If you’re shopping for a new three-row midsize SUV, you can choose among a variety of models. But if you want reliability and great value, there are two excellent choices: the 2020 Honda Pilot and the 2020 Toyota Highlander.
Let’s say that you’ve budgeted $50,000 to spend on one of them. At that price point, you can be sure that both are top-of-line models that seat seven and are equipped with strong V6 engines. But which one is worth your purchase? To find out, we did a comparison with some help from Car and Driver.
The Honda Pilot
In an effort to minimize the Pilot’s resemblance to its close sibling, the Honda Odyssey minivan, Honda has redesigned the Pilot mid-generation. The automaker wanted a more athletic, sturdier look for this SUV.
The Honda Pilot that Car and Driver tested is the top-of-the-line Black Edition. This murdered-out version features painted black 20-inch wheels, black leather upholstery, and red accents scattered throughout.
The Pilot is powered by a 290-hp 3.5-liter V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Its fuel economy ratings are 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 mpg combined. Car and Driver testers especially liked the Pilot’s newly improved automatic stop-start feature, which rapidly and quietly restarts the engine.
Handling in the Pilot is stable on the straightaway, but it tends to roll in the corners. Testers felt that it wasn’t as agile as it could have been. The Pilot’s suspension didn’t absorb road irregularities as much as testers hoped for either.
The Pilot was at a slight disadvantage in braking tests. Its vehicle stopping distance was 172 feet from 70 mph, and it experienced moderate brake fade several times during testing.
Because it signaled functionality rather than excitement, the Pilot’s interior received a lukewarm response from the testers. However, the Pilot offers plenty of room for passengers, easy access, tons of storage space, and good driver visibility.
Standard equipment on this version is the same as it is on the Honda Pilot Elite. It includes all-wheel drive, a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, and wireless charging. Infotainment features include an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. All of these goodies add up to a version that prices out at $50,840.
The Toyota Highlander
Toyota spared no detail when it completely redesigned the Highlander for 2020. Its exterior styling is more muscular and streamlined than last year’s model. The new Highlander now shares a platform with the Toyota Camry and RAV4 as well.
Car and Driver testers preferred the Toyota Highlander’s 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine to the Pilot’s. They liked the engine’s responsiveness and the smooth shifting of the eight-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimates are 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined.
The Toyota Highlander’s precise steering and agile handling also gave it an edge over the Honda. Testers found it to be more grippy on the road. A capable suspension that handled road bumps was also a plus. In braking tests, the SUV’s stopping distance from 70 mph was only 167 feet.
Inside, Toyota has given the Highlander a luxurious look and feel, especially in the top-of-the-line Platinum trim level with its appealing leather upholstery and faux-wood trim. The central attraction of the instrument panel is an enormous 12.3-inch touchscreen that supports Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The price for the Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD as tested was $51,112.
Both the Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot rate highly for real-world use and people-hauling capabilities, according to the Car and Driver testers. Although the Pilot has much to offer, it didn’t seem as up-to-date for about the same price as the Highlander. They recommended that if buyers wanted to buy a fully-equipped new Pilot, they should get the Elite trim priced at $49,340 instead of the Black Edition.
Testers thought the Highlander’s interior design and materials were more like those of a luxury SUV. The Toyota SUV also offered them a polished, quiet, and fun driving experience compared to the Honda. For these reasons, they chose the 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD as the model that provides the most value for the money.