So you’re having your third kid, and by now the only thing on your mind is how the hell you’re going to fit another carseat in the back with room for your mother-in-law and her two annoying-ass Pomeranians. It’s decision time, and you’ve got one shot because regardless of what your choice might be, the guys at the pub on Saturdays are going to pummel you with insults based on where you put your cash.
Massive, tank-like SUVs are out of the question. The wife says they look good on Gerard Butler, and that you are better suited to something more “family friendly,” and “neighborhood appropriate.” But outside of the Pike’s Peak hillclimb animal and that 800 horsepower Bisimoto luxo-drag Odyssey, Honda minivans have never appeared masculine enough. Plus, the Toyota Sienna still is the only minivan out there with all-wheel drive, and to get it looking good would cost a ton and you want some ride height for camping purposes.
Fortunately for you, Honda redesigned and released the Pilot last year to meet that balance. This past spring/summer we were able to test one out, and we felt the Pilot deserved a more detailed review.
Turns out, this family-hauler is pretty amazing. If you are in the market for something family-crafted and capable, this dollop of Japanese ingenuity is well worth a spin around the block. It’s got almost all of the boxes checked, and while things like preventative safety systems are key words with a newborn in the backseat, so are things like traction settings and tow capacities.
We can’t argue that the Pilot hasn’t gone a bit soft in its old age, because what was once considered “quasi-rugged” due to boxy headlamps, truck-like lines, and Jeep-ish amenities has been recast as a sleek, spacious, well-proportioned piece of modern SUV engineering. It may not look as tough as it once did, but neither is it gaudy or overly flashy either.
Honda aimed for a more feminine touch with this redesign, and it’s nice to see that the new Pilot has a fascia that isn’t too soft — it still retains a commanding road presence. But its rear end is all minivan, and for as sleek-looking as the new model is, Honda’s 2016 Pilot lost some machismo in the appearance department. Opting for sedated, sensual lines instead, it’s no wonder chicks dig this redesign: Honda pulled a multitude of ammunition from Acura’s chamber for this latest generation.
Exterior pros and cons
+ For as feminine as the Pilot has gotten, the restyled front end isn’t hard on the eyes. From the bowed top grille fin that eats into the angular headlamps to the sharply styled vents and swooping edges, the new Pilot has a good-looking snout.
+ Well-proportioned, the 2016 Pilot was almost the exact same length as my 2007 Acura RDX when parked side-by-side, so for being a family grocery-getter it isn’t a hulking machine. Aesthetically, there’s a lot to be said for a well-balanced automobile.
+ During the day the bright LED running lights capture attention, and at night, the illuminated front, rear, and side mirrors are sharp looking, to say the least.
– From the side, the Pilot’s 20-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires are an acceptable addition to the car. But look at them from any other direction and this duo looks undersized both in diameter and width.
– Chrome continues to be in, and while that sharp nose is a pleasant sight, it’s a bit flashy when compared to cars like the Dodge Journey Crossroad, which comes with a blacked-out grille, badging, wheels, roof rails, trim pieces, and headlamps.
– The rear end on the Pilot is about as van-like as it gets, especially without a polished dual port exhaust or some other sporting pretensions. Its lift-gate is also a bit too bubbly and doesn’t match the front quite like it should.
Getting 280 horsepower out of a 3.5-liter V6 may not conjure up yawns, but its 22 mile per gallon average and satisfactory towing capacity aren’t winning any awards either. Honda’s “Earth Dreams” engines are brilliantly executed with their Eco mode, variable cylinder management systems, i-VTEC, and direct injection spray patterns, but it falls shy of the old 305 horsepower TL motor from 2010. It had a bit more kick and got comparable fuel gains, so how much better can this updated drivetrain be?
Like its exterior, Honda has gone soft-sided in the powertrain department, but fortunately it has offset this by going all-out in the gearbox. Just select your traction setting, regardless of whether you face sand, mud, snow, or any other form of inclement weather, and watch this capable machine burrow its way forward. That doesn’t mean the 2016 Pilot is an off-road specialist like the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk I reviewed the week prior, but it certainly has many of the same traction settings beyond “school drop zone.”
Powertrain pros and cons
+ While 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque may not sound like much, the Pilot takes full advantage of its rear differential and traction settings to offer 3,500 pounds of towing capacity on front-wheel drive models and 5,000 pounds of hauling on the all-wheel drive version.
+ That nine-speed transmission is a silky-smooth piece of engineering, and having paddle shifters to control it makes long drives and overtakes that much more enjoyable. Yes, even the Pilot now has paddle shifters.
+ Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management system allows you select snow, sand, and mud modes, while the auto start/stop shaves unnecessary fuel consumption during idle.
– For as smooth as the Pilot’s transmission is, the 3.5-liter V6 in it can be a bit unwieldy, acting hesitant one moment and under-powered the next with a small fuel tank on board that requires frequent filling.
– While Honda totes its Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) capabilities, there still is a lot of “chatter” coming from under the hood. Not so much under acceleration per se, because that V6 roar is to be expected under heavy load, but at idle the belt-driven motor sounds almost as noisy as an engine with a timing chain.
– Most other vehicles in the Pilot’s segment offer alternative powertrains if need be — the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder even offered hybrids, and the Ford Explorer is available with a high-performance turbo-V6. A little variety might make the Pilot more appealing to shoppers on the fence.
