 with front-wheel drive and $30,355 with AWD. Among its standard features are front and rear air conditioning, keyless entry, tilt and telescope steering column, cruise control, power locks and power windows with auto-up/down driver’s and passenger’s window, AM/FM/CD stereo with seven-speakers including a subwoofer, trip computer, digital compass, automatic on/off headlights, and an integrated class-3 towing receiver.

The 2011 Honda Pilot EX is priced at $31,605 with front-wheel drive and $33,205 with AWD, To LX models, the EX adds such features as tri-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat with lumbar support, XM satellite radio, six-disc in-dash CD changer, and security system. EX models also have body-colored side mirrors and door handles, alloy wheels, roof rails, fog lights, exterior temperature indicator, and the HomeLink remote garage-door system. AWD EX models come with heated side mirrors

The 2011 Honda Pilot EX-L is priced at $34,705 with front-drive and $36,306 with AWD. Counted among EX-L standard features are leather upholstery, a power moonroof, heated front seats, power front passenger seat, and an automatic-dimming rearview mirror with reverse-camera display.

Equipped with the rear-seat DVD entertainment system, which includes a fold-down 9-inch ceiling screen, the EX-L is priced at $36,305 with front-drive and $37,905 with AWD. With the navigation system, the EX-L lists for $36,705 with front-drive and $38,305 with AWD. Addition of either the navigation or the entertainment system upgrades the EX-L audio system to 10 speakers including the subwoofer, and adds a 115-volt power outlet.

The 2011 Honda Pilot Touring is priced at $39,505 with front-wheel drive, $41,105 with AWD. Touring models add to EX-Ls the navigation system and the rear entertainment system, front and rear parking sensors, a power tailgate, memory seats and mirrors, second-row window sunshades, mirror-mounted turn indicators, and chrome body-side trim.

2011 Honda Pilot Fuel Economy back to top

The 2011 Pilot fights the battle of the bulge. With curb weights ranging from 4,310 to 4,561 pounds, the various Pilot models are heavier than most similarly sized competitors. And virtually every rival has smoother aerodynamic styling and a more efficient six-speed automatic transmission.

Some credit then is due Honda’s fuel-saving cylinder deactivation system for keeping the 2011 Pilot’s gas mileage at least mid-pack. The 2011 Pilot is EPA-rated at 17/23 mpg (city/highway) with front-wheel drive and 16/22 with AWD. Pilot uses regular-octane fuel, though Honda recommends premium-octane when towing trailers weighing more than 3,500 pounds.

2011 Honda Pilot Safety and Reliability back to top

The 2011 Honda Pilot is highly rated in government crash tests. The tests award a maximum of five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side collisions. The 2011 Pilot scores the maximum five stars for protection of the driver, front passenger, and rear passengers in both frontal and side impacts. Rollovers are a leading cause of fatalities in crashed involving SUVs, and in government assessments of rollover resistance, the Pilot rates four stars on the five-star scale. Four starts puts it among the best SUVs in the rollover test.  

The Honda brand is rated above average for initial quality by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive consumer survey firm. The study measures problems experienced during the first 90 days of ownership. The Honda brand also scores highly in J.D. Power’s 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems during the first three years of ownership (the 2010 study covers model-year 2007 vehicles). Honda rated well above the industry average in the study, ranking seventh, just behind Toyota, among the 37 carmakers included in the survey.

The Honda Pilot rates above average for initial quality in the most recent J.D. Power survey into problems experienced with model-year 2009 vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. The current-generation Pilot was introduced for model-year 2009 and is too new to be included in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.

2011 Honda Pilot Release Date back to top

The 2011 Honda Pilot went on sale March 15, 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Honda Pilot back to top

There’s no stopping the rush to crossover SUVs. Consider the demise of truck-based stalwarts such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer in favor of the Traverse. Even the next-generation Ford Explorer, due as a 2011 model, will abandon its separate frame for a unibody structure. So the Honda Pilot is ahead of the curve under the skin while remaining loyal to traditional SUV styling cues. It was hard to argue with that strategy, given the healthy initial sales of the 2009 Pilot. But slowing demand suggests this faux-rugged look may not be aging well.

If Honda repeats the pattern set by the first-generation Pilot, today’s version will enjoy a six-model-year lifespan -- 2009-2014 -- and receive a mid-cycle freshening for model-year 2012. Pilot’s current design generation could live beyond model-year 2014, of course. And when it might be updated in the interim is Honda’s guarded secret. What’s easier to predict is that any mid-cycle styling changes won’t alter Pilot’s basic shape or engineering, though a six-speed automatic and a simpler dashboard layout would be appreciated.

It’s worth noting that Honda has filled its graceful-crossover gap with a wagon offshoot of the midsize Accord, called the Accord Crosstour. The Crosstour is far more car-like than Pilot, and seats just five. It gives Honda a counterpunch to the swoopy Toyota Camry-based Venza in an emerging category of station wagon-like crossovers, of which the Ford Flex, the Acura ZDX, and the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo are additional examples.

For power, Honda is less committed to hybrid proliferation than arch-rival Toyota, which has promised a gas-electric powertrain in each of its models within a few years. So the possibility of a Pilot hybrid appears remote. Honda has been tentative about turbocharged gas engines, too, and a naturally aspirated four-cylinder would likely make for an underpowered Pilot.

Diesel fans hold out hope Honda might resurrect plans that reportedly were in play until the economy tanked and diesel-fuel prices spiked. Sources said the Pilot was in line for a quiet-running, clean-burning diesel V-6 that promised over 30 mpg on the highway and a range of 600 miles between fill-ups.

2011 Honda Pilot Competition back to top

Toyota Highlander: Stung by Toyota’s unintended-acceleration problems, this crossover took a sales hit in early 2010. But it remains a sound design and a formidable Pilot foe. Styling is sleeker if less SUV-like than the Honda’s. Driving manners are lazier and ride quality softer, as well. Highlander seats seven and has a bit more cargo room but a tighter third-row than Pilot. It comes in front- or all-wheel-drive and offers three powertrains: a four cylinder with 187 horsepower (20/27 mpg), a V-6 with 270 (17/23), and gas-electric hybrid also with 270 but boasting a rating of 27/25 mpg. Highlander’s base-price range spans roughly $27,000-$42,000. No big changes are likely until after model-year 2012.

Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia: These GM crossover cousins both seat eight, but Acadia hews to the traditional-SUV look favored by the Pilot while Traverse leans toward the softer lines of the Buick Enclave, which is also built on this platform. All are refined and highly capable on the road, but more than a foot longer the Pilot and so tougher to maneuver in tight spaces. Maximum cargo volume beats Pilot by nearly 30 cubic feet, but third-row seating is no roomier. The only engine is a 281-horsepower V-6 hooked to a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive (17/24 mpg) or all-wheel drive (16/23). No major changes are expected for the next few model years.

Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento: South Korean automaker Hyundai controls Kia, and Santa Fe and Sorento share the same chassis and powertrain engineering. Both are built in the U.S. and both are value-packed seven-seat crossovers that sell very well. They’re smaller than the Pilot but manage to squeeze in a tiny third-row bench suited for occasional kid use. A long list of standard features, solid build quality, and generous warranty coverage attract buyers, as do prices that start in the low-$20,000s for basic four-cylinder models (175 horsepower, 22/27 mpg) and climb to the mid-$30,000s for loaded V-6 AWD versions (275 horsepower, 20/26 mpg). Santa Fe and Sorento were freshened for model-year 2010 and won’t change again for several years.