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The 2021 Honda Pilot carries over the same generation that dates back five years now, making it one of the oldest three-row crossovers on the market. Considering how many impressive new or redesigned entries have been introduced since then, it’s surprising that the Pilot manages to remain as relevant as it does. Though certainly overshadowed, it’s still an ultra-practical choice blessed with an abundance of clever storage, ample cargo capacity and a well-sorted driving experience that nicely toes the line between comfort and response. There’s also the matter of Honda’s long-standing reputation for reliability and resale value.
Basically, the Pilot can be considered the most sensible of three-row family crossovers (though the Subaru Ascent sure comes awfully close). Of course, “sensible” often doesn’t equate to “desirable” as the makers of plain black running shoes can attest. The Pilot is a bit frumpy to look at, and the rather plain interior design doesn’t reach the near-luxury heights of the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Toyota Highlander or Mazda CX-9. Even the Pilot’s five-passenger fraternal twin, the Passport, manages to be a bit cooler. But such things are in the eye of the beholder. While we think the Telluride and Palisade in particular are stronger overall choices, the Pilot is nevertheless a well-rounded crossover that’ll make sense for many families.
What’s new for 2021?
The nine-speed automatic transmission that was previously exclusive to top trims is now standard across the board (it’s a good thing Honda finally managed to clean up the nine-speed’s wonky performance from earlier model years). The base LX gains a few extra standard features, including dual-zone automatic climate control, and a new Special Edition trim level debuts. Long a tool Honda pulls out toward the end of a car’s generational lifespan, the “SE” as it’s also known effectively adds some distinctive styling bits and a few extra features to the EX-L trim level. One final addition for 2021: the Pilot Black Edition can now be painted white, which totally makes sense.
What are the Pilot’s interior and in-car technology like?
Although those oxblood red accents in the Black Edition go a long way to spruce things up, we still wouldn’t call the Pilot’s cabin the most stylish out there. A Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander can make it look pretty plain. However, it’s also one of the most well-made and functional cabins in the segment, largely intended with the goal of making parents’ lives easier.
As we discovered in this interior test, there are bins everywhere up front, including a giant center bin that’s big enough to hide a purse or other valuables. Better still, its flat rolling cover provides extra storage since it doesn’t need to serve double duty as an armrest (there are minivan-style rests attached to each front seat). There are also multiple tiers of bins on the doors and in the center stack.
Technology isn’t as well-executed. Yes, there are plenty of included features on everything save the more basic LX, but the touchscreen that controls them can frustrate. Last year’s addition of a new UI with quicker responses and a volume knob was welcome, but many other flaws remain: insufficient menu buttons, no tuning knob and/or direct tune function, and an excessive process for going between Honda and Apple/Android interfaces are just some of the annoyances. Some of these issues are addressed in the Accord and Odyssey, but the Pilot sticks with an imperfect old/new hybrid. If there’s a reason to ponder something other than the Pilot, this would certainly be it.
How big is the Pilot?
Honda did an exceptional job of getting the most interior space out of the Pilot as possible. While its exterior dimensions are some of the smallest in the segment, its interior is among the roomiest and most functional. Second-row space is typically generous, while the third row has enough leg- and headroom for full-size adults and teenagers. However, the seat is notably lower than those in the Palisade, Telluride and Chevrolet Traverse, so it’s ultimately not as comfortable. The roofline and rear-quarter windows are pretty boxy, though, so the chances of feeling claustrophobic are reduced.
Cargo capacity is excellent, even if it seems a bit below average on paper. Most notably, the Pilot can fit as many pieces of luggage behind its third row as the Palisade despite supposedly having less space. This is thanks to its clever floor, which can drop down several inches. It’s also double sided: one carpet, the other textured plastic for dirty items.
Keep in mind that if you don’t need that much space, the Honda Passport is essentially a two-row, five-passenger Pilot.
What’s the Pilot’s performance and fuel economy?
The 2021 Honda Pilot comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 good for 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is also standard on all trims but the Elite and Black Edition, which come standard with the advanced torque-vectoring i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system that’s optional on all other trims.
For 2021, things get even simpler thanks to a nine-speed automatic transmission becoming standard on every trim level. As such, fuel economy is no longer dependent on trim level. It’s 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with FWD and 19/26/22 with AWD.
