The 2016 Honda Pilot will get the kids to school quicker than ever before. Honda‘s redesigned three-row crossover out-accelerates every 2014 Big Test three-row crossover competitor (and even a rear-drive, eight-cylinder Durango by a tenth of a second), but that’s not the minivan alternative’s only impressive quality. The top-of-the-line Pilot Elite we tested wowed us with its spacious interior and surprisingly good all-around visibility. The 2016 Pilot isn’t perfect, though, especially in $47,320 USD all-wheel-drive Elite form. So what’s it got to offer three-row crossover customers also considering popular options such as the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander?
Quickness in every trim, for one. All 2016 Pilots are powered by a 280-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with 262 lb-ft of torque, but only the more expensive Touring and Elite models replace the six-speed auto with a nine-speed unit. With that transmission, the all-wheel-drive 2016 Pilot Elite completes a 0-60 mph sprint in a Motor Trend-tested 6.5 seconds, at least half a second quicker than the three-row crossovers we compared in 2014 and plenty quick for a family-focused vehicle like this. The Pilot is responsive to wide-open throttle stabs of the accelerator pedal, but watch out for the sporty noises above 5,000 rpm. It generated mixed reactions from staffers, with senior features editor Jason Cammisa likening the sound to “two three-cylinder lawn mower engines fighting each other.” Lead-footed throttle blasts aside, the Pilot is quieter than before in normal driving, and an acoustic windshield is included on the EX-L trim and above.
The Pilot drives smoothly, with light steering and a ride that soaks up bumps appropriately. Multiple editors described the Honda’s modern interior as comfortable. It’s big inside, too, with lots of space for cargo and people, and a semi-hidden cargo area beneath the rear load floor. The easily and manually adjustable second row is spacious, and even the third row is decently sized, although a couple editors felt they could use more thigh support. The one-touch second-row seats (standard on EX-L and above) make accessing those third-row seats relatively easyâpress a button on the side of the second-row seats, and the seat folds up and moves forward, making way for your entry to the third row. An identical button does the same thing for folks already in the third row seats, which have air vents and decently sized windows, plus a panoramic roof on the Elite model. All Pilots seat eight except the Elite model, which replaces the three-seat bench in the second row for two captain’s chairs. (The Highlander’s higher trims also sacrifice an eighth seat for second-row captain’s chairs.)
A new all-wheel-drive system can distribute torque between the front and rear axles or from the left to the right rear wheels. More than one editor appreciated the all-wheel-drive system on an off-road hill climb in 2016 Motor Trend SUV of the Year testing. “The mode-control switch offers Normal, Snow, Mud, and Sand,” explained technical director Frank Markus. “I scaled the hill at low speed with minimal wheelspin – fairly impressive for such a large vehicle.”
Where the 2016 Pilot struggles is with the nine-speed automatic that’s standard on the Touring and Elite. Paired with engine stop-start and a sleek yet controversial push-button gear-stalk replacement, the nine-speed can be a bit clunky at times. “My minor gripe with it was under on/off-throttle slow-speed action,” executive editor Ron Kiino said, “where shifts and response were more abrupt.” We hope Honda can continue tuning the transmission, which helps the Pilot kick up EPA-rated mileage in the city over the standard six-speed automatic’s 18-19/26-27 mpg (13-12/9-8.7 L/100km) city/highway with front- and all-wheel drive. The 2016 Pilot’s weight loss also contributes to its improved dynamics and efficiency; our loaded all-wheel-drive tester came in 246 pounds (112 kg) lighter than a 2014 Pilot EX-L AWD.
Despite the new HR-V and Civic offering a standard electric parking brake, the Pilot lacks the feature. “Why,” road test editor Chris Walton said, “when [the nine-speed automatic] is a push-button, is the parking brake a huge, intrusive pedal that I hit my shin on?”
Parking brake pains aside, the Pilot has top safety ratings with active safety tech available across the range. The adaptive cruise control won’t work in stop-and-go traffic, but the lane departure mitigation system and collision mitigation braking system are likely to be more useful and help the Honda achieve a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In its class, only the Toyota Highlander matched the Honda for 2015, but with the IIHS’ more stringent Top Safety Pick + requirements for 2016, the Pilot is currently the only vehicle in its class with that rating. We expect the soon to be refreshed 2016 Nissan Pathfinder to become a 2016 Top Safety Pick + (The Chevrolet Traverse hasn’t been fully IIHS tested.) All of the previously mentioned SUVs earned Five-Star overall safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Pilot is no luxury crossover, but it’s a great place to spend a morning and evening commute. Since the 2016 Pilot went on sale in June, 25-30 percent sold have been Touring or Elite models, but the lower trims also offer value. All 2016 Pilots benefit from an enormous storage area between the front seats with an attractive dark gray cover, and an 8-inch touchscreen display tops the dash of almost every trim. The gauge cluster has been rethought, too, with a bright digital speedo placed at the top center of the gauges, leaving room for an info screen and other gauges below instead of a space-wasting unit that travels to 120 mph (193 km/h) or higher.
It’s more functional than premium inside the Pilot, but on our $47,320 USD tester, there were plenty of luxurious features. At that price, Honda throws in LED headlights, a moonroof, a panoramic roof for second- and third-row passengers, a power liftgate, perforated seats for the first and second rows, heated/cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, active safety tech, an entertainment system with wireless headphones and a 9-inch fold-down display, and five USB ports including four fast-charging units.
Although the 2016 Pilot is more attractive than the boxy previous generation crossovers, it reminded more than one driver of a minivan from inside—not a good connection for a minivan alternative. If you don’t mind the low-speed behavior of the nine-speed auto on Touring and Elite models, however, the Honda merits a top spot on your shopping list.
|2016 Honda Pilot Elite|
|Price As Tested||$47,320|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||3.5L/280-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Length x Width x Height||194.5 x 78.6 x 69.8|
|Curb Weight (F/R Dist)||4,280 lb (56/44%)|
|Acceleration, 0-60 mph||6.5 sec|
|Quarter Mile||15.1 sec @ 91.2 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||128 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||27.8 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||19/26/22 mpg|
|Energy Consumption, City/Hwy||177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 Emissions||0.90 lb/mile|