Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2015 Honda Pilot Special Edition

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The early 2000’s will not only remembered as the year’s post of the burst of the dot-com bubble. To bring this into context, “Friends” was still airing on TV, and “Finding Nemo” was the hit animated movie on the streets. The word “crossover” was still a relatively new buzzword, and if you needed to ferry around 7 passengers but couldn’t be caught dead in a minivan, it was slim pickings.

Sure, the domestic manufacturers had their body-on-frame Ford Expeditions and Chevy Suburbans, but those were clumsy to park, truck-like to drive, and guzzled fuel like there was no tomorrow. If you didn’t need the towing capacity of those SUVs, you were S.O.L. But then came along the Japanese manufacturers with their car-platform-based utes

Honda was one of the first to market with the Pilot. Back then, the first generation Pilot was essentially a Honda Odyssey with a lift kit, an SUV body, and full-time all-wheel-drive (shared with the more luxurious Acura MDX).

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However, not only did the Pilot win the hearts of many auto journalists, but what was essentially an all-wheel-drive Honda station wagon on steroids also became a runaway success with consumers.

Nowadays, almost every manufacturer has a car-based unibody SUV. Sure, there is an all-new 2016 Honda Pilot on the horizon for those seeking the latest in safety and infortainment innovations. However, despite the age of the 2015 model’s design, this Pilot still makes a lot of sense if you’re looking for a spacious 3-row, 8 passenger crossover SUV and are on a budget.

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Sticking with Honda tradition, an “SE” model has been added to the Pilot line-up in this its last model year (in its current iteration anyway), offering the most popular features in a mid-line trim level. The SE comes in at a Canadian MSRP of $42,500, sitting between the base model LX ($38,100) and higher level EX-L ($44,500) models.

Pilot SE pricing

What’s new

The Pilot Special Edition (SE) includes pewter grey aluminium alloy wheels, a power moonroof, Sirius XM satellite radio, keyless entry, and a rearview camera as standard equipment.

Other popular features that also come as standard equipment include a Class III integrated trailer hitch, and Honda’s DVD Rear Entertainment System.

What you don’t get in the SE is the push button start, a GPS satellite navigation system, or leather upholstery. But many consumers are willing to sacrifice those niceties in order to save a few bucks anyway. The SE is a great way to lower the cost of ownership while still driving away with a pretty feature-rich trim level.

Exterior

For this second generation Pilot, Honda introduced the more boxy old-school SUV styling which was more of a hit than a miss for me. The benefit of the blocky design is that it allowed the designers to cram the most amount of interior space into a relatively compact footprint.

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The 2015 model offers great visibility for a modern SUV, thanks to an upright greenhouse and large windows all around. There is even a convenient pop-up rear glass window in the tailgate, an increasing rarity in SUVs these days.

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Interior

The 2015 Pilot’s interior is undoubtedly more utilitarian than luxurious. The adjectives, “hard-wearing”, “functional”, “practical” all come to mind. Durability is second to none as the materials are of good quality and feel like they’ll be durable for years to come.

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However, this being its last model year (in its current form), the cabin’s layout feels a bit dated. After all, this platform was introduced as a 2009 model.

Perhaps the biggest thing that dates the 2015 model is its infotainment system. The unit is surprisingly responsive to commands from the multi-function knob located low in the dash. However, the user interface does leave much to be desired with its pixelated fonts and graphics.

Once again, call it functional but not pretty. It does get the job done and the large LCD screen is still an upgrade from a single line LCD display.

As a large three-row 8 passenger vehicle, the Pilot’s pièce de résistance is its ability to swallow a plethora of passengers, cargo, or various permutations and combinations of both.

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The interior is roomy in every direction and there are clever nooks and crannies to hold things, stash things, or plug things into. This perhaps a child’s dream, but a parents’ nightmare (I kid, I kid). There is an absolutely massive centre console up front that can even hold mom’s handbag, iPhone, and iPad, all at the same time.

My tester’s seats were covered in typical Honda velour cloth. Once again, they’re designed for comfort during long road trips, but the cushioning lacks any sporting intentions. With a wide range of adjustments, most drivers should be able to find a position that works for them.

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Perhaps my main complaint is that unlike the driver’s seat, the front passenger’s lacks the adjustable thigh support and height adjustment. Its seat base can feel too flat for passengers with long legs.

Similarly, the third row seats are ok for short distances for adults, but because they are essentially part of the cargo floor, the seat base is short and lacking of any thigh support. However, this is not a unique shortcoming of the Pilot, but in fact of many three row crossover SUVs.

Fortunately, if your family is like most, the third row will mostly only be used for hauling around your kid’s playdates or classmates to the latest field trips.

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With all three rows of seats in use, there is a modest 18 cu ft of cargo room behind the 2015 Pilot’s third row. A far cry from the 38.4 cu ft of cargo space behind the Honda Odyssey minivan’s but still good for a couple of smaller carry-on suitcases.

Fold the second and third row seats down and you have a positively cavernous 87.0 cu ft of cargo space.

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Ride and Handling

All 2015 Pilots are powered by Honda’s tried and true 250 horsepower 3.5-litre V6 with Variable Cylinder Management (which shuts down cylinders to reduce fuel consumption). Honda’s ubiquitous five-speed automatic transmission does the job, but is a bit long in the tooth these days with most other competitors switching to six or even eight gear ratios.

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Not to be outdone, I should note that Honda is offering the 2016 Pilot with a standard six speed gearbox, with a new nine-speed unit on higher end Touring and Elite models.

The Pilot’s powertrain is complemented by a rigid body structure and fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front, and multi-link with trailing arms out back. The ride is comfortable and composed, but there is a surprising amount of road noise especially on coarse surfaces. Hopefully this is something that Honda has addressed with the 2016 model.

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Handling-wise, the 2015 Pilot’s steering is well-weighted and accurate for an SUV. Body roll is well contained and standard VSA stability control keeps the Pilot in check if you push it too hard. But the Pilot doesn’t encourage you to drive quickly which is a good thing as its limits are relatively low anyway.

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Honda has prioritized the chassis conservatively for comfort and around town manoeuvrability, and less for handling prowess.

Wrap-up

If you have a strict budget and are looking for a mid-sized SUV with the ability to carry up to 8 passengers, the 2015 Pilot still deserves a good look.

With many Honda Canada dealers offering $5,000 incentives to clear out the remaining 2015 Pilots, this new SE trim level is a great way to get yourself into one of the big players in this popular market segment!

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Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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