By on July 17, 2018

2018 Honda Pilot front quarter

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?

2018 Honda Pilot cargo area

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.

2018 Honda Pilot interior

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.

2018 Honda Pilot front seats

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.

2018 Honda Pilot rear seats

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.

2018 Honda Pilot dashboard

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.

2018 Honda Pilot gauges

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.

2018 Honda Pilot center stack

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.

2018 Honda Pilot profile

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.

2018 Honda Pilot front

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.

2018 Honda Pilot rear quarter

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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46 Comments on “2018 Honda Pilot Elite Review – Road Trippin’...”

  • avatar

    You can see why these types of vehicle are very popular, not sure of the value proposition of the top-of-the-line model though, an EX or EX-L seems better ‘bang for the buck’.

    And it’s refreshing to once again read a vehicle review instead of a click-baity political sh*t fest, thank you!

  • avatar

    Sorry about the follow-on comment. One of my neighbors is trying to choose between one of these or a Highlander, any opinions?

    • 0 avatar

      Easy – skip both and buy the CX-9.

    • 0 avatar

      Both are safe bets, more-so than the turbo CX-9 IMO. The Mazda’s rear cargo area also seems highly compromised with that sharply slanted rear hatch. Honda’s got VCM on their J series V6 which has had a record of causing expensive issues in some cars. I’d also avoid the upper trim Pilots with their finicky 9 speed autos. The new Highlanders have a 8-speed (DCT?) Aisin that has not fully been proven either. So pick your poison I guess. I’d honestly at least test drive a Durango if I were him, and this is coming from a big Toyota (and slightly less so Honda) fan.

    • 0 avatar

      V6 Honda? No way. Look up Honda VCM.

      Toyota all the way on this one (and against most of the other Honda models, too, save for their hybrids).

    • 0 avatar

      Try the Atlas. That warranty alleviates much of the hand wringing with VW products.

  • avatar

    I struggle with the conflicting statements of “budget-priced” and “$34,000.” Then again, maybe I’m just cheap.

  • avatar

    @st.George .. if your neighbour wants to keep vehicle for 7 yrs+ ,I would go for the Highlander .. while no vehicle is ‘ bullet proof’, from a reliability perspective the Highlander would be superior to the Pilot …

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks! Kinda my thoughts and probably many feel the same as it seems Highlanders around here outnumber Pilots by several to one.

    • 0 avatar

      If they don’t want to pay the “Toyota Tax”, as most vehicles won’t leave you stranded today, the Kia and Hyundai offer less expensive options with a lo ver warranty than the Japanese. Co summer Reports puts the Highlander at the top of the list but it is also the oldest, less fuel efficient, and least technologically packed of all suvs. Same goes for most Toyota suvs.

  • avatar

    Nice review, smart of you to focus on the crossover vs minivan comparisons since we do that a bit around here anyway. The biggest surprise is no surprise at all, your review was as expected. Honda makes a nice big comfy reliable crossover and they make a nice big comfy reliable minivan as well, your choice

  • avatar

    At these loftier price-points I think I’d go with a V8 Durango. It would be a lot more in fuel costs, and it really wouldn’t even be any faster, but I expect I’d enjoy driving it more.

    • 0 avatar

      Win some, lose some. The Durango has the typical FCA circa 2011 interior complete with quickly-aged design and cheap to average materials. It also has quite a bit less interior space than the Pilot. But you do get a V8.

      • 0 avatar

        You get a proper shift lever also in the Durango. The interior was refreshed right after the Wrangler, 2013/2014 and the 8 speed transmission.

        It is very difficult to get a light colored interior in a Durango if that is important.

        • 0 avatar

          Actually 2017 and older Durangos have the dial shifter… 2018 brought the lever, just FYI.

          My local dealer still had a V6 AWD deep blue Durango with light colored interior, three rows, and the towing package on the lot. He’s advertising $33,000

  • avatar

    Very functional looking vehicle. I do appreciate the amount of cargo space behind the third row. Think only Chevy Traverse and VW Atlas have it beat in total cargo volume. (Maybe new Subaru Ascent as well) I have been casually looking at these for a future purchase but really pass up the Honda Pilot. I configured one the way I wanted found that you really have to pony up to the $42K touring FWD to get some of the features that are available on less expensive competitive models. Such as, a transmission with more than 6 speeds, larger wheels, acoustic glass, roof rails, second row captains chairs is a big one.

