Minivans are universally disliked by most people under 30. It’s easy to understand why: they come with the stigma that you’re a responsible parent who has to prioritize diaper runs, grocery stops, and after-school activities over the fun-filled antics that come with young adult life. It signifies that your youth, and all of its unbridled adventure, are now figuratively in the backseat as you occupy the role of caretaker and parent. But what if the minivan segment didn’t have to be so odious? What if there was something like the 2022 Honda Pilot to rearrange the perception of the minivan stigma?
Well, in many ways, the Pilot has been one of a few key SUVs within the market that dabbles in crossover territory when it comes to its minivan segment appeal. Yes, it’s still an SUV, but inside, it carries many of the functions and utility of a standard minivan, including third-row seating. While many car shoppers find themselves veering away from the minivan segment entirely, the Honda Pilot attempts to retain a lot of what makes minivans useful, but at the same time, it also wants to stay hip enough not to scare away those who fear getting older.
Embracing the Minivan’s Third-Row
Since its debut during the first generation nearly two decades ago, the Honda Pilot has always sought to provide as much space in an SUV as the traditional three-row minivan. However, back in the early aughts, the Pilot looked a lot more like a typical SUV. The five-door, mid-size vehicle carried a more utilitarian guise on the outside, while inside, it shared a lot of the DNA of a traditional multi-passenger minivan.
Interestingly enough, despite being classified as a mid-size vehicle, the Pilot actually features the kind of passenger volume one might expect from a full-size SUV. The 2022 Honda Pilot, in particular, has a passenger volume of 151.7 cubic feet of space spread across its three rows. You might also be curious about how much cargo volume is available behind the third row? Well, you get a total of about 18.5 cubic feet of space, which is more than the average trunk space of a mid-size sedan.
The third row itself has slightly smaller interior dimensions than the volume available in the first and second row, but you’re giving up between 4 and 9 inches compared to the first two rows, which isn’t that bad. It’s an interesting structure, though, given that the Pilot avoids moving up into the full-size segment but attempts to provide all the benefits of a full-size SUV or van.
Better Handling Than a Minivan
Part of the stigma of a minivan is how well they handle, or rather how unwieldy they are to handle. The downside to a lot of minivans is that they aren’t the most fun vehicles to drive, and generally, what we determine to be “fun” to drive is something that has enough under-the-hood performance to give drivers something exhilarating to experience when it comes to acceleration or travel speeds. There also needs to be enough stiffness in the suspension to make the ride smooth and enough leeway in the steering to make it agreeable with various types of cornering.
Minivans have been universally panned for being hard to handle, rough on certain kinds of road surfaces, and usually lack the kind of agility to make for fun cornering machines. This is a conundrum that Honda has managed to address with the Pilot. While it contains the space of a minivan, unlike the typical minivan, it isn’t a lug on the road.
A big part of the Pilot’s appeal is that it has a V6 ripe under the hood pushing a very impressive 280 horsepower and up to 262 pound-feet of torque. So unlike the typical minivan, most of which are fitted with a paltry 4-cylinder, the Pilot gives you some spark of excitement when you press down on the accelerator. Now, interestingly enough, some critics have actually stated that the 2022 Honda Pilot does not have the most exciting handling, but that’s in comparison to slightly spunkier nameplates in the segment, such as the Kia Telluride or the Hyundai Palisade.
More Hip Than the Odyssey
While it may be easy for some critics to point out where the Pilot falls short compared to some of its higher-end rivals within the mid-size SUV market, let’s not overlook the fact that as a replacement for a minivan, it does the job quite well, and does so while being a lot more contemporary than its fellow cohort, the Honda Odyssey. This is quite important given that they’re based on the same platform.
Even with the Honda Odyssey sharing a powertrain and chassis with the Pilot, they actually couldn’t be more dissimilar in some fundamental areas when it comes to various utilitarian functions. For instance, the 2022 Honda Pilot comes equipped with all-wheel drive, something that is not optional for the Honda Odyssey at all. This means you’re stuck with only front-wheel drive with the Odyssey.
Another big difference is that the Odyssey’s ground clearance clocks in at under 6.0-inches, whereas you get 7.3-inches of ground clearance with the Pilot. This makes the Pilot so much more agreeable when it comes to going on vacations, trips, or off-road adventures where you may have to travel uphill, on a dirt road, or through an area where the terrain may be uneven or bumpy. The added option of all-wheel drive also makes it a lot more convenient.
Also, remember the comments above about the Pilot having better handling than the typical minivan? Well, a lot of that has to do with steering capabilities. In this case, the Pilot simply has better steering ratios than the Odyssey, with a 16.0:1 ratio for the Pilot compared to the Odyssey’s 14.35:1 ratio. But it’s all a give and take scenario. What the Odyssey lacks in maneuverability, it makes up for with space and comfort. Sure, the Pilot gives up the sliding door effect and some cargo/passenger volume, but that’s the price you have to pay for wanting a vehicle that doesn’t carry the typical domesticated look of a minivan.
Standard Features to Entertain Passengers
Minivans and many full-size SUVs have mastered the art of including lots of accessories and accessibility features to keep passengers occupied. Over the years, these features have also become standard on various sized SUVs, including the Honda Pilot. For the 2022 model year, Honda decided to actually standardize some of the infotainment features to make it more accessible for the driver and passengers.
The 8-inch touchscreen display with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, along with wireless Bluetooth connectivity and voice-activated functionality, are all standard features now across the entire trim line. So every level of the Pilot is designed to keep passengers busy with all the fancy in-cabin tech that many people love so much. This all helps the Pilot bridge the gap between those who want a fully functional SUV and a very comfort-rich minivan.
The pilot has morphed over the years into this neat little pocket between a perfectly capable family vehicle and a very utilitarian sports vehicle. Sure the critics can rag on it for not being as sporty or as flashy as some of the other top-selling SUVs in the segment. But the sales data clearly shows that the Pilot is definitely popular with the older crowd and has been moving a steady amount of units each year throughout its multiple generations.
Interestingly enough, it seems to be a popular SUV that sits at the crossroads between the hip and cool form of transportation and the safe and secure family vehicle. Even its looks aren’t intimidating enough to scare away the average family shopping for an SUV, but it’s still sleek enough to make a mom or dad feel cool picking the kids up from school. So while it isn’t a minivan per se, the fact it’s attracting the over-50 crowd, likely with families, seems to speak volumes to how well it works to lure in the potential minivan buyer who can find something that doesn’t look too tame but also offers something that still shows a bit of youth and vitality.