2010-2012 Subaru Outback vs. 2009-2011 Honda Pilot (A Tale of Two Vehicles)

I had no idea people were supposed to announce to their friends that they had a new car.  It reminds me of the part in one of my favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof (amazon affiliate link), where a tailor gets a new sewing machine and the whole town calls it a “new arrival” as if it was a baby.  I will meet up with friends and, upon noticing my car, they’ll remark “you have a new car, why didn’t you tell me?”  So, consider this a PSA: let people know when a car joins your family.

We got our 2010 Subaru Outback before R was born.  We needed at least one reliable car and all we had were my 2003 Hyundai Accent (we later gave that to my Mom) and my husband’s Dodge Intrepid (story here).  We shopped around and my husband bought one in Colorado for a lot cheaper than here in Vegas.  The dealer here was rude and would not even come close to matching the price we were getting in Colorado.  Not a fan of the dealer here for other reasons as well in our later interactions with them but I think car dealers in Vegas on the whole are just not worth your time.

After the Dodge quit, we bought our 2011 Honda Pilot a little closer to home (no need to fly!), in Arizona.  Again, local dealers would not match to the price we were getting out of state (feigning disbelief).  Why write about both cars?  I think that our experiences are useful and it has been a while since my husband guest posted.

Without further ado…

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These vehicles aren’t in the same class, I know.  But, my out the door price for the 2010 Subaru 3.6R (six-cylinder engine adds a few grand) was almost exactly $1000 less than my V6-standard Honda pilot.  So what did I get for that $1000?  Well, fewer miles per gallon, by about 3 mpg real world in the city.  But I don’t really worry about that … it’s a few bucks a week accounting for how much we drive.  I still have both vehicles.  The Honda is my wife’s, but mine on the weekend.  The Subaru is my daily driver.

What benefit did I get in the Honda for my $1000?

— A road-trip vehicle that will comfortably hold me, my wife, my mom, two car seat babies, and a week’s worth of food and clothes.  My Subaru will not do this because it’s about 10 inches narrower in the second row, as well as shorter and stouter.

— A very smooooooth ride.  The Subaru over a speed bump: front=plop, rear=SMASH;  The Honda: front=swoosh, rear=swoosh.  The Honda is unbelievably level in turns, unlike the Subaru that leans noticeably. To be fair, neither is Cadillac smooth over rough roads.

–More local dealers.  There is one Subaru dealer in Vegas and frankly I’m not impressed.  There are four Honda dealers in Vegas, so if one can’t get the job done, I’ll move next door.

— The Honda has no puzzling stall-at-stop-light issue, which has happened twice to the Subaru and cannot be solved. (See: You Tube Video of one of our issues with the Subaru)

— Third row seats. We call this our “people hauler.” There are LATCH car seat anchors in both back rows (five total).  Third row seats are not available in the Outback (not surprising considering it’s based on a sedan platform).

— Rear vents, second and third row – if you have kids this is especially for making sure they are warm or cool enough in their carseats. The second-row vents have separate controls as well though it is hard to see/adjust them from the driver’s seat.

— Door locks are automatic and user-definable.  They lock when I drive, unlock when I stop and put the transmission in park.  There are no automatic door lock on the 2010 Outback, though I’m not sure if this has been added for the 2011 or 2012 model years.  

— Paint job is a few paces ahead of the Subie.  Subie paint is painfully thin and chips easily.  My Mother ran a shopping cart into the Pilot.  A dent resulted, but the paint remained intact, allowing for a paintless repair.  However, the Pilot has been the victim of several rock chips, a problem I haven’t seen nearly as frequently with the Subaru.

— Tow hitch is standard.  Subie will tow 3500lbs, but the hitch install is a huge job and is optional on every trim line.

— Start “button” ignition, i.e. hit the key and release.  I thought this was silly but now I LOVE this and it has ruined me!  What sucker still holds a key???  However, I’m sure I’ll dislike this when the car is older and doesn’t start as reliably.

