2018 Honda Pilot Elite Review - Road Trippin'

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Honda Pilot Elite

3.5-liter V6, DOHC (280hp @ 6,000 rpm, 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm)
Nine-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
19 city / 26 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24.5 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $48,465 (USD)
As Tested: $48,465
Prices include $995 freight charge.

The plan was, as are all great and awful ideas alike, both simple and last-minute. A family reunion, over Memorial Day weekend, with a couple dozen family members spread from all over the East Coast, and ages spread from 5 to 93. Let’s pick a small touristy town with limited lodging choices — all while a major regional soccer tournament is happening — just for fun.

And we were hauling my mother along with the kids, which meant we needed room for five and luggage for eight. Why does one person need a 29-inch spinner, while my kids, my wife, and I fit everything needed for the long weekend in a 22-inch carry-on? Trips like this typically mean minivan, but, despite my protests, nobody seems to buy minivans anymore. So a three-row crossover is the best alternative. I figured that since Honda makes a hell of a minivan, any crossover built in the same factory has to be at least okay.

Thus the 2018 Honda Pilot Elite became our steed for a long weekend road trip. Did it make me forget my beloved van?

Well, the cargo area behind the third row of seats was surprisingly acceptable for the road trip. We were able to fit both the 29- and 22-inch suitcases flat on the floor next to one another, with room on top for various implements of tweenage distraction. The cargo floor can be moved around — either dropped down to give another few inches of vertical space, or left flush with the hatch opening, giving a covered cubby for small items beneath the luggage.

Oddly, that cubby seems to be rather well sealed, as somehow a pair of my kids’ shoes ended up there after the weekend. When I cleaned the Pilot before returning it to Honda, the discovery of those shoes and the associated smell nearly knocked me over. Consider only keeping clean things in that storage area.

While the cargo space doesn’t have the height one would find in a minivan, it’s on par with other three-row crossovers, and should acquit most owners nicely for most situations.

I was especially happy with the accomodations for the passengers. My eldest, tall for her age, was happy to sit in the third row with her little sister, with no complaints. She actually chose to sit there for much of the trip, rather than sit next to mom in the second row.

Similarly, the front seats were quite comfortable for long days on the interstate. While I wasn’t ready to run a marathon after so many hours sitting in incredible traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, neither was I in pain.

While I loved the look of the off-white leather interior — and appreciated that it wasn’t black leather after the Pilot sat in a stifling parking lot for several hours — I’m always concerned that the light colors will look dingy after a few years at the hands of children. Further, I’m never thrilled to see glossy piano black trim in any car, as it seems designed only to attract greasy fingerprints.

Honda’s infotainment system worked flawlessly, and the controls were mostly intuitive. Mostly, I note, as the most-used audio control on any such system is relegated to taps on the edge of the screen. If that’s a dealbreaker, just wait a few months, as the refreshed 2019 Pilot heralds the return of an actual volume control knob.

[Get new and used Honda Pilot pricing here!]

Honda’s new button-based transmission selector still takes a bit of getting used to, as after decades of manipulating a lever of some sort, there’s still plenty of muscle memory built in. But it works well, leaving plenty of console space for a couple of drinks in the cupholder. Beyond that, the covered between-seat storage offers plenty of room for gear. We fit a small soft-sided cooler comfortably inside, so we didn’t need to keep stopping for drinks along the way.

Looking at the outside, Honda’s styling is quite anonymous. It’s not unattractive, but the edges are all soft with little definition. The styling makes it quite clear to anyone looking that the Pilot is an approachable, easy-to-drive family vehicle, rather than a hard-core offroader ready to get muddy.

I do like the chromed upper bar of the grille that extends through the headlamps, creating a narrow strip for the top half of the LED daytime running lights. It’s an attractive touch.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Pilot’s handling. While there was plenty of body roll when cornering — this led to protests from my nearly-seasick passengers who weren’t prepared for the mountainous switchbacks on US 30 in South Central PA — the big crossover was nicely controlled, giving me enough confidence to push it in these corners. The steering was a bit numb on the interstate, however.

