The 2016 Honda Pilot has axed its hard edges: it's once again a smooth, capable family wagon, one that raises the bar for refinement.
Honda's Pilot was a pioneer in the race to reformat rugged SUVs into something more prosaic, more useful—more liveable on a daily basis. When it was new in 2003, the Pilot got the driving height and all-weather traction of the SUV right, and wrapped it in an airy Honda-like body with lots of seats, superb visibility and, truth, frumpy looks.
That was fine—a huge hit, even—until a 2009 reskin gave the Pilot a much thicker, squared-off body meant to drag it into the sport-ute mainstream. Just when everyone else was climbing out of the water, introducing sleek-looking crossover SUVs with lots of curves.
After that styling misstep in 2009, the 2016 Pilot eschews the squared off look of the previous model and gets softer corners, but ladles on a more rewarding driving experience, tons of safety features, a more useful interior, and up-to-date infotainment features, not to mention its plushest Elite trim yet.
All told, the 2016 Pilot isn't just the best Pilot yet, it's the best three-row crossover SUV we know—better than Explorer, Pathfinder, Highlander, and Traverse, in a few or many ways, depending on which one you compare.
To us, the Pilot's the prettiest of them all, the freshest look. The rounded new shape is softer and more appealing than the box it came from. There's an elegance to the profile, even if it's a look we've seen on other 'utes—the Pilot still balances its glass to metal better than anything similar. The low front end and horizontally themed grille play handsomely off each other. From some angles, we're convinced the Pilot is the result of some hanky-panky between a Subaru Forester and Chrysler Pacifica.
Inside, the new Pilot couldn’t be more different from the old blocky, plasticky design. It’s very well finished, with elements from the current Accord, and some touches from the CR-V. On some versions, there’s a huge panoramic roof that opens up the cabin to a flood of natural light.
The Pilot’s known for its versatility, and that’s in full force in this new version. Three rows of seats have space for up to eight passengers. The front seats are just about ideally shaped, and with step-in height about an inch lower than before, the Pilot is an even better bet for smaller or older drivers. The middle row is adult-friendly, and for the first time, you can get a version with two captain’s chairs and a pass-through. The seat reclines for long trips and has its own tray table and cup holders.
In the back, the third-row seat is accessed by folding forward the second-row seat by pushing a button, a nice touch. Step-in room is slim, but the back seat has enough space for two adults with a surprising amount of head room and leg room. The seat is close to the floor so leg support isn’t great—but the fact that big people can sit back here makes the Pilot one of the most useful people haulers around.
Cargo space is abundant in the Pilot. There are cupholders everywhere, and a console big enough for an iPad. The third row folds down for a flat cargo floor. There’s a reversible cargo panel for dirty stuff like soccer cleats and beach chairs—and this cargo well behind the third row can hold an 82-quart cooler. Capri Sun for everyone!
Soft-touch surfaces and styling details that have transformed this Pilot. It’s much, much more luxurious than before, even in base trims—so much so, we think Elite versions compare very well against vehicles like the Buick Enclave, even the closely related Acura MDX.
Performance with the Pilot’s updated V-6 is strong. With 280 horsepower, it’s paired with either a 6-speed automatic or a new 9-speed on Elite models. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is an option—and the Pilot can be outfitted with a traction management system that can help it pull out of mud pits or snow with ease. The Pilot also will tow up to 5,000 pounds. The Pilot works fine with the 6-speed, and it pulls strongly with its new 9-speed automatic. There's some surging as its downshifts to a stop, but in sport mode it's an energetic performer with a great engine note.
There isn't a plusher ride or more relaxed steering in this size class. The Pilot feels mature and luxurious at the wheel. The all-wheel-drive system has torque vectoring that lets it turn in more sharply to corners—the quicker cornering is at odds with the softly sprung ride delivered by the plushest version with 20-inch wheels. It's unusual, since larger wheels and tires usually corrupt a soft ride. This could be the result of the early-prototype tuning on the cars made available to us for testing. It's easy to get used to—but you might be just as happy with the firmer-riding front-drive version with the standard 18-inch wheels and tires.
Fuel economy is as high as 23 mpg combined, among the best in class thanks to a 300-pound weight loss, cylinder-deactivation technology, and stop/start.
Safety ratings are among the best in the Pilot's class—it's earned a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS, and five stars overall from the NHTSA. The Pilot offers blind-spot monitors, a LaneWatch camera with a wide view down the right side of the car, a multi-rearview camera, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
Standard features include Bluetooth with audio streaming, touchscreen audio, power features, cruise control, and air conditioning. As you move up in price, you can add satellite radio, leather trim, a DVD entertainment system, and heated and ventilated front seats.
Pricing for the Pilot starts at $31,045 for the front-wheel-drive Pilot LX; the EX has a base price of $34,480. At the top of the lineup, the all-wheel-drive Pilot Elite with navigation carries a base price of $47,470—where it overlaps the lower-priced versions of its corporate cousin, the Acura MDX.
By the numbers, the base Pilot with front-wheel drive and the 6-speed automatic is rated at 19 miles per gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined. Adding all-wheel drive drops it to 18/26/21 mpg. Touring and Elite models with the 9-speed and front-wheel drive are rated at 20/27/23 mpg, and with all-wheel drive, 19/26/22 mpg.