Midsize SUV; Built in Canada
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $6,500 – $19,200*

2003 Honda Pilot

2004 Honda Pilot

2005 Honda Pilot

Honda Pilot

  • Build quality
  • Cargo room
  • Passenger room
  • Fuel economy

Pleasantly practical and family-friendly, Honda’s midsize SUV ranks as the Accord of its class. Delivering a laudable balance of civility and comfort, refinement and power, it serves as a highly rational approach to the way most people really use their SUVs. Toss in Honda’s strong reputation for reliability, and it’s no wonder that the Pilots is an authentic Best Buy–though lack of curtain airbags disappoints. High resale values translates to hefty used-SUV prices, however.


Honda borrowed the basic design of the popular MDX from its upscale Acura division, and transformed it into a new midsize SUV. The 2003 Pilot shared its basic chassis and powertrain with the more costly Acura MDX, and used the same V6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive system. Built on the same wheelbase as the MDX, but a bit shorter overall, the Pilot had different styling and softer suspension tuning. It was also slightly taller and wider.

Unlike the seven-passenger MDX, Honda’s Pilot could seat eight and had 16-inch wheels instead of 17s. Honda’s version had 8.8 cubic feet more cargo space.

Models included the basic LX and a pair of upscale versions: EX and leather-upholstered EX-L. All Pilots had antilock four-wheel disc brakes and front side airbags. Rear or curtain side airbags were unavailable.

Pilot’s AWD system lacked low-range gearing, but a locking rear differential could provide additional traction when needed. Maximum towing capacity was 4500 pounds.

The one-piece rear liftgate did not have separate-opening glass. Second- and third-row seats were 60/40 split-folding benches. The EX model added alloy wheels, keyless entry, a power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, and upgraded audio with steering-wheel controls.

Optional on the EX-L were a navigation system and rear DVD entertainment, although they were not available together. Rivals included the Ford Explorer, Nissan Murano, and Toyota Highlander.

Yearly Updates

2004 Pilot
Only minor changes marked the 2004 Pilots. Newly standard on the EX-L were heated front seats and mirrors.
2005 Pilot
Honda’s V6 engine gained 15 horsepower for 2005, now rated at 255. A tire-pressure monitor joined the standard-equipment list, and the EX-L model gained an antiskid system. All Pilots got a bigger fuel tank. EX and EX-L models substituted an in-dash CD changer for the previous single-CD player.
2006 Pilot
Pilot got freshened styling, curtain side airbags, and all models became available with both all- and front-wheel drive for 2006. The 2WD Pilots got Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system that deactivates three cylinders when cruising or decelerating to save fuel.
2007 Pilot
Honda’s midsize SUV is unchanged for 2007.
2008 Pilot
The 2008 Honda Pilot added some new models to its lineup. The entry-level VP model replaced the LX. Other trim levels included uplevel EX, new-for-2008 SE, and EX-L with leather upholstery and heated front seats.


transverse front-engine/all-wheel drive

Only one powertrain has been available for the Pilot: a 3.5-liter overhead-cam V6 engine, driving a five-speed automatic transmission. Every Pilot is equipped with all-wheel drive. For 2005, the V6 rose from 240 to 255 horsepower.

ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/212
Engine HP 240-255
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 242-250
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic



Road Test

Able to deliver strong, ready power, the Pilot is among the quicker midsize SUVs. It’s especially robust for highway merging and passing. A test EX was able to reach 60 mph in 7.9 seconds. That compares to 8.4 seconds for a V8 Ford Explorer, and 8.5 for an AWD V6 Toyota Highlander. Adding to the powertrain’s exemplary behavior, the transmission shifts smoothly and promptly.

An EX averaged 16.5 mpg overall, and 19.7 mpg in mostly highway travel. An EX-L model yielded 16.4 mpg in mixed driving. These figures compare to a Highlander, though Honda recommends regular-grade fuel for the Pilot, while Toyota recommends premium for V6 Highlanders.

Few SUVs absorb bumps as well as a Pilot, which copes comfortably with most any surface. Although the body floats a bit over big bumps and dips, and takes a moment to settle, it never loses composure. Cracks and patchy pavement pass with little impact or notice. All told, the ride is softer than that of an MDX.

Pilot is largely an easy, no-surprises handler, even if sharp turns and tight, twisty roads bring on fair body lean and noseplow. Steering can seem too sensitive at times, and does not afford even road feel. Tall tire sidewalls contribute to lazy steering response in quick directional changes. Braking is strong and stable, but simulated panic stops generate considerable nosedive. AWD copes easily with moderately muddy backwoods trails.

Refined as any rival, this SUV is quieter and more solid than most. Coarse-pavement tire thrum and highway wind noise are moderate at worst, the V6 never rises above a muted growl, and there’s only slight body drumming over washboard roads and lane-divider dots. In addition to a generally carlike driving feel, the Pilot offers fine low-speed maneuverability and a city-friendly turning radious.

