2009 Honda Pilot vs. Ford Flex and Four Other Crossovers

2009 Honda Pilot vs. Ford Flex and Four Other Crossovers 2009 Honda Pilot vs. Ford Flex and Four Other Crossovers
Comparison Tests

When we last visited Michigan’s Drummond Island [“Mud Puppies,” February 2008], we compared nine Lilliput SUVs and quickly found ourselves in over our heads. Which is to say, we sank a Jeep Liberty. See, the island—a short ferry ride from the eastern tip of the state’s Upper Peninsula—is a 25-mile-long series of limestone bowls (which hold water) and cedar swamps (ditto) surrounded by Lake Huron (ditto times a million). Drummond Island, thou art thine own soggy enemy.

This time, we asked Drummond Island Resort’s driving expert, Craig Hoffman, to sketch out a somewhat drier 16-mile loop, two-thirds of which comprised twisty, smooth pavement and one-third of which bumped through the resort’s private off-road facility. On any off-roader’s scale of difficulty, these private trails (notice we said “private” twice?) hover wholly in Wally Cox territory yet still represent pretty much the worst that any owner would throw at his investment. Along this route, we then ran the vehicles back-to-back until the local bowling alley’s neon “BEER” sign lit up.

Our goal was to compare six mid-size unibody crossovers with all-wheel drive, third-row seats, and the sort of interior volumes that would ensure family-hauling nirvana.

The Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander have recently been comprehensively refurbished, inside and out. Chevy’s Traverse is the latest flavor of the platform shared with Buick’s Enclave, GMC’s Acadia, and Saturn’s Outlook. The Traverse is the first we’ve tested with the direct-injection V-6, but the other three also get it for ’09. Hyundai’s Veracruz isn’t brand-new but has never competed in a C/D comparo. Having secured a position on our ’08 5Best Trucks list, Mazda’s CX-9 simply had to be in the mix. And although a Ford Taurus X might have looked a better fit in this group, we opted for the brand-new Flex. Both rely on the same drivetrain, and the Taurus X is soon to be discontinued.

Unibodies were the order of the day, so body-on-framers, such as Nissan’s Path­finder, were excluded. Ditto a couple of crossovers with notably smaller interior volumes—Subaru’s Tribeca, for instance.

We had hoped that with AWD and a nice load of options our vehicles would all max out at about $38,000. Alas, the only Highlander that Toyota could offer, at least with a third-row seat, was a loaded $42,799 Limited, so we used it for back-seat tests only. The Highlander Sport we drove to the island had no third-row seat and was sparsely outfitted—cloth seats, for instance—but was a whale of a bargain at $33,648. Adding a third row to our car would bump its price to $34,433, which is the number we used in the chart and for scoring purposes.

We were disappointed that our six crossovers managed an observed average of only 19 mpg. Sign of the times: On the way north, we observed a man riding a Schwinn. With a bag of golf clubs slung over his shoulder and a full-size Igloo cooler in his left hand, he was a candidate for a closed head injury. “What you got there,” observed associate editor Tony Quiroga, “is a guy with an SUV parked in his garage.”