Honda Pilot and Lexus RC350
Honda Pilot | Starting price: $30,000
For people who are vehemently opposed to minivans, the three-row SUV has been the standard fallback for families on the go. And the Honda Pilot seems to be the most popular of the three-row SUV fallbacks. The reasons for its popularity are pretty standard: reliability, practicality and a roomy interior. If there were ever any complaints about Honda’s most popular SUV, it would the lack of style or luxury.
For 2016, however, Honda has made some changes to answer for its lackluster appearance. Now the Pilot shines even brighter than before. Its new body is decidedly sleeker: more sculpted and refined, less boxy and brutish.
The new third-generation Pilot is larger, with a wheelbase that is 1.8 inches longer; it also gained 3.5 inches in length, which translates into more interior room. But that’s not the only improvement to the inside. Opt for the Touring or Elite models, and the Pilot becomes more private jet, less cargo plane. The Elite features heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, and a heated steering wheel. You’ve also got a panoramic roof, which can help the kids feel like they’re flying. A host of tech features also abound: blind spot and cross-traffic monitors, a Blu-ray/DVD entertainment system, navigation and a 540-watt 10-speaker sound system. Perhaps the most impressive feature, though, is a simple button that moves the second row forward to create more space for easier access to the third row. It’s so simple even the little ones can manage it.
While the Pilot is still powered by a 3.5-liter V6, this is a new engine, featuring direct injection. Horsepower and torque, at 280 and 262 respectively, are a significant increase over the old engine. Even better, the Pilot has shed a few pounds, contributing overall to its agility and fuel economy. A new 6-speed transmission moves the new Pilot, except for the Touring and Elite models which get three more gears. Factor that all together and the Pilot is quicker, reaching 60 mph nearly two seconds faster than before. Fuel economy is also improved to 18/26 mpg for models equipped with AWD. Add an extra mile for FWD versions.
Ride quality on the Pilot is excellent. The suspension was improved, giving it a much smoother ride. It was fine before, but there is noticeably less jostling now. The cabin, outfitted with soft-touch materials, feels much quieter and is much more hospitable. Steering feels precise, and the brakes have a good feel to them as well.
The new Honda Pilot is well worth a second look, though based on its popularity it doesn’t typically require more than a first look. Honda’s reputation for quality and reliability, combined with its new, more refined look and feel, make the Pilot the go-to vehicle for families everywhere. Pricing starts in the high $20K range.
Lexus RC 350 | Starting price: $40,000
From its inception, it seems that the Lexus RC has had one mission: to bring back style to the mid-level luxury segment. You’ve got your BMW and Audi coupes — even some upscale Volkswagens — but they are all roughly the same flavor. Could the RC differentiate itself? Can the Japanese luxury brand compete with the Germans? They’ve shown before that they’re up to the challenge and the RC 350 is no exception.
As style goes, the RC looks like a jewel coming down the road. It is definitely a head-turner from nose to tail. Classic sports car design elements such as the elongated nose, massive grille and even rear vents evoke thoughts of an instant classic. James Bond might even consider driving this one. The RC is touched with chrome in exactly the right places and the arrowhead pattern is reflected throughout. The 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels are standard, but if you prefer you can opt for the flashier 19-inch split 5-spokes.
Classic styling continues through to the cabin, where body-hugging contoured seats welcome you with stylized stitching and perforated leather. The aluminum pedals and brushed metal surfaces were inspired by the LFA supercar and add edginess to the more natural elements of wood and leather. A ritzy-looking analog clock sits nicely centered amid all of the latest tech, again harkening to an instant classic. However, the tech is also impressive. Most notable is the remote touchpad about the same size as on a laptop. It pulses to give you feedback, and responds to touch, swipe, pinch and tap gestures just like on a tablet or smartphone. Voice-activated navigation and a Mark Levinson sound system are also features you might want to opt for.
The RC is powered by the ever-popular 3.5-liter V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, a combo found in so many other Toyota/Lexus products. As this is a rear-wheel drive vehicle, the 306 horsepower being delivered by the engine just feels better. AWD is also available. You certainly aren’t going to win any races (maybe) but I think the idea of this being a solidly designed and well-executed luxury coupe is the thing to remember. If you’re looking for performance-car-type power, you’ll have to set your sights on the RC F performance variant.
For our purposes however, the RC 350 provides an excellent ride and handling combo worthy of its mid-$40s price tag. Starting with the solid sound the door makes when you close it to the lack of outside noise coming in when you drive it, the RC is pleasant. If it feels slick and smooth, that’s because it is, thanks to its adaptive variable suspension. Extra welds, bracing and structural adhesives all factor into the laser-like focus this car seems to have. Power feels balanced, whether you’re accelerating, cornering or braking, and the best part is you look mighty fine doing any of those things.
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