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The Pilot is the largest SUV in Honda's current lineup. It offers up three rows of seating and enough room for up to eight. When the third generation premiered in 2016, the Pilot was considered the midsize SUV to beat. However, many of its competitors have undergone complete redesigns in the last few years. So does the 2021 Honda Pilot manage to keep up with its rivals? Or are its shortcomings too much for drivers to overlook?
What's New for 2021?
Even though the Pilot has not entered a new generation, Honda still gave it some important tweaks for 2021. A brand-new mid-level trim known as the SE becomes an option. This trim level hits a sweet spot between features and price, making it a serious contender for families. Those who stick with the entry-level LX trim will find that it now comes with dual-zone automatic climate control. The nine-speed automatic transmission also becomes standard for all models in 2021.
Top 10 Reasons to Buy a 2021 Honda Pilot – The Pros
1. Roomy and Versatile Cabin
It is immediately clear once you sit down inside the Pilot that it was designed with families in mind. Most models come with seating for up to eight, although select trims have second-row captain's chairs which reduce the capacity to seven. Honda has scattered fifteen cupholders throughout the cabin and upper trims include USB ports for all three rows of seating. Unlike many rivals, the Pilot also provides enough space for adults to sit comfortably in the third-row.
2. Competitive Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is often a concern when drivers are looking into an SUV of this size. Luckily, the Pilot does a decent job of staying efficient. With front-wheel drive, it provides drivers with 20mpg in the city along with 27mpg on the highway. Deciding to go with all-wheel drive means both of those numbers are reduced by one. The similarly sized Volkswagen Atlas gets just 24mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive.
3. Storage Spots for All Your Gear
One big part of the appeal of the 2021 Pilot involves all of the little storage nooks and crannies. There is a special spot for your laptop, phone, sunglasses, etc. The Pilot also has a larger-than-average amount of cargo space, with 16.5 cubic feet behind the third row and a maximum of 83.9 cubic feet with the second and third-row down. Most models come with a power liftgate, with the SE and up adding the hands-free feature.
4. Strong Standard Engine
Honda sticks with a hearty V6 for the Pilot in 2021. The 3.5L engine has the ability to create 280-horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. As a result, drivers will find that they are never left hanging when they hit the gas. The Pilot has plenty of get-up-and-go for merging on the highway. Plus, the Pilot does an impressive job of staying smooth on most surfaces, further adding to the enjoyment of driving it.
5. Brand-New SE Trim Level
The brand-new SE trim level falls in between the EX-L and the Touring models. It has many of the luxury features that are found in top trims, such as a hands-free liftgate and wireless device charging, only with a lower price tag. The SE also has all of the best features from the trim levels that came before it, such as leather upholstery, a sunroof, and one-touch slide-and-fold second-row seats. There are now a total of seven trim levels for the 2021 Pilot, making it easier for families to find the one best for their needs.
6. Smooth Nine-Speed Automatic Transmission
In the past, the nine-speed automatic transmission was reserved for the top trims. It also attracted a lot of negative attention from drivers with its lack of responsiveness in certain situations. Luckily, Honda has ironed out any kinks in the last couple of years. The newly standard nine-speed transmission helps to keep all models of the 2021 Pilot moving along smoothly.
7. Available Black Edition
For the most part, the Honda Pilot is not going to turn any heads. The one exception would be the top-of-the-line Black Edition. This model shows off things like 20-inch black alloy wheels and black exterior trim on the outside. Moving inside of the cabin will reveal unique red ambient lighting as well as special Black Edition leather seat trim. This trim may be pricey but it is sure to appeal to those who are after a sleek and sophisticated version of the Pilot.
8. Standard Honda Sensing
Having standard driver assistance features is not as impressive as it once was. Still, the Pilot does have more than the average midsize SUV. Included in the comprehensive Honda Sensing bundle are features like forward collision warning, road departure warning, and collision mitigation braking. Both lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning as standard as well. What is really nice about this suite of features is that it includes adaptive cruise control, something that is typically reserved for higher trim levels. A rearview camera and automatic high beams are also part of the standard equipment list.
9. Well-Equipped Entry-Level LX Trim
Although it is missing some of the bells and whistles found on higher trims, the entry-level Pilot LX is actually quite nice. In addition to the long list of standard safety equipment, it comes with automatic LED headlights, push-button start, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Tech-wise, it has a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, and a seven-speaker sound system. Drivers who are not interested in having all the newest technology features may find that the LX has all that they need without breaking the bank.
10. Intelligent Traction Management
With the exception of the LX, all models of the 2021 Pilot come with Intelligent Traction Management. Models with front-wheel drive have two modes, normal and snow. All-wheel-drive models have those, plus both mud and sand. Although the Pilot is not necessarily designed for off-road adventures, this traction management system does give it some extra capability. It is easy to switch between modes using the touchscreen. All-wheel drive is available on all models and standard on both the Elite and Black Edition trims.
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Reasons Not to Buy a 2021 Honda Pilot – The Cons
1. Hard to Access the Third Row
True, there is plenty of space in the third-row of the Pilot. Getting there, however, is another story. This may not be an issue for those with small children, but anyone who actually wants adults to sit in all three rows should keep this in mind. Of course, models with the second-row captain's chairs do not have this issue.
2. Lack of Standard Smartphone Integration
So many competitors of the Pilot have started offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on all trim levels. This is still not the case for the Pilot. Buyers need only to step up to the second trim, known as the EX, to gain these features. Still, Honda should really consider adding it to the standard equipment list for all versions of the Pilot if they want to stay competitive.
3. Outer Appearance is Plain
Many of the Honda Pilot's rivals have recently been redesigned to be more eye-catching. With the exception of the Black Edition, the look of the Pilot is almost depressing. It is available in more muted colors than other options. Drivers who want an SUV that blends may find that the Pilot is perfect for their needs. The Pilot looks particularly bland when compared to options like the Kia Telluride.
4. Touchscreen is Finicky
Honda has made strides when it comes to improving its infotainment setup. Still, drivers may find themselves frustrated if they are trying to quickly navigate the system. Eventually, most people will get the hang of it. This does not make it any less annoying, however.
How it Stacks Up to the Competition
2021 Honda Pilot vs 2021 Mazda CX-9
The CX-9 has always been an appealing option in the three-row SUV market. In 2021, it gets even more cutting-edge technology and a new stylish appearance package. That said, it offers significantly less cargo and third-row space, reducing its practicality. Those who value function over form may decide the Pilot is the way to go.
2021 Honda Pilot vs 2021 Volkswagen Atlas
Like most vehicles made by Volkswagen, the Atlas offers up a luxurious experience and a fun drive. In addition to not being as fuel-efficient, however, the Atlas is also not as powerful as the Pilot. While the standard engine for the Pilot makes 280-horsepower, the Atlas only makes 235.
The Honda Pilot is no longer the clear favorite when it comes to three-row midsize SUVs. That said, it would not take much to reclaim that title. Honda needs to give in and offer smartphone integration on all models. A refresh of the exterior appearance would also go a long way toward appealing to more drivers. With these tweaks, the already practical and powerful Honda Pilot could be close to perfect.
• Why buy a 2020 Honda Pilot? w/ pros vs cons