2015 Honda Pilot SE 4WD vs. 2015 Mazda CX-9 AWD Grand Touring:
Battle of the little big boys.
This week: Honda Pilot.
Price: $35,550 as tested, with $1,400 off the $2,400 Special Edition Package, which includes DVD system, Sirius XM, and sunroof.
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the "comfortable ride; roomy third-row seat; eight-passenger capacity; useful and clever storage areas" but not the feel that is "slow and cumbersome; lackluster braking distances; missing some convenience and high-tech safety features; some cheap interior plastics."
Marketer's pitch: No catchy phrases, just . . . the discount rack? Cheap lease prices are the website's focus. Make way for the 2016s.
Reality: Soooo 2012.
Back to basics: This edition of the Honda Pilot eight-passenger SUV had a classic feel. A normal, nonelectronic parking brake, a gear shift lever, and stereo buttons made me feel like the pilot in the cockpit of a Pilot, not like an avatar trapped inside some oversize iPad.
So for readers tired of all the gadgetry, here's a review for you.
The downside, though, is that the Pilot has not had a redesign since 2009 and is showing its age. A new version for 2016 was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show.
On the road: The second thing I noticed - something has changed in the last few years. I gave the 2012 Pilot rave reviews and even considered buying one before opting for the larger, more practical Toyota Sienna. This time, I was disappointed in the handling.
The Pilot pilots itself comfortably in tight spots and around curves. But the steering is so light that it's almost impossible to go one-handed on less challenging roads, even to take a moment to operate the other controls.
Up to speed: The Pilot gets itself up to highway speeds fairly quickly. But several passengers ate into those acceleration times pretty sharply. The 3.5-liter V-6 makes 250 horsepower, but it's still a challenge fully loaded.
To a stop: I have to agree with Edmunds on the braking. The Pilot noticeably lags on coming down from high speeds.
Shifty: Though I appreciate a car with classic operating controls and stereo tuning, classic underpinnings do not receive the same reverence. The five-speed automatic harks back a decade.
The transmission also calls more attention to itself than I'd like when changing gears, and features only modest gear selections on the lever (a button for D3 and shifts to 2 and 1).
In the snow: I was able to get both the Pilot and the CX-9 out in the snow during their test weeks, thanks to some crappy Pennsylvania weather that wouldn't quit. The Pilot was well suited to the task, although a confusing button on the VTM-4 four-wheel-drive control system almost led me to the wrong setting. Clarity is everything here; it's not the best time to have to stop and check the manual.
Play some tunes: Though the buttony radio has the look of olden days, those days sound as awesome as you remember. Songs were clearer in the Pilot than in almost any other vehicle I've tested in a long while. Unfortunately, front speakers rest down by your feet, so sound can be blocked by the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat's feet and all the accessories she requires. (But she's worth it.)
Buttons across the bottom get you from CD to radio to Sirius, and a dial at the bottom of the dashboard also helps with some functions.
A large screen does make for a clear interface with the driver.
Friends and stuff: Much is made about the eight-passenger seating of the Pilot, but three of those passengers get a pretty raw deal. Sturgis Kid 1.0 likened the backseat to "sitting on a board," and Sturgis Kid 3.0 actually rode back there by herself for three hours and wanted it known She. Was. Not. Pleased.
The front seats were also pretty hard.
Night shift: The interior lighting shines a little more brightly than in more expensive vehicles, but it does not interfere with the view of the road.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 18.6 miles per gallon in a mix of suburban and highway driving, with a long trip across Pennsylvania.
Where it's built: Lincoln, Ala.
How it's built: Consumer Reports puts its predicted reliability at only average.
Next week: How does this stack up to Mazda's seven-seat offering?