— Substantially longer maintanence periods.  Subie wanted a 3,750 mile first oil change, for example.  The Pilot has a “maintence minder” that dictates oil changes according to actual vehicle use.  Some people are reporting 8,000 – 10,000 change intervals.  The Honda will go as long as one year between changes, the Subaru will only go 7.5 months, maximum.  Over a 10-year life, that’s $400-$500 worth of extra oil changes.  That’s a car payment plus a tank of gas.  I’ve changed the Subaru’s oil three times so far, with only 9,000 miles on the odometer in less than two years (every 7.5 months).  In the Pilot, I could possibly still be on my first or second change at this point.  That’s $40.00 – $80.00 in real money.  That said, the Subaru 6-cylinder engine has a lifetime timing CHAIN.  The Pilot requires a new timing BELT every now and then, a $500+ job at the dealer or three days in my garage.

What about Subie, what does it do for me?

— Free roadside assistance for 3 years.

— Easier to get in and out of parking spots as it drives like a car.  (It is a car).

— It is the quickest car I have ever owned.  This thing has so much power to spare I can load it for bear, add a top box, and it doesn’t seem to notice.  Push gas, go fast.

— More standard goodies.  The only thing I have really missed in the Honda is steering wheel radio buttons.  But I really miss them.

— Standard alloy wheels.  A step up to alloy on the Pilot would have cost me $2500 and put the Pilot out of the running against the Subie for puposes of this comparison.

—  The interior materials are luxurious by comparison, with substantially better fit and finish.  The Pilot’s interior is cheap looking and marrs easily, with noticeable gaps between some panels.  

In sum, these cars are in the same class by MY COST only and for no other reason.  I moved the Subaru “up” $3000 with the  engine, and I moved the Honda “down” $2500 by going with the cheapest trim line.  Without these moves, a person with a high-20s budget would not be considering both vehicles.  That is, if you demand goodies; navigation, fancy speakers, etc, you will not likely be cross-shopping these vehicles.  The top-of-the-line Honda breaks the $40k mark.  The fully loaded Outback is $8000 or so less.  The short version: if you have or plan to have just two babies, either is great.  If you want more than two, go bigger.  Space runs out quickly, and not just on road trips, but shopping trips, family hauling, etc.  The Honda also comes standard with a trailer hitch, into which I stick this hitch basket from Harbor Freight for longer trips.  

I will gladly plug my Subaru dealer, with absolutely no favor or compensation, Heuberger Motors in Colorado.  They will ship cars anywhere in the country and offer rock-bottom pricing over the Internet.  They will give you everything; dealer incentives, advertising fees, cash back, the best financing rates, etc.  I’m told and believe they make money largely on volume, including volume incentives from Subaru of America.  They beat Subaru of Las Vegas by $3000.  It cost me about $250 to fly out there, spend a night at a hotel, and drive back including gasoline.

With somewhat less enthusiasm (and still no compensation) I will recommend the Internet department at Arrowhead Honda in Phoenix, AZ.  I caught them in a few (pointless, not sure why they would bother) half-truths.  However, in the end, it was the best price I could get anywhere, and they ended up beating the lowest price I could find in Las Vegas by $1400.  I won’t argue with that!  I drove down for the night, visited my mom, and drove back in my new ride.  That said, Findlay Honda in Henderson was the most reasonable local dealer and was actually willing to deal online.  I’ll go there for regular maintenance and warranty work as long as the vehicle is new.  

Note:  There were minor updates to the 2011/2012 Outback and the 2012 Pilot.  

6 thoughts on “2010-2012 Subaru Outback vs. 2009-2011 Honda Pilot (A Tale of Two Vehicles)

  1. Great comparison review. I am in the market and evaluating whether I should go for the subie outback I have been dreaming about or another SUV with third row seating. Your review will help a lot in making a decision. If possible it would be good to get an update on handling in snow for both the vehicles although I am sure the subie will beat the Pilot by miles in that area.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! The last times we were in the snow my husband drove, so here’s his take: “We’ve had both vehicles in the snow (though not much). I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either one for snow duties. Personally, I’d feel better in the subaru. But if you need a third row the honda will be fine.”

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    2. Not really, Have a Pilot Touring and it has all time 4×4 and engagable VTM (variable torque management) setting for deep snow, mud, offroad type of situations which operates upto 20 miles per hour. Live in northern part of States and sure I would stick to Pilot, though Subie might be good too

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