x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Road Test: 2012 Honda Pilot Touring is a true team player

It's certainly not brash, but this SUV goes about its business quietly and efficiently.

Aside from its distracting white dials on the instrument cluster, the Pilot is a good all-rounder at an affordable price. Ravindranath K / The National
Aside from its distracting white dials on the instrument cluster, the Pilot is a good all-rounder at an affordable price. Ravindranath K / The National

Do you remember the last office party you went to? If you've still got your job, I take it you didn't embarrass yourself too much. That's good to hear.

But sometimes at these shindigs, during the course of the night, you meet someone you've never seen before and introduce yourself, hand out to shake - only to find out that they work alongside you, maybe two or three cubicles down the hall. Oops.

And that's how I feel about the Honda Pilot. This big SUV has been on the market for a while, but where are they? You don't really notice them among the many Land Cruisers and Range Rovers rolling around the UAE roads here. Or do you?

Maybe it's like that quiet office guy; it doesn't really stick out, it keeps its head down. It's not flashy or loud, it just does the job. But maybe, like that office guy, the Pilot has a hidden personality of its own.

I'm surprised I haven't noticed more of them, because the Pilot has a slightly new look for 2012. The new streamlined grille is a welcome departure from the previous chrome monstrosity fixed to the front. It's kind of like someone in your office getting a stylish new haircut or braces to fix a mouthful of wayward teeth. It's not a huge change but a very noticeable one.

The rest of the car isn't much different from last year's model; it's still got that rugged, boxy look of a truck-based SUV. Not that it's a bad thing, really. It doesn't stand out but it's not a bad-looking car at all, with good proportions and some sharp creases. And it looks big.

Wait a minute, it's a lot bigger than I thought it would be, especially for a car labelled "mid-sized" - I even need to pull on the steering wheel to climb into the cabin. And once inside, a look around shows there is acres (well, almost) of room; this is where the boxy shape adds to the roominess, and it's easily as spacious as the market-leading Toyota Land Cruiser. At least, it feels like it.

While it may not have the wood panelling of the big Toyota, the materials inside have an upscale look and feel (apart from a few hard surfaces and cheaper buttons), and the cabin is well laid out, with a two-tone colour scheme. Plus, this Touring model comes with leather seats and a huge, eight-inch sat/nav screen; a better set-up than said Land Cruiser. The centre stack is a bit on the busy side but it makes sense, and using the sat/nav and audio controls is relatively easy. If you have anything to store - a soft drink, a laptop, a large purse - there are countless nooks and crannies of every size all around the cabin, enough to have you forget where you put something in the first place.

Moving to the rear, passengers won't want for space in the second row of seats and even the third row isn't too cramped for adults. Both rows fold flat for more cargo room, though even with them up the rear space is comparable with other mid-sized SUVs.

My biggest problem with the interior, though, are the instruments. They may look good during the day but at night the white dials are bright enough to be a distraction, and turning down the lights only makes everything else dim. I'd rather see more normal, white-on-black instruments.

The driving experience is much of what you'd expect from a larger SUV: a comfortable ride bordering on floaty, and tight corners are best taken at reasonable speeds. The 3.5L V6 is adequate to motivate the Pilot but it doesn't have the power to make the drive exciting by any means.

However, it does have the ability to turn off cylinders when driving on the motorway to realistically save fuel, especially if you do a lot of commuting. This Touring model comes with AWD; it's not a full-fledged off-roader but it will get you into and out of some rougher terrain. If you're looking for something a bit more rugged, that's where the Land Cruiser or other dedicated 4x4s come in.

The thing is, apart from the overtly bright instruments, I couldn't find a glaring fault with the Pilot. Even the relatively sluggish acceleration can be overlooked, considering this car is meant more for comfort and utility rather than outright performance.

And it's priced very competitively in this market compared with other large SUVs, especially when you see this one has features such as a rear DVD screen, a reverse camera, a sunroof and other higher-end options. So why don't you see more of them around?

Driving the Pilot is kind of like getting to know that quiet guy in the office; he may not be the party animal or an in-your-face personality, he may not even be that bright standout on your team. But you get to appreciate the things he does and the things he's capable of; he does a lot of things really well. Yeah, he's a good guy.