For model year 2015, the Honda Pilot has a new SE trim level, positioned between the EX and the EX-L.It comes with such amenities as a power moon roof, XM satellite radio (free activation, three-month trial), pewter-gray aluminum-alloy wheels and a DVD rear-entertainment system.Other than the addition of the SE version, the 2015 Pilot is much like the previous model. But history has shown that Honda sometimes introduces an SE version a year before a new generation is launched, so 2016 should bring some big changes.Also for 2015: All Hondas now have standard roadside-assistance plans.For the new model year, the Pilot offers 14 trim levels, ranging in price from $29,870-$41,620 (plus $830 freight). There are seven available exterior colors and up to three interior colors at the highest level.All Pilots come with a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine with variable cylinder management and a five-speed automatic transmission with grade logic control. Choosing the optional four-wheel drive adds $1,600 and moves the model up a level.Navigation is standard on the EX-L (Leather) models, with the front-drive EX-L also offering a rear-entertainment system instead of navigation. Touring models ($40,020 for 2WD, $41,620 for 4WD) come with both packages.The Pilot is a versatile family-friendly vehicle capable of hauling up to eight passengers, lots of cargo, or a combination of both.It also can tow up to 4,500 pounds (4WD models). All Pilots come with an integrated Class III trailer hitch including wiring, with the harness ($220), locking pin ($35), and hitch balls ($19 each) available as accessories. The front-wheel-drive models should achieve 18 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway, according to EPA estimates, while four-wheel-drive models drop down to 17/24. With mostly quick trips around the local area and a short road trip on the highway, my four-wheel-drive SE achieved 19.5 mpg average.My tester’s exterior was shimmering Taffeta White with a two-tone gray interior, riding on unique sporty five-spoke, 18-inch pewter-gray alloy wheels with all-season tires, and wearing Special Edition (SE) badging.It also came with body-color side moldings and heated/power door mirrors, rear privacy glass, two-part tailgate with lift-up glass hatch, and chrome exhaust tips. The lift-up glass hatch made it easy to corral and access the miscellaneous road-trip necessities we took with us.With the tailgate raised, the cargo floor was low enough for easy loading, and the opening was tall and wide enough to accommodate DIY/gardening supplies, furniture, appliances, or exercise equipment.Both the second and third seats could be folded flat in a 60/40 configuration for lots of hauling possibilities. Behind the third row, there is 18 cubic feet of cargo space; behind the second row with the third row folded completely, there is 47 cubic feet; and behind the first row with the second and third rows folded flat, there was 87 cubic feet of space.The third seat is also removable and there is an additional covered storage area under the main cargo floor in the rear. The cargo floor lifts up and has a strap to hold it in place against the back of the third row. The covered storage area has grooves for dividers, available as an accessory for $64. A separate covered area contains the jack and tire tools and another large enclosed storage area is located in the side wall on the driver's side -- a good place to store valuables out of sight.The cargo area has lots of tie-down loops and bag hooks, along with a 12-volt outlet. A cargo cover is available for $139. Other cargo accessories include an advanced cargo net for $99, standard cargo net for $38, cargo organizer for $67, and a cargo tray for $114. Roof rails are available for $213, and with cross bars, $413.The seats were covered in textured quilted gray fabric, and the front bucket-style seats were very comfortable, with lumbar support for the driver. The second row bench seat was slightly bolstered on the outboard seatbacks, with a straight back for the middle seat. All three seats had three-point restraints, with the middle shoulder strap stowed in the ceiling. The middle seat was adequate for short trips and actually had plenty of legroom. All second-row seat positions also had lower anchors and upper tethers for child seats. The second row was more versatile than the third row, with separate slide and recline functions in the 60/40 configuration.The third row was a bench, accessed by folding and sliding the second row. Legroom was lacking, but could be slightly improved by sliding the second row seats forward. Only the passenger's side seat had lower anchors, but all seats had upper tethers for child seats, and three-point restraints.Third-row passengers did have good visibility, thanks to the large side windows. They also had air vents, two cupholders on each side wall, and a small cubby on the passenger's side wall.Front passengers had 39.3 inches of headroom and 41.4 inches of legroom. Second-row passengers had 39.8 inches of headroom and 38.5 inches of legroom.The rear entertainment system's nine-inch display was forward of the second row, with the remote control stored and charged in the same area. My Pilot came with two wireless headsets, with additional headsets available from the dealer (or online).We didn't use the entertainment system, but it allows the rear passengers to use the vehicle’s audio system, view DVDs, play games, or import their own videos while the front passengers listen to different audio sources. The children/grandchildren don't enjoy our music, so this is the perfect setup. Front passengers can use the USB interface with an iPod or flash drive, controlled by the Pilot's audio system. My Pilot had a 229-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with seven strategically placed speakers, including a subwoofer. The audio system is also capable of storing up to 2 gigabytes of music from your own CD collection.Audio controls weren't as complicated as some others, with most functions performed by using simple buttons and reading the information on the multi-information display screen in the dash above the center stack. The screen is shared with the backup-camera system, which included guide lines.Controls for the rear entertainment system are on the back of the front center console, along with separate volume controls for three headsets, RCA input jacks for a game console or other video sources, a 12-volt power outlet, and climate controls and adjustable vents. Honda doesn't skimp on safety, with dual-stage front air bags with occupant detection for the front passenger seat, front seat-mounted side air bags, three-row roof-mounted side-curtain air bags, active front head restraints; side-impact door beams, Honda’s ACE body structure; vehicle stability assist, brake assist/antilock braking/electronic brake-force distribution; tire-pressure monitoring; and daytime running lights.Honda also doesn't skimp on storage and cubbies, with 12 beverage holders, five cubbies in the second-row doors (including two cup/bottle holders), an open divided shelf above the glove box (good for passenger’s phone, snacks, personal items), a deep covered cubby under the center stack at the front of the center console, a medium cubby under the center armrest with a 115-volt power outlet, a 12-volt outlet, USB and auxiliary ports, and two cupholders and an open tray in front of the armrest. I like that the shifter knob is located on the center stack, out of the way of all the cubbies and cupholders. My Pilot included a conversation mirror along with a cubby for sunglasses in the front overhead console, with the controls for the moon roof and universal gate/garage opener. The front doors had bi-level map pockets.The Pilot is roomy, very nice to look at in a non-pretentious way, versatile, comfortable (at least for the first five passengers), and drives like a sedan, not a hulking SUV. Of course, a large vehicle doesn't have the zip of a smaller sedan, but my Pilot had enough power to go from zero-60 in 8.1 seconds. Thanks to the large side windows and rear gate glass, visibility for the driver is excellent all around.A Special Edition discount took $1,400 off the $36,120 base price of my Pilot SE, making the total sticker $35,550, including freight.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at email@example.com.