    I personally would demand roof rails on any trim of this car, lack of captains chairs also a deal breaker. But I really pass it by because it is just so darn boring. Would it kill Honda to add an ounce of style to its exterior “styling”. So for low to mid $40’s I think I would look elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Car Ramrod

      I’m in the same boat, though we are looking to put three kids in the second row, so no captains chairs for us. Honda rarely impressed with features, but lack of passenger seat adjustment in our Odyssey Elite makes us unlikely to consider another Honda.

  • avatar

    Piano black trim needs to die. It looks good when clean, sure, but it attracts dust, fingerprints, and scratches like no other. I can tolerate a few accents in out-of-reach places, but the material is wholly inappropriate for broad consoles, touchscreen surrounds, etc.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    There is only one reason I’m not buying one of these- you can’t get more than a 4 way passenger seat at any trim level. Honda will gladly sell you an MDX base with an 8-way passenger seat for less money than this, but it’s smaller. We’re looking at the Traverse, Atlas, and XC90 instead.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s just the photo, but the storage space looks incredibly small – at least compared to a Honda minivan.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a wide vehicle (mostly because it’s built on the full-size Odyssey platform), but it’s otherwise solidly mid-size, only a few inches longer than an Accord, and with the same wheelbase.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    One of the major car magazines replaced the transmission in their long term tester in the Elite model trim. Reading between the lines the transmission was not acceptable even after it was replaced. If I were to purchase one-I would go with a lower trim model that has a different transmission.

  • avatar

    Nice writeup. Nice to see vehicles, practicality, and avoid baggage that seems to shadow some of these threads. Next door neighbor had a new MDx for a couple of months. It was totalled a few months later, and replaced with a loaded Pilot because the MDX couldn’t be replaced quickly in it’s desired color and equipment combination. Been a fine mom mobile for a family of three small boys, but the wife swears the Pilot just doesn’t drive as nicely as the MDX did. Odd, because otherwise they’re pretty equal in equipment. At this price level, it’s understandable why Acura does so well.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Honduh trying its best to build a Chevrolet Traverse. Then they turned the Accord into the Honduh/Chevrolet Impala (and a much uglier attempt); sadly a great car could be to take the Accord interior and to throw it in the Impala which would be an upgrade.

  • avatar

    That pushbutton transmission is not just odd, it was a deal killer for me. It may not be as lethal as Chrysler’s rotary dial, but you have to use several different button combos to get from forward into reverse. I can’t imagine parallel parking or trying to get out of snow with that techno horror show. I said I wouldn’t buy a vehicle with that transmission and the salesperson said, “I still have some 2017s around back…”

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Correct me if I’m wrong but gearshifts haven’t been mechanical for some time now…even a shifter is simply making electrical connections….

    • 0 avatar

      …to get to reverse, you just hit the reverse button. It’s even a different motion from all the other buttons to make sure you develop some muscle memory for it. It’s dumb because it doesn’t actually save any room that I can tell, but I wouldn’t call it unsafe.

      It is much less of a nightmare than the FCA rotary dial or BMW’s monostable shifter, IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      No, you don’t, and I have one so I know. One button push for each gear change. After some use it becomes normal and you can do it by button feel alone. The only multi-button push is to start the car (push engine start/stop button, push gear select button). Even stopping the car can be done by one push (on the engine start/stop button–it will select park as it shuts down). The 2017 top trim models have the same transmission and same button arrangement.

  • avatar

    The new POS Hondas, some with turbocharged grenades, other with bullsh*t CVTs (because Honda can’t produce a conventional transmission not made of glass that can handle more than 88 lb ft of torque without exploding), all with cheap interiors, the cheapest paint, and bizarre OR completely anonymous (as above – could be a Hyundai, Chevy Ghuangzou-Guadalajara GM, or Nissan), sold at increasingly ridiculous prices.

    Soichiro and Hirotoshi Honda are turning in their graves.

    • 0 avatar

      With Obama’s CAFE going up every year and no time to prove products before they have to be pushed into production, only Toyota is making anything that isn’t a time bomb with a short fuse today, and that’s because Synergy Drive gives them some breathing space. Their day is coming though.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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…

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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…

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