MotorTrend’s 3-Row SUV Comparison

By Don Jacobs | Posted in Reviews on Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 at 8:08 pm
MotorTrend 3 Row Comparison - Honda Pilot

MotorTrend recently took a look at three best-selling 3-row SUVs and compared the 2020 Honda Pilot, 2020 Ford Explorer, and 2020 Toyota Highlander against each other. Under $50,000, these family-sized “trucksters” were judged across four categories: advanced safety features, handling and steering, performance, and interior space. Spoiler: The 2020 Honda Pilot was awarded first place in each category.

Read the full article here.

Advanced Safety Systems

The Honda Pilot Black Edition mimics the loaded, top-tier Elite trim ($49,240) that already includes every available option, and merely adds a triple-black appearance package for an additional $1,500. It too has a comprehensive standard safety suite including six airbags, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist, and road departure mitigation. Perhaps because the company has been working on its Honda Sensing safety suite for at least six years, it just plain works—except for an overly protective automatic braking feature that sent a backpack into the passenger footwell. This occurred because the Pilot’s brake pedal was exceedingly soft and traveled a great distance before truly slowing the SUV. We’ve driven/tested plenty of Pilots, and this appears to be anomalous.

The 2020 Honda Pilot received IIHS’ Good or Superior scores (the highest) in every category but small overlap front collision (passenger-side), headlights (on lower-trim levels), and ease-of-use for the child-seat LATCH system, where it received scores of Average.

Handling and Steering

The Honda, on the other hand, handled the curves and bumps as if its steering and suspension were tuned there. The road isolation and ride qualities are quite good—the best in this group. Besides sharp impacts making their way into the cabin, it simply goes down the road without secondary suspension events, and it never feels big or floaty. We also like the steering very much. It feels the most developed, and naturally so, which is not an easy thing to tune into an electrified system. There’s a fluidity to it, and it feels hydraulic-based. It also has the best-in-test lane-centering system.


Honda’s SOHC 3.5-liter V-6 is equally ubiquitous within its lineup, and it’s the least powerful engine here. Despite its output specifications, the Pilot impressed us with its broad-band power delivery and we especially loved it when the VTEC kicked in (yo). We and other outlets had previously—and rightfully—criticized the Pilot’s nine-speed automatic, and Honda was apparently listening. It’s been retuned. There’s still some head toss at wide-open throttle, and when left in the default drive mode, it only occasionally was caught napping. We’d call it fixed. Also, Sport drive mode banishes the shift delays. We were a bit shocked that the Pilot was the quickest of the three and not by a little. It was a second or more ahead of the Highlander at any time-to-speed measurement above 60 mph, and about a half-second ahead of the Explorer. It’s called American Honda Motor Company for a reason.

Interior Space

Few automakers are as accomplished at packaging as Honda is. This Pilot was introduced four years ago (witness the foot-actuated parking brake relic) and has received few updates/upgrades, yet it is still at the forefront for cleverness and attention to detail. It’s the small things like articulating multi-position armrests, a DVD/Blu-ray player, a convex mirror to keep an eye on back-seat shenanigans, and a handhold in precisely the right place to exit the third row. Seabaugh summarized our top-trim example: “Upfront you have a commanding view of the road, with comfortable [heated/ventilated leather] bucket seats, [a wireless charging pad], a massive storage cubby, and plenty of cupholders, shelves, and pockets for all of your items strewn throughout the cabin.”

The second row is thoughtfully done, too, with six cupholders, two USB outlets, an A/C output, HVAC controls, an HDMI port, a central entertainment screen, and a center console. It’s quite roomy, with the second most legroom of our trio and the greatest headroom. Like the Explorer, you can enter the third row from between the second-row captain’s chairs or by folding the captain’s chairs with a press of a single button.

The Explorer has but 0.3 inches more legroom in the rear-most seats than the Pilot, but the Honda ties for most headroom and has 3 inches more shoulder room—enough to accommodate a third passenger if needed. Showing its age, however, the Pilot has no USB port in the back, and lowering/raising the third row requires leaning into the cargo bay (possibly soiling your clothes) to reach for a release strap. There’s a good-sized bin under the reversible carpeted/hard plastic cover. Clever.

Read the full article here.

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