2012 Honda Pilot Review and Prices

Last Updated: Sep 14, 2011

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2012 Honda Pilot Buying Advice

The 2012 Honda Pilot is the best SUV for you if you want a highly competent crossover with freshened styling and improved fuel economy.

The 2012 Honda Pilot looks better than the 2011 model thanks to a new grille, uses less gas courtesy of mechanical updates and aerodynamic tweaks, and should be nicer to drive because of simplified controls and upgraded features. These spiffs are meant to stoke interest in a four-year-old SUV showing its age against more popular new rivals, including the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. No change to the 2012 Pilot alters its size or basic design. This remains a surprisingly refined midsize SUV that fits seating for eight in a package that’s easy to garage and painless to drive. It also remains proudly trucky-looking while much of its competition gets ever more curvaceous.

Should you buy a 2012 Honda Pilot or wait for the 2013 Pilot? Buy the 2012 Pilot. It has the styling, features, and details that’ll carry this crossover through to model-year 2014, when an all-new Pilot is due. The 2013 Honda Pilot wouldn’t get you any significant improvements, and waiting would put you in a lame-duck model about to be replaced by the redesigned 2014 Pilot.

2012 Honda Pilot Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Honda Pilot’s most noticeable styling change is a new grille with three horizontal chrome bars. It’s far more sophisticated than the oddly orthodontic mess it replaces. Minor alterations to the headlamp housings complement the new grille. And a more aerodynamic lower front air dam is part of the gas-mileage-improvement program.    

Inside the 2012 Pilot, Honda deals with some flawed ergonomics. Dials replace several climate-system buttons, cutting dashboard clutter. More unified instrument-panel finishes mitigate some clashing colors. And white backlighting instead of aqua-blue renders the main gauges easier to read. Plus, all 2012 Pilot models now have sound-deadening windshield glass; previously, only the most expensive Pilot models got the acoustic glass.   

These changes are a midcycle freshening for a crossover launched in model-year 2009. That’s when Honda replaced the soft-looking first-generation 2003-2008 Pilot with a squared-up, broad-shouldered rig meant to conjure the tough attitude of an old-school, truck-based SUV. In reality, Pilot traces its underskin architecture to the 2005-2011-generation Honda Odyssey minivan. It has car-type unibody engineering in which the body and frame form a single unit. That’s in contrast to the heavier-duty body-on-frame build of a truck-type SUV such as the Toyota 4Runner. Comparatively lightweight unibody design benefits fuel economy and handling and is what qualifies Pilot as a crossover.

Most crossovers have sleeker styling – see the Nissan Murano or Toyota Highlander -- but few manage to an adult-accommodating third-row seat into a body that’s a manageable 16 feet long. Overall, Pilot’s cabin is spacious and airy and while maximum cargo volume is an unexceptional 87 cubic feet, you’d require a longer vehicle to get significantly more. Build quality is solid, interior materials impressive.

Honda doesn’t tamper with the 2012 Pilot’s model lineup. It returns four models: base LX; midline EX; leather-upholstered EX-L; and top-of-the-line Touring. Visual differences between the models are slim. The door handles, outside mirrors, and exterior moldings are black on the LX model and body-colored on other Pilots.

Wheel styles and sizes are distinguishers, too, with Honda finally addressing another Pilot peculiarity for model-year 2012 by fitting rims larger than 17-inches in diameter. The LX model retains 17-inch styled steel wheels, but all other 2012 Pilots upgrade to new 18-inch alloys. Touring versions get an exclusive six-spoke design with a high-contrast machined surface. Honda had favored the sensible 17s for their ride-quality advantages but they were beginning to look conspicuously small versus the 19- and 20-inch-diameter wheels increasingly common on rivals.

Mechanical: The 2012 Honda Pilot continues with the only engine this design generation has known: an all-aluminum single-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6. It’s unchanged at 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the muscle that gets a car moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps it moving). Pilot’s power ratings are among the lowest of any midsize SUV with a V-6 engine of similar displacement.

Furthermore, Honda’s retention of a five-speed automatic as the 2012 Pilot’s sole transmission seems a regression. In transmissions, the greater the number of gear ratios the greater the opportunity to extract engine power and maximize fuel economy. Indeed, virtually every other 2012 crossover in Pilot’s competitive set employs a six-speed automatic – and the Volkswagen Touareg has eight speeds.

In Honda’s defense, Pilot’s powertrain response and refinement are quite satisfying. This is a well-integrated engine-transmission team. And partially compensating for the absence of a sixth gear ratio is Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management technology, which optimizes fuel economy by automatically transitioning the engine to four or three cylinders when all six are unneeded. The 2012 Pilot even has good tow ratings for the class, with all-wheel-drive versions capable of pulling 4,500 pounds and front-drive Pilots 3,500 pounds.        

All 2012 Pilot models continue with a choice of front-wheel drive or AWD. Honda calls its AWD system Variable Torque Management and it’s a crossover-typical setup that normally operates in front drive. It automatically reapportions power to the rear wheels to sustain traction then returns to front-drive when grip is restored.