Instruments and controls are satisfying, though digital readouts for the odometer/outside-temperature display and the rear-differential lock wash out in some light conditions or through polarized sunglasses. The steering-column-mounted transmission-shift lever does not block access to any control, but its travel is imprecise enough to regularly overshoot the Drive position. Honda’s navigation system is easier to learn and use than most, but the screen is small and the driver must stretch to reach the main control. Cabin finish is thorough, and materials are solid and harmonious, but hard plastic surfaces abound.

Providing generous front headroom, the seats are supportive and comfortable, though not exceptionally so. Taller drivers might crave more rearward seat travel and a steering wheel that tilts higher. Shorter drivers could find the thigh bolstering too prominent. Thick front roof pillars block the driver’s view to some angles, but large windows and a typically-tall SUV driving stance translate to good visibility otherwise. Trucklike ride height requires most occupants to hoist themselves aboard with some effort.

The second-row bench offers good room and comfort for two adults, or three in a pinch, but some competitors offer more usable legroom when a front seat is pushed back. Toyota’s Highlander has lower step-in and, thus, easier entry/exit. The third row is tough to access and sized mostly for youngsters, though even they have little leg space.

Ample load volume emerges when some seatbacks are folded down, though usable space is little (if any) greater than in a Highlander or regular-length Chevrolet TrailBlazer. You must remove and stow the third-row headrests in a lidded floor well to fold the rearmost seatback, but second- and third-row seats drop easily to form a flat deck and some rear shoulder belts detach for cargo-carrying convenience. Lack of separate-opening liftgate glass is a disappointment. Bins and cubbies abound, including two-tier front seatback pouches.


Model Tested: 2004 Pilot EX

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 5
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 7
Cargo Room - 8


Value - 10

Total: 66


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
106.3 188.0 77.3 70.6
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
90.3 19.2 8
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
41.9 40.9 41.4 37.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2004 Pilot EX 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Front Passenger Injury - 5

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Description: The airbag warning light may come on due to a defective occupant position detection sensor requiring its replacement. It may also come on if a laptop computer is used near the front passenger seat, so this must be avoided. (2003)
Blower motor
Description: Blower motor overheats, blows the fuse and may melt the fan because motor cooling hose becomes clogged. (2003-04)
Engine noise
Description: What sounds like engine pinging during acceleration is likely a loose heat shield under the vehicle. (2007)
Oil leak
Description: The V6 engine block may leak oil due to casting porosity requiring the leaks to be sealed using JB Weld or a similar product. (2003-04)
Rear axle noise
Description: Groaning noise or vibration from the rear during turns may be due to clutches in the differential grabbing because of contaminated fluid. (2003-07)
Rear axle noise
Description: Noise and/or vibration comes from the rear differential due to internal clutch wear or moisture entry. (2003-07)
Description: The driver’s seat may not move fore and aft due to release cable falling off. (2006-07)
Timing belt
Description: Two problems on V6 engines affecting the timing belt and water pump were being handled as a recall. The automatic tensioner for the belt leaks down resulting in excessive slack while a problem with the water pump casting causes misalignment of the timing belt. Both components to be replaced at the same time. (2003)
Water leak
Description: Water on the front floor comes in via side marker wires. (2006-07)
Description: If the rear wheels hop or skip when turning, the differential lubricant is probably contaminated with clutch material or water from condensation and must be drained and refilled. (2003-04)
Electrical problem
Description: The rear ventilation blower may quit working because the power transistor that controls it fails. (2003)
Electrical problem
Description: The Homelink garage door opener may not learn the code on some early build models. (2005)
Description: The accelerator pedal may feel notchy or rough due to deposits in the throttle bore, which is most common in coastal areas, requiring a revised throttle body. (2003-04)
Check-engine light
Description: “Check Engine” light may glow on vehicles used where salt is used on the roads because the EVAP solenoid fails. (2003)

Recall History

Description: The driver’s airbag inflator could produce excessive internal pressure. If an affected airbag deploys, the increased internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture. Metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material, possibly causing injury or fatality to vehicle occupants. Dealers will replace the airbag inflator free of charge.
2003-04 Pilot
Description: Heat build-up in automatic transmission may eventually lead to gear tooth chipping or gear breakage, resulting in transmission lockup.
2003-2005 Pilot
Description: Wear on the surface of the electrical terminal can increase electrical resistance, potentially disabling the low-beam headlights.
2004 Pilot
Description: Certification label may contain incorrect vehicle weight and tire-size information.
2005 Pilot
Description: Improperly-manufactured fuel tank could be damaged in a crash and leak fuel.
2005 Pilot
Description: Steering column may be incorrectly assembled, which could result in loss of steering control.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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