Honda bolsters its big CUV offering amidst a three-row arms race
With nearly 144,000 units sold through November, the Pilot is Honda’s second best-selling crossover behind the CR-V and even tops the Odyssey minivan by roughly 48,000 units. The multi-passenger sport ute continues to be popular three years after this generation was introduced, but with three-row competitors like the Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, and soon a new Toyota Highlander arriving to challenge the Pilot for those sales, Honda gave the refreshed 2019 Pilot a number of meaningful updates to keep it competitive.
I had the opportunity to drive the updated Pilot in two distinctly different areas: in my hometown of Los Angeles and on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. You see, back in October I flew with my family to Atlanta for my sister-in-law’s wedding. Like us, many of the guests were from out of town and needed rides to and from the venue. Honda was nice enough to loan me a refreshed 2019 Pilot for exactly that purpose, and later sent one to our office so we could test it.
Both testers were identically equipped 2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD models, loaded with such standard features as a leather interior, heated front and second-row seats, premium 10-speaker audio system, updated touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Wi-Fi hotspot capability, a Blu-ray rear-seat entertainment system, wireless phone charger, and more. For 2019, the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, has been made standard on all Pilots. The Elite trim additionally comes standard with a blind spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beams.
The Pilot’s 3.5-liter V-6 continues to make 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, but the big news is that the nine-speed automatic that comes on Touring and Elite models has been reprogrammed and upgraded in response to customer complaints—not to mention our own well-documented troubles with our long-term 2016 Honda Pilot. We’ll come back to how the revised transmission performs in a bit, but first let’s travel back in time to the warm and muggy days of early October in Atlanta.
When I first picked up the car, I honestly wasn’t sure that four adults, my then-four-month-old son, his car seat, a stroller, and all of our luggage would fit. The valet proved me wrong, however. We had to drop one of the 60/40 split-folding third-row seats, but once we did we had enough room to stack the bags and still clear the liftgate. Granted, my mother-in-law had to keep our carry-ons from toppling over the entire drive into the city, and I couldn’t see anything out the back window, but in a pinch the Pilot can fit a family of overpackers and their stuff.
The Pilot also worked well as a wedding shuttle. The second-row captain’s chairs slide forward with a single pull of the lever on the back, providing a reasonably wide path to the third row. Children and average-height adults (including a few senior citizens) were able to squeeze back there without complaint, though taller adults had a harder time entering and exiting the rearmost portion of the cabin. The captain’s chairs themselves were plenty comfortable for adults and roomy enough for a baby seat, though those sitting in front and behind sometimes had to sacrifice a bit of legroom for it to fit.
Since this was only my second time visiting Atlanta, I relied heavily on the infotainment system to tell me where to go. Google Maps had just become available for Apple CarPlay, so I mostly used that to get around. As long as I had a cell signal, the app worked like a charm. The integration wasn’t perfect, however. At one point, I was unable to exit the app to get to the main infotainment menu, even after repeatedly pressing the Home and Back buttons. Also, I found the turn-by-turn voice levels to be inconsistent: The directions would be normal volume for one turn, then inexplicably loud the next. In those moments, I was happy the system had a physical volume knob. It’s possible those issues were bugs in the app itself and may be fixed by the developers at some point.
If you prefer not to deal with third-party software, the onboard navigation is a reliable, if less slick-looking, alternative. The system never steered me wrong on Atlanta’s unfamiliar streets, though the voice recognition is hit or miss as I tried to speak my destination. It usually took more than two clearly enunciated tries before it finally got the address right.
Back in L.A., we put the refreshed crossover through our usual battery of tests. In every one of them, the 2019 Honda Pilot posted numbers nearly identical to our 2016 long-termer. Acceleration, handling, and braking performance is virtually unchanged, at least on paper. Road test editor Chris Walton had this to say in his acceleration testing notes:
“There’s an ‘almost-launch mode’ in a Pilot?! After generous pedal overlap, revs settle at 2,000 rpm. Lifting off the brake, they shoot up to 3,000, and it really goes! The otherwise smooth, normal shifts become much quicker and sharper. Then at about 5,400 rpm, there’s the ‘VTEC, yo!’ You can really hear the changeover. This whole experience was unexpected. Hat tip to the powertrain folks at Honda.”
Driving the Pilot on the street wasn’t quite that exciting but still enjoyable. For being such a large crossover, the Pilot is easy to maneuver and park. Visibility is mostly good save for thick B-pillars that create a blind spot over the left shoulder. And just as before, the Pilot remains a comfortable highway cruiser thanks to a smooth-riding suspension and buttery V-6. Honda also improved its stop/start system for 2019, and the restarts are quicker and less jarring than before.
Getting back to the nine-speed automatic, I thought the updated transmission performed well for the most part. Occasionally I would get a harsh shift when slowing to a stop, but beyond that driving in traffic and at slow speeds around town felt pretty normal. One staffer who spent more time in our old long-termer than me said the transmission felt about the same as before, however, and that it could still use some refinement.
The improvements may not please all, but I could probably live with the Pilot’s transmission. It’s far smoother than the nine-speed I’m used to in my long-term Chrysler Pacifica, though I think I’d still choose a minivan for its more usable third row and cargo area. I realize I’m in the minority, however, and that three-row crossovers still reign supreme in this market—one reason why automakers keep churning out new ones. Even amongst this latest batch of three-rows, the Honda Pilot should continue to be a solid choice.
|2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$49,015|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.5L/280-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,337 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||196.5 x 78.6 x 70.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.8 sec @ 93.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||19.1/28.2/22.3 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/26/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.90 lb/mile|