Despite its tough-hombre looks and liberal 7.9-inch ground clearance, Pilot isn’t intended for severe off-road duty. Its AWD system lacks separate low-range gearing and the 2012 Pilot still doesn’t have hill-descent control, a nearly ubiquitous crossover feature that limits speeds to a crawl on steep slopes. Honda does provide AWD Pilots with a dashboard button that locks in maximum torque transfer to the rear wheels for added traction below 18 mpg.

Don’t equate Pilot’s upright-SUV profile with knuckle-dragging driving manners. The 2012 Pilot still impresses for steering precision, maneuverability, and overall control. The compromise is ride quality that allows sharp bumps and ridges to register abruptly.

Features: The 2012 Pilot’s features roster is quite complete, though Honda probably didn’t take the midcycle freshening far enough in addressing a few deficiencies.

For example, Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone connectivity -- a safety feature, really -- is newly standard on 2012 Pilot EX and EX-L models in conjunction with an audio-system upgrade that incorporates music streaming and two gigabytes of music storage. Bluetooth previously was exclusive only to Pilots equipped with the navigation system, itself a feature that remains optional only on the EX-L model and standard on the Touring.

But factory-supplied Bluetooth connectivity is unavailable on the 2012 Pilot LX model. And 2012 LX and EX models continue to be shut out from a USB iPod interface, another increasingly ubiquitous feature in this price class. USB linking, however, is newly standard on the 2012 Pilot EX-L and remains standard on the Touring as part of the navigation-system perk.

Among other changes to the 2012 Pilot features roster, EX-L models gain as standard the power liftgate previously exclusive to the Touring model. And 2012 Pilot EX-Ls not equipped with navigation gain an 8-inch color dashboard screen that displays audio and vehicle information and the view from the backup camera.

The 2012 Pilot’s navigation system itself upgrades to Honda’s latest version. It again uses voice recognition and the 8-inch screen but gains higher display resolution, subscription-free real-time FM Traffic information, and 15 gigabytes of hard-drive music storage. Used with the navigation system is a new multi-view rear camera that can furnish wide-angle, normal, and top-down perspectives.

As before, the 2012 Pilot is available with most every crossover comfort, including a power sunroof, power heated front seats, backup camera, and a power liftgate. Of course, since Honda doesn’t offer factory-installed options, you sometimes need to climb to the next rung on the price ladder to get a model equipped with the combination of features you want.

Every 2012 Pilot, though, comes with front and rear air conditioning, keyless entry, tilt and telescope steering column, cruise control, and power locks and windows with auto-up/down front windows. Also included is a trip computer, digital compass, automatic on/off headlights, and an integrated class-3 towing receiver. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD stereo with seven-speakers including a subwoofer and an auxiliary jack for digitial devices.

Every model seats eight on front buckets and second- and third-row bench seats that carry three passengers each. (Oddly, second-row captain’s chairs are unavailable.) Pilot is among the few SUVs with anchor positions for four child safety seats – three in the second row and one in the third. Folding the third row drops it into a well in the rear floor and with both rear benches folded Pilot can haul a 4-foot-wide plywood sheet laid flat. Standard safety features include head-protecting curtain side airbags that deploy in side collisions as well as in impending rollovers.

2012 Honda Pilot Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Honda Pilot is $29,280-$41,630, a slight increase over the 2011 Pilot’s base-price range, which closed the model year at $28,825-$41,175. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Honda’s fee for the 2012 Pilot is $810.)  

With each model in the lineup locked into a specific set of features with no options, Pilot’s base prices can seem relatively high. But option-up rival crossovers to match equipment levels at various Pilot price points, and the bottom-line difference tends to shrink or disappear.  

The 2012 Honda Pilot LX is priced at $29,280 with front-wheel drive and $30,880 with AWD. The 2012 Pilot LX’s standard equipment list basically covers the items outlined in the Features section above.  

Move up to the 2012 Honda Pilot EX and you’ll see a list price of $32,100 with front-wheel drive and $33,700 with AWD. It’s a worthwhile step because beyond 2012’s addition of standard Bluetooth connectivity, the 2012 Pilot EX continues with such popular features as tri-zone automatic climate control, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, six-disc in-dash CD changer, XM satellite radio, exterior temperature indicator, HomeLink remote garage-door system, alloy wheels, and fog lamps. And 2012 AWD EX models also come with heated side mirrors.

The 2012 Honda Pilot EX-L is priced at $35,380 with front-drive and $36,980 with AWD. It gains the power tailgate, USB interface, and 8-inch dashboard screen and again features leather upholstery, power moonroof, heated front seats, power front passenger seat, and an automatic-dimming rearview mirror with reverse-camera display.

As before, the 2012 Pilot EX-L is available with either the navigation system or with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, but not both features in combination. Navigation-equipped EX-Ls are priced at $37,830 with front-drive and $38,980 with AWD. The DVD entertainment system includes a fold-down 9-inch ceiling screen and 2012 Pilot EX-Ls so equipped cost $36,980 with front-drive and $38,580 with AWD. Adding either the DVD or navigation system to an EX-L, however, brings a 115-volt power outlet and an audio upgrade to 10 speakers, including the subwoofer.