While your chick may dig the Pilot’s new-found exterior styling, it’s the cabin where you and your brood of bed-wetters are going to be spending most of the time. This is where the Pilot shines over the outgoing model. Climb around inside the cabin a bit and you’ll likely find yourself impressed, especially if you opt for the Elite trim like our tester was.
Large center console cubbies up front come complete with multiple charging ports, heated captain’s chairs are delightful, and ventilated and heated front seats add additional comfort. A hand-warming steering wheel, push-button gear selections, tri-zone automatic climate control with humidity reduction, one-touch folding second row seats, and a large panoramic sunroof are also winning arguments for the Pilot. Our review vehicle had some slight trim fitment issues on the seals around the rear hatch, and all that piano black trim is a fingerprint and dust magnet, but with its comfy leather seats, fantastic control layout, and spacious third row, it’s really hard to hate on the Pilot’s interior.
Interior pros and cons
+ Loads of leather, a large panoramic sunroof, a heated leather steering wheel, and all those stylish piano black trim pieces add an upscale feel to the Pilot that it never had before.
+ Quick-release folding heated captain’s chairs, perforated heated and cooled front seats, two-way driver’s seat memory settings, and a third row that fits adults, all guarantee that you and your passengers will be traveling in comfort.
+ Honda-grade materials, well-built ergonomic buttons and switches, soft touch materials aplenty, and a cabin that has everything right where it should be make the Pilot a great daily driver.
– Piano black trim pieces look fantastic but attract dust and fingerprints like crazy, so consider yourself forewarned if you’re on the OCD spectrum.
– For as nice as that captain’s row is, the center stow space between the two chairs is a bit tight and could stand to be bigger since no one is sitting or walking through that area anyways.
– Having an interior that features a lot of gray plastic trim pieces is not very attractive. Look toward other exterior colors, as the Steel Sapphire Metallic paint scheme is only offered with this tired-looking interior, unfortunately.
Tech and safety
The technology in the Elite version of the Pilot is pretty widespread and sensible, and at this trim level its safety systems come courtesy of the all-inclusive Honda Sensing Package. Forward collision warnings, lane keep assistance, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warnings… the list goes on, and for that reason alone it scored well.
The Blu-Ray/DVD player and nine-inch display with wireless headphones were a fantastic feature to find in the captain’s row, and while we did discover some setbacks in the navi department, the infotainment on that eight-inch touchscreen was pretty easy to manage and customize. The MID was informative, detailed, and crisply displayed, the 10 speaker sound system was solid, and things like rain sensing wipers were nice additions as well.
Tech pros and cons
+ 150-watt AC plugs, auxiliary and USB ports, two wireless headphones, a nine-inch screen for playing Blu-Ray discs, and mountains of customizable option all add value.
+ The driver’s 4.2-inch multi information display (MID) houses a treasure trove of info, and accompanied by that eight-inch touchscreen in the center stack there is little you can’t monitor or do from the front seat.
+ Hauling your entire family around in a car means that it falls on you to pick out a vehicle that is safer than a Chuck Norris-grade security system. Name the safety feature and chances are the Elite version of the Pilot will have it, many of which proved worthy on a recent road trip to Detroit.
– Honda thinks it is doing us a favor by not allowing anyone in the car to enter an address in the navi while the vehicle is in motion. This is infuriating and completely hypocritical since this infotainment screen allows drivers to thumb through pages of XM radio channels and apps, which also require taking one’s eyes off the road.
– Not having a control knob to explore a map or zoom in and out means touching the screen, a practice that proves to be far more efficient in theory than in real life driving conditions.
– The 540-watt stereo looks like it would sound better than it does, but maybe that’s a positive considering it’ll likely be used more for kids’ tunes than playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at concert volume.
Driving the Elite version of the Pilot is a pretty cushy affair. Despite its minor annoyances, it remains a fantastic vehicle to “pilot” (heh). The steering wheel is well proportioned, visibility is good, the leather driver’s seat is adjustable 10 ways and comfortable, the drivetrain is responsive enough, the brakes are tight, and even though there is some body roll, it handles surprisingly well. Plus, pushing buttons and flipping switches to put a car into gear is a pretty neat experience.
On the downside, the steering is a bit disconnected even when in sport mode, and the suspension felt a tad too soft in the corners.
Wrap up and review
I really enjoyed driving the 2016 Pilot Elite, and for $46,420 it has a lot of the same ingredients that you’ll find on vehicles well above its pay grade. This is a softer, more MDX-looking generation of Pilot, and for the most part it hits all the right pressure points with its adjustable traction settings, luxuriously techy interior, and abundant safety features.
But the Pilot still has yet to hit its mark head-on. Not having a control knob and a couple buttons for the navi proved tedious, and not being able to select destinations while driving –even by the passenger — was downright maddening. The suspension and handling disconnect wasn’t a deal breaker, and neither was the 3.5-liter engine’s efficiency numbers and greenhouse gas ratings — they’re basically on the same level with Honda’s competition. So the new Pilot may not be the final word in vehicles with a roomy third row, but dammit if it isn’t a good option for anyone wanting to get something that the wife would approve of and not lose face in the process.