What’s the Pilot like to drive?
The Pilot provides a comfortable and composed ride, the handling and steering are confidence inspiring, and the smooth engine has more than enough power. Its advanced torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system even improves road holding in addition to poor weather traction. It basically clears the bar for the segment.
That said, the Pilot is also pretty unmemorable behind the wheel. It’s almost more like a minivan in SUV clothing. Though it’s a bit more involving than a Subaru Ascent, it also isn’t the best choice for those hoping to maintain some driver engagement from their large family vehicle. The Mazda CX-9 would be a much better choice for that, while even the new Toyota Highlander brings more responsiveness and communication to the driver. We wouldn’t say that the Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade are particularly memorable either, but there’s something about them (perhaps it’s just the styling) that manages to avoid the minivan vibe.
What more can I read about the Honda Pilot?
2020 Honda Pilot Luggage Test
We discover that the Pilot can hold far more behind its raised third row than its 16.5-cubic-foot number would suggest.
2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition Interior Storage Driveway Test
We put all the cubbies and cupholders to the test … and since it’s the Black Edition in question, we even dress the part.
2019 Honda Pilot Elite Drivers’ Notes Review
Our editors evaluate the revised Pilot, including its ride and handling, revised technology and nine-speed automatic, and controversial black and orange graphics Honda made available for 2019.
2019 Honda Pilot First Drive Review
We get our first drive of the revised 2019 Honda Pilot. We tell you what’s new and updated, why Honda changed what they did, and how successful they are. We also provide more detail about the i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system and the Pilot’s off-road capability.
2020 Kia Telluride vs Honda Pilot and other three-row family crossovers
We compare dimensions and engine specs of the new 2020 Telluride to the Pilot and other competitors, including the 2020 Ford Explorer, 2020 Hyundai Palisade, Toyota Highlander and Subaru Ascent.
What features are available and what’s the Pilot’s price?
The 2021 Honda Pilot is available in LX, EX, EX-L, Special Edition, Touring, Elite and Black Edition trim levels. Three rows of seats are standard, with the first five trims coming standard with a second-row bench and therefore an eight-passenger capacity. Second-row captain’s chairs that reduce capacity to seven are optional on the Touring and standard on the Elite and Black Edition.
Pricing starts at $33,370 for the LX trim level, including the $1,095 destination charge. All-wheel drive is always a $2,000 option. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, the Honda Sensing suite of accident avoidance tech (described in Safety section below), dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a manually adjustable driver seat, two USB ports, a seven-speaker sound system and a traditional audio face plate with buttons, knobs and a color display.
Given the abundance of added content included with the EX for $36,050, many consumers usually use it as their starting point for the Pilot. It includes automatic headlights, proximity entry and push-button start, blind-spot warning, three-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and HD and satellite radios. If equipped with AWD, multiple off-road traction settings are included (Snow, Sand and Mud).
From there, we provide a breakdown of features, specs and local pricing for the other trims here on Autoblog. Prices for each trim are below. All are for front-drive model, except the Elite and Black Edition, which come standard with all-wheel drive.
Special Edition: $40,080
Black Edition: $51,040
What are the Pilot’s safety equipment and crash ratings?
The “Honda Sensing” suite of safety features is standard on all trim levels. Included features are forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning and keeping. Blind-spot warning is included on all but the base trim. Unfortunately, these aren’t the best-executed accident avoidance tech features on the market. The lane-keeping assist and road departure mitigation are far too sensitive or prone to false alarms with loud warnings of BRAKE! in the instrument panel accompanied by beeping. This can occur when not crossing either lane line. The adaptive cruise control system is also one of the least sophisticated and potentially annoying examples on the market.
In government crash tests, the Pilot received a five-star overall rating. It got four stars for frontal crash protection, five stars for side protection and four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2020 Pilot a Top Safety Pick. It got the best possible rating of “Good” in all crash tests but the new small overlap front/passenger test, where it got an “Acceptable” rating. It also got headlight ratings of “Good” or “Acceptable” depending on trim, while the forward collision mitigation system received the best-possible rating of “Superior” for its effectiveness in preventing or mitigating a crash.