The 2012 Honda Pilot Touring models again include all the EX-L equipment, plus the DVD and navigation systems as standard. Memory seats and mirrors, second-row window sunshades, front and rear parking sensors, mirror-mounted turn indicators, and chrome body-side trim also are included. List price for the 2012 Honda Pilot Touring is $40,030 with front-wheel drive, $41,630 with AWD.

2012 Honda Pilot Fuel Economy back to top

Honda, like every automaker, aims to develop ever-more fuel-efficient new models and to increase economy in existing ones. For existing models, that typically means careful engine recalibrations and minor styling changes that bring aerodynamic benefits.

All these came into play for the 2012 Pilot, and Honda says the results are grand. It bills the 2012 front-drive Pilot as the most fuel-efficient 8-passenger SUV in America. And the AWD version is among the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid midsize V-6 SUVs.  

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Honda Pilot are 18/25 mpg city/highway, 21 mpg combined city/highway with front-wheel drive and 17/24 mpg city/highway, 20 combined with AWD. For both versions, that represents a 1-mpg increase in city driving, a 2-mpg increase in highway driving, and a 2-mpg increase in the combined city/highway rating.

2012 Honda Pilot Release Date back to top

The 2012 Honda Pilot went on sale in August 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Honda Pilot back to top

The midcycle freshening didn’t redress Honda’s initial commitment to a faux-rugged look for this second-generation Pilot. No new grille is going to alter Pilot’s basic upright lines and squared-off stance. Critics say Pilot is out of fashion compared with sleeker three-row crossover-SUV competitors. Prominent among these rivals is the Chevrolet Traverse, which is more than a foot longer than the Pilot, and the midsize Kia Sorento, which is actually a few inches shorter than the Honda.

Of course, the real test is on the sales charts, and there, Pilot has experienced a steady decline, falling from No. 2 in midsize-SUV sales in calendar 2008 to a distant No. 7 through the first eight months of calendar 2011.

That points to a holding action for model-year 2013, as Honda prepares the first all-new Pilot since model-year 2009. About all you can expect for the 2013 Pilot would be couple of new color choices and maybe a commemorative trim package to mark the close of this design generation.

The next-generation Pilot probably will back off the macho styling cues in favor of a curvier body, perhaps with looks patterned after the rather sleek, all-new 2012 Honda CR-V compact crossover.

The 2014 Pilot will transition to the structure that underpins the redesigned Odyssey introduced for model-year 2011. It’ll be another crossover with a choice of front-or all-wheel drive. And it’ll retain a V-6 engine of roughly 3.5-liters, though likely with a smidge more power than the 2009-2013 generation’s. It ought to get a six-speed automatic transmission, but Honda could retain a five-speed if it believes the benefits of a more ratios wouldn’t convincingly outweigh the additional cost.

A big question is whether Honda would offer a Pilot model with a four-cylinder engine. That’s the trend, and such rivals as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge and Explorer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander, and Kia Sorento all offer a choice of four- and six-cylinder powerplants.

2012 Honda Pilot Competition back to top

Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia: Like swept-back styling? Go for the Traverse. Fond of a more traditional upright-SUV look?  Acadia’s your ride. Either way, underpinnings and drivetrains are the same and each seats eight. Longer than Pilot by more than a foot, these GM twins have nearly 30 cubic feet more cargo volume. But they can be tighter to maneuver and garage and don’t really offer significantly more third-row room. A V-6 with 281-288 horsepower, depending on model, hooked to a six-speed automatic is the sole powertrain. The 2012 Traverse and Acadia rate 17/24 mpg city/highway, 19 mpg combined with front-wheel drive, 16/23/19 with AWD. Base-price range is roughly $30,240-$40,000 with front drive, $32,240-$42,000 with AWD. Styling changes are in store for model year 2013 or ’14.  

Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe: Another pair of corporate design cousins, this time from South Korean automaker Hyundai and its Kia branch. Both are assembled in the U.S. and both are value-packed. They’re smaller than the Pilot but manage to squeeze in a third-row bench suited for occasional kid use. Prices start around $24,000 for four-cylinder models (175 horsepower, 21/27/23 mpg with AWD) and stretch to around $36,000s for loaded V-6 AWD versions (275 horsepower, 21/28/23mpg). Look for an all-new Santa Fe in model-year 2013, followed by the redesigned Sorento in model-year 2014.

Toyota Highlander: It’s no longer among the midsize-crossover sales leaders, but this refined seven-seat crossover still has lots to offer and remains a key Pilot alternative. Highlander’s body has minivan overtones and more cargo space than Pilot but slightly less third-row room. Road manners are softer, though so is ride quality. Three powertrains are offered: a four cylinder with 187 horsepower (front-drive only) rated 20/25/22 mpg, a V-6 with 270 rated 18/24/20 with front-drive and 17/22/19 with AWD, and a gas-electric hybrid also with 270 horsepower and AWD, but rated 28/28/28 mpg. Base-price range is roughly $27,000-$42,000. Highlander got a mid-cycle freshening for model-year 2011 and is due a full redesign for model-year 2013.

2012 Honda Pilot Next Steps