A New Way to Navigate
The all-new 2016 Honda Pilot isn’t simply updated—it’s all new. The third-generation crossover has been reskinned outside and in and has been re-engineered with driving dynamics that make it very different from its predecessor. Driving the highly regarded second-gen 2015 Pilot back to back with the 2016 Pilot sealed the deal, and its transformation became stunningly apparent. On sale now, the eight-passenger family SUV has been redesigned with changes led by the voice of the customer, says Honda, with fresh styling, many of the car world’s latest features, increased value, and improved fuel economy. Honda’s flagship three-row sport utility is developed and manufactured in the U.S.
This midsized crossover was introduced as a 2003 model and received high praise for its car-like ride, unibody platform, and independent suspension. It set industry standards for fuel efficiency, packaging and cargo-carrying abilities, safety, and somewhat sporty handling and has found a home with about 1.4 million buyers. The second generation came to market in 2009 with a bit more off-road capability, and it received updates and a facelift during its tenure.
The newest Pilot raises the bar with a more premium attributes, new powertrains, and a host of new technologies, along with the more advanced safety features. Onboard is the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies, with lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring (like Honda’s innovative LaneWatch system, which uses a camera to display the passenger-side blind spot when the turn signal is activated), adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation braking, and lane-keeping assist, along with other active and passive safety features. The Pilot shares its underpinnings with the Acura MDX luxury SUV, and with fortified frame rails, an all-new AWD system, and modest ground clearance, it is capable for light off-road use and can tow up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg).
On sale this summer, the 2016 Pilot comes in two- and four-wheel drive versions and five trims. The base LX gets standard vehicle stability/traction control; rear camera, daytime running lights; ABS with electronic brake distribution and brake assist; tire–pressure monitoring; and 18-inch wheels. The new, top-of-the-line Elite trim brings a number of Honda-first features, including ventilated front seats; heated second-row seats; heated steering wheel; a panoramic glass roof; and 20-inch wheels. The LX starts at $29,995 USD (plus $880 USD destination) and Elite at $46,420 USD. The Pilot competes with the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, and Hyundai Santa Fe, among others.
Although the newest Pilot is larger and longer, it has shed some weight as well, which aids fuel consumption and improves driving dynamics. It’s been penned with a more sporty, sleek, and narrow look with styling that is more contemporary than the previous model that is boxy and upright, sharing cues with the Ridgeline truck. The new model blends slightly muscled looks with sculpted panels and narrower window openings along the side for smoothing that makes it more aerodynamic; a spoiler at the tail reduces drag. LED lighting punctuates the front and back, while a bright-chromed, three-bar grille accents the fascia.
Inside is a premium cabin that is well executed with lots of elbowroom, good ergonomics, and utility. It’s been imbued with trim elements from the new Accord and CR-V, with attractive, soft-touch materials. The surface of the front console has a smartphone tray and two cupholders, while the console storage compartment has a smartphone tray, along with a 12V power outlet, 4 USB ports, and auxiliary jacks. It’s large enough to accommodate a purse or tablets and charge up to five items. The instrument panel pod and center-stack touchscreen are tastefully set up with the expected premium level of communication/navigation/audio features. Bluetooth with audio streaming is standard, as is touchscreen audio, cruise control, and air conditioning. Uplevel trims add satellite radio, leather, a DVD/Blu-ray entertainment system, heated and ventilated front seats, and a panoramic roof.
Pilot has seven or eight-passenger seating, as second-row captain’s seats are available. There is one-touch easy access to the third row that has improved ingress and egress. Honda’s Flexible Cargo Management system is highlighted by a two-position cargo lid that lets you hide goods in a lower, hidden compartment, which can be repositioned at the bottom to make room for taller items. The cargo area can even accommodate a large 82-quart ice chest behind the third-row seat. The reversible cargo lid is carpeted on one side and has a durable, water-resistant hard plastic surface on the flipside for holding wet and muddy gear. A side compartment can hold small items, like groceries or a gallon of milk. There is a 12V power outlet in the rear on some trims.
Under the hood is Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology 3.5L V-6 engine with cylinder deactivation technology that produces 280 hp. and 262 lb-ft. of torque and a stop/start function aids in fuel efficiency. It is matched to a new six-speed or nine-speed automatic, depending on trim. The nine-speed can be operated in two different fully automatic modes: D mode is for normal driving and top fuel economy, while the Sport mode is for more spirited driving. A new push-button–operated Intelligent Traction Management System brings four different AWD operating modes (Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand) and two FWD modes (Normal and Snow.)
We drove the different versions of the new Pilot in a small quadrant of Ohio and Kentucky, with city driving, freeways, and winding two-lanes. Notable attributes are the Pilot’s quietness; tighter, more responsive steering; and power that moves it quickly when needed. The six-speed gives a good ride, but engine noise is more apparent and it lacks the shift sophistication of the nine-speed gearbox. We also enjoyed the paddle shifters on the nine-speed transmission, along with Pilot’s responsive Sport setting.
Of note, the new AWD system not only transfers power from the front to the rear, but also across the rear axle, at the hands of a more sophisticated traction-enhancing technology. A Hill Start Assist system maintains brake pressure when the pedal is released, giving the driver time to engage the accelerator. A Grade Logic System holds the engine in a lower gear when on inclines for better hill-climbing torque and increased engine braking when going down steep hills. The second-generation all-wheel drive system enables it to wade through up to 19 inches of water.
2016 Honda Pilot
TYPE: Mid-sized crossover SUV
BASE PRICE: $29,995
AS TESTED: $46,420
ENGINE: 3.5L EarthDreams V-6
TRANSMISSION: Nine-speed automatic
TORQUE: 262 lb-ft
FUEL CAPACITY: 19.5 gallons
EPA ESTIMATED FUEL ECONOMY: 19 city/26 highway/22 average
CURB WEIGHT: 4,303 lbs