The Honda Pilot is one of the more successful midsize crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) on the market. Introduced in 2003, it featured that era's mainstream styling. But the second-generation model launched in 2009 was a shocker.
It had truck-like, boxy styling because, Honda argued, its customers wanted their CUVs to look like truck-based SUVs. As a bonus, the designers managed to engineer modest off-road capability. It could actually handle some towing and off-road obstacles.
The Pilot has been a success. Through the first quarter of 2015, sales totaled 1.5 million. That's not a rusting hulk. Nevertheless, the powers at Honda decided that the squared-off SUV look had run its course. Now the line is that styling had turned off some customers.
Enter the 2016 Pilot, which slips again into the mainstream with styling that is different but still resembles other CUVs. Observers can be forgiven if they mistake it for a Chevrolet Traverse or Nissan Pathfinder.
Nevertheless, the new Pilot has attractive styling in the modern idiom: streamlined body, integrated rooftop spoiler, LED taillights and front running lights, and a choice of models with 18- or 20-inch alloy wheels.
In typical Honda practice, the new Pilot offers myriad trim lines. Traditionally, the company eschewed the practice of offering models with extensive option lists in favor of a less confusing, smaller number of packages. A customer for a DX, LX, or EX knew exactly what he was getting.
The 2016 Pilot, however, has 17 trim lines if you count front- and all-wheel drive separately. They start with the front-drive LX, at $30,875, and range up to the Touring Elite with all-wheel drive at $47,300.
In between, there's the EX, EX with Honda Sensing, EX-L with leather upholstery, EX-L with Honda Sensing, EX-L with a rear-seat entertainment system, Touring (tested here), and Touring Elite. The last comes with every available feature.
Honda Sensing is the company's suite of safety enhancements: adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, blind spot information system, and rear cross traffic monitor.
The 2016 Pilot comes with a 280-horsepower V-6 engine mated to either a six-speed automatic transmission (on LX, EX, and EX-L trims) or new nine-speed automatic (on Touring and Elite versions). Both work well with the powerful engine and either front- or all-wheel drive, to the point where it takes careful attention to determine which transmission is doing the shifting.
On the road, the Pilot has light steering and feels smaller than its 2 ton weight and length of 16 feet 3 inches would suggest. It is rated at 19/city, 26/highway and 22/combined mpg.
Although the Pilot is designed mainly for on-road operation, the sophisticated all-wheel drive can handle moderate off-road duty, including mud and snow as long as they're not too deep.
The Pilot comes with eight- or seven-passenger seating; in the latter, two captain's chairs substitute for the three-passenger bench seat. Either way, Honda incorporates a clever mechanism to fold the second-row seats. Simply press a button on the outboard sides of the seats and they flip forward for access to the third row. A three-year-old could do it.
Still, crawling into the third row is not for AARP members or even athletically challenged middle agers. Kids will do fine. Once back there, despite a low cushion, there's adequate knee and head room but minimal comfort for average-sized adults.
Honda also has engineered an imaginative cargo area. Behind the third row, the cargo floor is a reversible panel with carpeting on one side and a hard surface on the other. Beneath is a hideaway cargo hold. But the panel also can be stowed in the well to carry tall objects upright. The inventiveness is welcome but relocates the spare wheel outside.
Manufacturers prattle "best in class," even when it is undeserved. In this case, however, the Pilot comes close.
Copyright © 2015 Motor Matters
|Base price||$42,820 (as tested: $43,700)|
|Curb weight||4,140 lbs.|
|Engine type||24-valve V-6 w/DI|
|Epa mileage rating||19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway|
|Fuel capacity||19.5 gal.|
|Horsepower (net)||280 at 6000 rpm|
|Overall length||194.5 in.|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||262 at 4700 rpm|
|Vehicle type||8-passenger AWD CUV|
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