Let's Get Ready to Rumble!
Recently when Autobytel.com joined forces with AutoPacific to unleash the 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards onto the car buying universe, it was very clear from the outset that there was going to be no stone left unturned given the fact that the endeavor meant surveying over 75,000 new vehicle owners about the quality of their newly purchased rides. Then after tallying points for each and every new car, minivan, truck, sports car and SUV out there today, the day came when the announcements were made about which models passed with flying colors at the top of their respective vehicle classes.
Now we won’t repeat the entire list here but coincidentally it just so happens that the 2012 Honda Pilot was rated best in the “Premium Midsize crossover suv” category and the 2012 Chevy Traverse nabbed the top spot in the “Large Crossover SUV” segment. Although these two models competed in different categories for that particular award, we feel that these two seven passenger family SUVs do appeal to the same set of buyers who need room for seven actual full size adults from time to time. Apologies to the 2012 Kia Sorento but only an extra from “The Wizard of Oz” would be comfortable in your third row.
So after driving a 2012 Honda Pilot Touring model back to back with a 2012 Chevy Traverse LTZ (both of those trim designations mean our testers came loaded with every optional goodie you could want), it became clear to us that these were the two best seven passenger family SUVs on the market. But which one is actually better when they are put to the test head to head? Well, read on to find out what happens because, dear readers, this comparison test was a neck and neck race to the finish with only one final winner. Although we do enjoy a good contest of automotive blood sport, to be brutally honest both the Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse are smart choices so buying either one would be a wise decision.
This, however, should not keep from reading the rest of this review in order to find out what our impressions were (both negative and positive) of both of these vehicles. Do note that our test Traverse was a 2012 model and that for 2013 it will be undergoing a mild-makeover with new front headlamp and rear tailgate designs as well as trim enhancements in the interior. It’s nothing that should preclude a potential buyer from purchasing a 2012 Chevy Traverse in our opinion, however, as the changes are very mild. Unlike the changes that have been made, therefore, to Joan Rivers face in the name of advancing the science of plastic surgery.
Exterior and Interior
We like the uniquely divergent exterior treatments of both the 2012 Honda Pilot and 2012 Chevy Traverse in that the former is blocky and somewhat militaristic whereas the latter is all curves and modern lines. This same theme is carried over into these SUV crossover’s interior designs but we’ll get to our opinions on those later. Here is where the angular corner meets the custard, as it were, if we were making up analogies completely independent of the English canon. In other words, here is where the Honda’s resolute Geometry meets free flowing sinewy curves in the form of the Chevy.
So here goes, we have actually found that we kind of prefer the new headlamp and tail lamp design of the new upcoming 2013 Traverse so if this contest was between that updated Chevy Traverse and the Pilot it would win this category. But as it stands the current Traverse has kind of a frumpy and abrupt tail lamp treatment. So we give the nod to Honda. We told you this was a close contest. (Winner: 2012 Honda Pilot)
Interior Design and People/Cargo Hauling
First of all, let’s get down to the brass and all those tacks by checking out the cargo capacity readings for both of these able bodied junk movers. Tellingly, the rather gargantuan Traverse offers 24.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row, 68.8 behind the second row of seats and with all seats folded there is 116.4 cubic feet of cargo space meaning you could easily park it in Manhattan and charge someone $3,000 a month to rent it out and live there. Hey, it’s just a thought.
Clearly this wanton spaciousness is why the Traverse’s third row truly stands as a testament to what other like-minded SUVs should aspire to when trying to provide adult size third comfort all the way out back. Yes, the Pilot has a perfectly adequate third row for even adults but it’s not a place where we would want to have to stay during the course of a long road trip. The Pilot does offer impressive cargo hauling ability, however, with 18.6 cubic feet behind row three, 47.7 cubic feet behind the second row and with all the seats folded this boxy Honda can haul 87 cubic feet of stuff you bought but don’t really need.
Otherwise, materials quality and storage space is ample in both models with an abundance or smartly sized cupholders on offer and cubbies perfect for you and your kids/friends/spouse to lose their personal possessions. Now beyond this our only quibble with the Pilot is that we really don’t care for the very angular and militaristic look of the dashboard and most surfaces inside this SUV. Sure, the outside is meant to look square and rugged but the interior of the Pilot might give your kids the impression that any minute you might whisk them off to boot camp at some far-off military school. The dashboard design, secondary controls and dials ahead of the driver in the Traverse are more organic looking and therefore make the interior seem somewhat more soothing especially on long drives. (Winner: 2012 Chevy Traverse)
Fuel Economy and Value for Money
With gas prices soaring across most parts of this country and the world, it’s easy to see why a family would downsize from a Cadillac Escalade into either of these vehicles so long as “bling and chrome” deprivation doesn’t preclude them from continuing to watch “The Jersey Shore” each week. What, do you think Snooki and “The Situation” have actual job skills that would impress someone at a Temp Agency or the DMV? Well, perhaps in Jersey. Maybe they will soon need to downsize into something more fuel efficient, who knows? Yes, and Snooki might turn out to be a great mother.
