Families just back from a Thanksgiving ski vacation in the Sierra probably realize an electric car would not have gotten them and their gear to and from Lake Tahoe with the chain requirements at Donner Pass.
A Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf is just fine for errands in the village and the commute to the Googleplex, but neither vehicle is ideal for hauling five skiers – especially not with a snowmobile in tow.
That’s a job for an SUV, and we recently drove two that fit the bill.
The Honda Pilot Tour and the Lexus GX460 Premium are nearly identical in size. Both sport-utes carry up to seven passengers, mount a ski rack, handle four-wheel-drive requirements in the mountain passes, get through snow on a gravel road and haul a good-sized trailer.
In between expeditions, they are confident on the highway, comfortable around town and equipped with all the standard plugs and screens required by a modern media-savvy family.
The differences between them have more to do with their status than their stature. The Lexus is priced and appointed appropriately to be right on the cusp between near-luxury and luxury SUVs, while the Honda is an attractive and practical mid-priced sport-ute.
Looking at the statistics makes the contrast obvious.
Fitted with the heavy-duty suspension and extensive sound-deadening materials that have made the Lexus interior as comfortable as a living room, the GX460 weighs more than 5,000 pounds. To cope with that weight, it needs the larger V-8 and 6-speed transmission. That allows it to tow 2,000 pounds more than the Pilot, but at a cost of 2 fewer mpg. The GX460, as tested, is priced just above $65,000.
For those who don’t need all the comfort, quiet and entertainment for that five-hour trek to Tahoe, the Pilot may be a good choice. It may not have the prestige branding of the Lexus, but the Honda gets very-good checkmarks in all the rating categories. The engine is smaller than the GX460 but still adequate for towing. The Pilot we drove sells for approximately $25,000 less than the Lexus.
What we liked: The interior trim, fit-and-finish and entertainment gear in the Lexus suit its station in life. The Honda offers great value for the money and is capable of doing pretty much everything an SUV should do.
What we didn’t like: The rear entry to the Lexus is a door that swings right, which is difficult to use in parking spaces and doesn’t shelter cargo when loading and unloading. A tad more horsepower and an extra gear would have been appreciated in the Honda.
Overall: Even though there’s considerable disparity in price between these two equally capable SUVs, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed in either.
Engine3.5-liter V-64.6-liter V-8
Transmission5-speed auto6-speed auto
Curb weight4,608 lbs.5,340 lbs.
Fuel economy (city/highway) 16/22 mpg15/20 mpg
Cargo (seats folded)87 cu.ft.92 cu.ft.
Towing capacity 4,500 lbs.6,500 lbs.