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Honda Pilot remains strong choice as mid-size SUV





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At first glance, it's hard to believe this beefy-looking sport utility vehicle is viewed as a midsize crossover. Sitting tall and with nearly three inches added in width during its second generation remodeling, one would swear that the Honda Pilot rests on a truck frame.

And maybe that's the beauty of the Pilot - looks can be very deceiving. Even if it doesn't have the same type of handling capability one comes to expect from the many sleek crossovers that now inhabit the road, for a fairly big SUV the Pilot is hardly truck-like, even if its boxy and upright exterior appearance suggests otherwise.

This is the ninth year for the Pilot, a midsize SUV that comes standard with three rows of seating and can accommodate eight people. Back in 2003 it was the first SUV that was a car-based model in this category, although that's no longer the case.

The Pilot remains among the industry leaders in this segment. But the competition is tougher than ever. Vehicles like the Dodge Durango, Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Journey are serious rivals.

There have been some telling changes with the 2012 Honda Pilot, whose last major redesign came in 2009. The exterior features a front end with a restyled bumper, headlights and grille. Interior changes include a more colorful, appealing dashboard, additional gauges, and Honda ditched some of the cheap plastic.

Still based on the popular Accord, the Pilot delivers a solid combination of utility, comfort and relatively high quality features that honestly reminds some people of the popular Honda Odyssey mini-van.

All four Pilot models share the same engine, a 3.5-liter, V6 that produces 250 horsepower and has 253 pound-feet of torque. The performance is not overly impressive and doesn't match some of the competition. The Pilot goes 0-60 in 9.1 seconds.

Still, for every-day use the Pilot provides the basic necessities. Although now more rugged in appearance than ever, don't plan on any off-road adventures. The towing capacity is 3,500 pounds with the two-wheel drive and increases to 4,500 in four-wheel mode.

The Pilot possesses some car-like qualities, so it continues to deliver a comfortable ride on most road surfaces. The Pilot scores near the top in many safety aspects. Gas mileage has increased the past few years and now averages 18-25 mpg.

The sticker price for the four-wheel drive Touring model, which includes a top-tier navigation and DVD entertainment system in the back seat, is relatively high at an estimated $39,370. Yet the LX model, which also comes standard with four-wheel drive, can be purchased for around $28,620.

The Pilot previously received criticism for its smallish third seating, which most owners probably lay flat and leave unused. The third row seating has increased in overall size, but it's still not very suitable for adults.

However, the second row offers supportive seating with good head and leg room. The Pilot's cargo space ranks high and really opens up when the third row goes down. There is an abundance of storage bins that give the Pilot some suitable family versatility.

The Pilot has considerable competition, but remains a good buy. It's good to excellent in practically every category and has the Honda's good name and resale value going for it as well.

2012 Honda Pilot

* Performance: 3.5-liter, V6, 250 horsepower
* Mileage estimate: 18-25 mpg
* Price: $28,620 to $39,370
* Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; corrosion 5 years/unlimited


Weidel on Wheels author Jeffrey Weidel is an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region who has reviewed automobiles for more than two decades. He can be reached at skiweidel@gmail.com
Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.