Apologies, we award this section to the SUV that had the highest “as tested” overall fuel economy during 7 days with us. EPA estimates for the 2012 Honda Pilot and 2012 Chevy Traverse were identical at 17 city/24 highway despite the fact that the Chevy came with a more “advanced” 6-speed automatic to Honda’s positively ancient 5-speeder. Despite the fact that many claim this Honda automatic was used also by the Maya, it still helped the Pilot achieve 19.6 miles per gallon during our 7-day visit. The Traverse fell just short at 18.8 miles per gallon. (Winner: 2012 Honda Pilot)
Value and Features
Neither of our test models were left wanting when it came to creature comforts like leather seats, navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment for the kids, back-up cameras, power tailgates, premium audio, and much more. Yet despite the fact that our Traverse’s only “one-up” feature over the Pilot (besides the additional transmission gear) was a cooling function for the front seats, it still stickered for $43,085 as opposed to the Pilot which maxed out at $40,820. What seals the Honda’s victory here is the fact that our test Pilot also came equipped with all-wheel drive—a feature our Traverse LTZ was sadly lacking. That would sort of put a damper on any family ski weekend plans in your new suv now, eh? We just tossed in that “eh” in case you were planning a Canadian ski getaway. (Winner: 2012 Honda Pilot)
Driving Impressions and Safety
While neither of these family workhorses will confuse anyone into thinking they are driving a sport coupe, they are two of the best examples of how to properly tune a nice ride/steering/handling compromise into an SUV. Quite frankly, GM and Honda should set up a tent to train the engineers at most every other mainstream SUV manufacturer.
The Traverse does have a bit of a power advantage over the Pilot thanks to its 3.6 liter 281 horsepower/261 lb. feet of torque V6 as opposed to the Honda’s 3.5 liter unit which makes a still wholly adequate 250 horsepower/253 lb. feet of torque. We aren’t sure if it’s the fact that the Honda engine is an older design, the lack of a 6-speed auto, the power difference or just some sound deadening issues but the fact of the matter is that the Pilot’s V6 motor sounds less refined than the GM 3.6 liter motor. Granted, the Honda V6 still makes a sporty VTEC howl at redline but be sure you are looking for that kind of a driving experience as some prefer not to hear anything mechanical when they drive, no matter how melodic the sound.
As for passing power from a stop or at freeway speeds, both the Traverse and Pilot are able to keep up with and sometimes even pass the cut and thrust of suburban life. Beyond that, both models are nicely insulated from wind and road noise and even over the jutted concrete of Southern California freeways these 7-passenger family SUVs didn’t rattle our fillings as can sometimes be the case in other vehicles. Brake pedal feel with the Traverse was a little bit mushier than in the Pilot but both managed admirable stopping distances even in those local parking lots (Wal-Mart!) where every walking customer seems hell bent on ending their life by having you run them over.
Thankfully, both the Traverse and Pilot have very quick, light yet communicative steering racks which help you to avoid the Wal-Mart parking lot zombies with just an easily controlled flick of the wrist that results in an enjoyable and easy to control slalom course (attn: do not try this at home!). Thanks to impressively low levels of body roll compared to all of the competition, you might call the Pilot and Traverse sporty if they just weren’t so darn huge. To be clear, they may not sporty but they can be pleasurable to drive. None of this, however, has led us to a conclusion about which one is best to drive so it’s a tie for this category. (Winner: None)
We know that the 2012 Chevy Traverse and 2012 Honda Pilot were both designed with the sole intent of being family carriers which means they hold the most precious cargo—your families. So in that spirit, we happily report that the 2012 Traverse returned a full 5-star safety rating from the Government’s recently more stringent barrage of tests. In the somewhat more proven and non-Governmentally regulated IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) tests the Traverse was named a “Top Safety Pick” for 2012.
So Chevy scored well with both the NHTSA and IIHS but how did the Honda do? As expected, with the IIHS it was chosen as a 2012 “Top Safety pick.” Over at the NHTSA they did, however, only award the Pilot with 4 stars out of five. Either way, this one the Traverse wins. (Winner: 2012 Chevy Traverse)
And the Winner Is...
The Winner and Final Thoughts
In no category was there a decisive KO victory for either the 2012 Honda Pilot or 2012 Chevy Traverse, so evenly matched are their strengths. Truly, both of these 7-passenger family crossover SUVs (or whatever the heck you call them now) deserved to be recognized for their excellence. And since the 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are voted on by actual owners, we are pretty sure that you would love either of these vehicles no matter which one you chose. But who wins? Well, let’s just say that for now the 2012 Pilot wins but next year when the Traverse comes back with a butt lift and a nose job we might just see things a bit differently. Yes, we are totally shallow like that. (Winner: 2012 Honda Pilot)