You’ll note an indicated 26.0 MPG number on the gauges. Recall that I spent a good deal of time in steady-state cruising on this drive, so that number is a bit inflated compared to my typical test drives. The measured 24.5 MPG was achieved with two days of my usual driving and a refuel — an impressive figure for such a large vehicle.

The big Honda V6 never felt underpowered, though several competitive vehicles offer more power than the 280 hp found in this Pilot. I did find that the nine-speed transmission would hunt between gears at times in steady-state cruising. Fortunately, the shifts were only noticed by slight changes in engine note, as the transmission shifts seamlessly. Wind noise was minimal, though I did notice a bit of tire roar as speed limits were explored and exploited. I blame the 20-inch wheels and tires for the noise — short sidewalls on the big wheels fitted to this top-trim Pilot tend to amplify sounds.

That Elite trim badge on the tailgate means a good bit of money, as you’ll see at the top of the page. One can get into an all-wheel drive Pilot for around $34,000 — and that budget-priced crossover is mechanically identical to the Elite trim (which adds another $14k). Navigation, leather, sunroof, and rear-seat entertainment are the big things you add for that money, but the entry LX trim might be a great choice for a family on a budget.

I’ll still never give up on the minivan, but I’ll grudgingly accept that a three-row crossover can perform nearly as well in most situations. Choosing a crossover so mechanically similar to a minivan, such as this Honda Pilot, makes all the difference.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 46 comments
  • Burnbomber Burnbomber on Jul 18, 2018

    I have one, and I can say it is by far the nicest car I've ever owned. Lots of power, trick AWD system, really nice sound, roomy enough for 2 adults, 4 kiddie car seats, and a few pieces of baggage. The 9 speed auto is balky at low speeds; in a crawl situation it wants to remain in 1st gear too long. A tap on the paddle shifter will put it in a higher gear. The highway lane keeping assist with adaptive cruise control will follow the lane and up-ahead cars nicely. 2 negatives--I don't worry about Honda variable cylinder management; I worry about timing belt replacements in the V6 J35 engine, a for-sure expense. And, the gas mileage computer consistently over estimates it's reported gas mileage. I don't know why the computer can't agree with my calculated fuel economy. All the other things thrown out there as negatives--are really insignificant in light of it's advantages.

    • Melvin2017 Melvin2017 on Aug 24, 2018

      The elite trim is an excellent vehicle... the 9 speed transmission acts weird at low speed but once its gets going the elite is a beast...just takes a bit getting use to driving the 9 speed...

  • JLGOLDEN JLGOLDEN on Jul 20, 2018

    I love the Pilot, and feel that it's one of the best 3-row "ute" alternatives to a minivan. From behind the wheel, Pilot and Odyssey provide a strikingly similar (comfortable) outward view and control setup. The Pilot was at the top of my short list, but I chose a 2018 Odyssey Touring during my last car purchase, because at the end of the day, I am becoming my Grandfather. Actually, the Odyssey's sliding doors are irreplaceable when loading the car in tight parking situations. Further, I simply cannot live without a volume control knob on the infotainment system.

    • Burnbomber Burnbomber on Jul 20, 2018

      There's a volume control toggle on the steering wheel. That gets used the most in my Pilot. One big disadvantage not discovered until we travelled in it---the touch screen needed to display 2 things but can only display one at a time. For instance, we needed to see the nav display but also needed to see the playlist on the IPOD. Constantly toggling between them...

  • ToolGuy I wouldn't buy any old Chinese brand of vehicle, but the right EV at the right price, maybe possibly yes. If you told me this would alarm Ford and torque off FreedMike, all the better. 😉P.S. I would *definitely* consider an EV made in Taiwan. Take that, paramount leader!P.P.S. China batteries/components to convert one of my ICE vehicles to EV? Yes.
  • Wolfwagen I expect Renault to be less popular than Fiat
  • ToolGuy Helium-3, baby!
  • Roman Our 1999 Pontiac Sunfire Gt is still running without any issues. 25 years and counting.
  • 28-Cars-Later I thought today's young people weren't even getting licenses to drive, so which is it?