The 2016 Honda Pilot has been completely re-engineered and carved into a new sleek body style with a sophisticated, new all-wheel-drive system.
Honda’s largest SUV continues with three rows and seats for seven or eight. The ground-up redesign is 3.5 inches longer but 300 pounds lighter than the 2015 model. The added size went to rear legroom, wider access to the third row and a longer cargo area.
There also are high-quality, soft-touch materials with an abundance of Honda’s clever and thoughtfully engineered conveniences.
All models use a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic on the lower trim levels and a nine-speed on upper trims. Sold in five trim levels in front- or all-wheel drive, starting prices range from $30,875 to $47,300 for the Pilot Elite (today’s tester), which adds voice-controlled navigation and a rear DVD-entertainment system.
The Elite tester seemed to be a good value with big-car comfort and contemporary features. Its advanced safety technologies range from collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning and lane departure warning to adaptive cruise control and hill-start assist. They are active while driving but don’t jump out with frightful warnings at the slightest provocation.
Fuel economy on 87 octane is 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 mpg combined. I was averaging 22.7 to 22.9 mpg. But my mileage might have been better had it not been for the fidgety nine-speed transmission. In standard drive mode it was busy, as if always monitoring or networking with the cylinder management system; the V-6 can run on three cylinders while cruising. In Sport mode, the transmission was frenetic with aggressive shifts, as if the owner would like to rip up an autocross. And the Econ mode was frustratingly dull while continually seeking the right gear for fuel-sipping thrift. Consequently, I was harder on the throttle to get a more absolute response from the transmission. Give me the six speed.
The Pilot is a comfy cruiser with full-bodied seats and a well-soundproofed cabin. Interior plastics and fabrics are durable and attractive. The doors close with a quality thunk. But there is some head toss when pulling into angled streets and driveways. Blame the toughened suspension for towing and the raised ride height. There is plenty of stopping power from 12.6-inch vented front disc brakes and 13-inch solid discs rear, on all models.
The driver faces command central with clear access to controls. The eight-inch touchscreen for audio, navigation, phone and apps is large and easily viewed. But I still had to take my eyes from the road to make simple choices, such as adjusting the audio volume.
Sightlines are good and further enabled by the rearview camera and large screen. The door panels are multilevel storage units. The broad center console between the seats has a handy e-bin charging area with two USB ports, including a high-capacity 2.5 amp. A deep, center storage console has a flat roll-top lid that is a natural landing for a phone or purse.
There is a 10-way power driver’s seat — but just a four-way power adjuster for the front passenger. Sliding visors have covered and lighted mirrors. There is a sunglass holder that doubles as a conversation mirror when open. The power moonroof (standard on Elite) has a large fixed pane with a power sunshade over the second row.
The back-seat area has more of Honda’s multitasking methodology with two-tier door storage and easy sliding access to the third row, with a simple release of the second row seats for back-seat riders. The flat floor is good for three-across footroom with good airflow from large air vents in the back of the front center console. A between-seat console has a flat top and cup holders.
The cargo area is fairly square with a 44-inch-wide opening and 46 inches of length with the second row folded, and some basement storage. But the cargo floor is raised to allow the flat-folding seats, so from the floor to headliner there is just 31 1/2 inches of height. And, consequently, there’s a tall lift-up point (33 1/2 inches) when hefting that loaded cooler or the 3-cubic-foot bale of potting mix.
There is more genuine usability in this iteration of Pilot and less contrived trucky styling, but some of the electronics take away from the pleasure of driving. In time, owners will adopt their workarounds and the Pilot will steer them safely home.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage