To date, the Volkswagen Atlas has managed to swallow more pieces of my luggage behind its raised third row than any other three-row crossover. The Hyundai Palisade came close as it was able to fit the four biggest bags in my travel arsenal. In this segment, I have also tested the Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander, both of which are at the bottom of the segment in this one area.
On paper, the Honda Pilot should be among that smallest group, providing 16.5 cubic-feet of space when the third row is raised. The Highlander is 16 cubic-feet, while the Palisade has 18 and the Atlas 20.6. In practice, however, the Pilot turns out to be far closer to those class leaders. Let's see why.
Here's the basic space you're working with. The seat reclines a fair bit, but this upright angle is perfectly comfortable so I left it here. If I were to guess, this is how Honda measured the third-row space and came up with the 16.5-cubic-feet number.
However, this isn't really it. There is more space below the floor piece, which is cleverly double-sided: one with carpet, the other plastic for dirty items.
Now, the Pilot isn't alone in having a substantial under-floor storage area. In fact, it would be unusual if it didn't. However, the Pilot's area is noteworthy because it's long and wide enough for bags to fit inside and therefore increase the luggage-carrying capacity. By contrast, the Palisade's otherwise wide and deep bin doesn't have enough length to accommodate a bag standing up or on its belly. Here are the two side-by-side for comparison: Pilot below left, Palisade below right.
As always, I use two midsize roller suitcases that would need to be checked in at the airport (26 inches long, 16 wide, 11 deep), two roll-aboard suitcases that just barely fit in the overhead (24L x 15W x 10D), and one smaller roll-aboard that fits easily (23L x 15W x 10D). I also include my wife's fancy overnight bag just to spruce things up a bit (21L x 12W x 12D).
All bags fit with the exception of one large check-in bag. There was also some space remaining on the left side, including within the plastic-lined bin (pictured below).
Depending on your view, this is either better than or equal to the Palisade. The big Hyundai could fit the four biggest bags, but then the two smallest ones would be left behind. To be fair, you would also have room under the floor for things not packed in luggage.
The VW Atlas (video below) still reigns supreme, though. It could fit the exact same amount of bags as the Pilot, but did so with its floor still in place and underfloor storage empty.
Now, the reason Honda even bothers with the higher floor is to achieve a flat, contiguous floor when the third- and second rows are lowered. They are obviously pictured above.
In the end, the Pilot's under-floor area results in there being more space than the official 16.5-cubic-foot figure indicates. Rather than being among the smallest in the class, it's actually among the biggest.