By ANN M. JOB
For The Associated Press
(AP) - The Honda Pilot remains the most fuel-efficient eight-passenger sport utility vehicle for 2013, is rated above average in predicted reliability and offers a comfortable ride and versatile cargo hauling.
Built in an Alabama factory, the Pilot also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports and was named the Ideal Vehicle in the mid-size premium crossover SUV segment this year by automotive research company AutoPacific of Tustin, Calif.
Despite the accolades, Honda keeps adding new standard equipment while keeping the Pilot price on par with competitors that also have three rows of seats.
For 2013, a rearview camera, which helps drivers better know what's behind the vehicle, is standard on all Pilots. And drivers have a good-sized, 8-inch, standard display screen in the Pilot dashboard.
Meantime, the 2013 Pilot gets other new standard equipment including three-zone automatic climate control and Bluetooth hands-free phone calling for Pilot occupants who have Bluetooth-enabled phones.
Best of all, the 2013 Pilot has a starting retail price of $30,350 for a front-wheel drive model with 250-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission. The lowest starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2013 Pilot with four-wheel drive is $31,950.
Competing SUVs include the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $29,495 for a two-wheel drive model with 260-horsepower V-6 and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A four-wheel drive 2013 Pathfinder starts at $31,095. Note that a rearview camera is not standard on the two lowest trim levels of Pathfinder.
Meantime, the 2013 Ford Explorer has a starting retail price of $29,995 for a front-wheel drive model with 290-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and no rearview camera. The four-wheel drive 2013 Explorer starts at $31,995.
Other competitors include the 2013 Ford Flex, which has a retail starting price of $31,795 with two-wheel drive and 285-horsepower V-6, and the 2013 Dodge Durango, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $30,490 with rear-wheel drive and 290-horsepower V-6.
The Durango is offered with choice of V-6 or 360-horsepower V-8, while the Explorer offers three engines, including a turbocharged four cylinder and a 365-horsepower, turbocharged V-6, and the Flex has a 365-horsepower, turbocharged V-6, too.
The Pilot has only one engine _ a 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that rations gasoline automatically when a computer module detects that a driver doesn't need all six cylinders powering the vehicle.
Indeed, when a driver lets up on the accelerator to coast, for example, the engine can move to three- or four-cylinder mode, and the Pilot moves along just fine, with no one inside detecting that all six cylinders aren't working. Just as seamlessly, when the driver presses down on the accelerator again, all six cylinders can get working again.
The technology, which Honda calls variable cylinder management, is one of the ways Honda maximizes fuel mileage.
As a result, the 2013 Pilot scored a top federal government fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.
This is for a front-wheel drive Pilot that operates with a five-speed automatic transmission that smoothly shifts gears.
In the test Pilot, neither the engine nor transmission conveyed strained or annoying sounds. In fact, most transmission shifts were imperceptible and the Pilot interior was quite quiet, save for when the V-6 responded strongly and confidently in pedal-to-the-metal driving.
Power came on smoothly and steadily in city travel and at highway speeds, with the Pilot powering along on flat terrain and moving with purpose up mountainous roads.
Best of all, the Pilot needs only regular gasoline.
The Pilot's 18/25-mpg rating is matched by the 2013 Flex, but the Flex only offers seats for up to seven. The same maximum seating is true of the newly revised, 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which comes with a CVT and posts a 20/26-mpg rating from the government.
Still, the test Pilot, which had all-wheel drive, averaged just 17.5 mpg in travel that was 70 percent in the city.
The Pilot looks neither brutish nor plain. It's cleanly styled outside, and the interior is well-organized so anyone can get inside, setting up a bit on the seats for good views out, and just drive.
A thoughtful touch: A commodious, covered center console storage that's big enough for many purses and that's positioned just below the center stack of the dashboard.
It's also appreciated that the display screen is inset a bit under a "brow" so sunshine doesn't wash out the images from the rearview camera.