The largest Honda model gets a makeover for the 2016 model year. The new Pilot is 3.5 inches longer than before, almost 2 inches of which is in the longer wheelbase. The footprint is larger, but the Pilot is also about an inch shorter vertically than the 2015 model, thanks to slightly reduced ground clearance. This, combined with the SUV’s new, more athletic sheetmetal makes the Pilot look significantly smaller and more approachable. The old Pilot looked like a square-shouldered Hummer with a Honda badge; the new Pilot looks streamlined, more muscular, and, well, sort of like a Toyota Highlander from some angles. Considering its target demographic, I suppose that last bit is OK.
The lower ride height also makes climbing into and out of the Pilot less of an acrobatic affair. Kids, especially, should have an easier time getting into the third row, thanks to a redesigned folding and sliding second row with a more easily reachable release button.
In addition to looking smaller, the Pilot is a bit lighter. Extensive use of high and ultrahigh tensile steel grants the SUV a stiffer chassis and allows Honda to save up to 300-pounds of mass when compared to the previous generation, depending on the trim level.
The lighter chassis goes hand in hand with the more powerful engine room. Here you’ll find that Honda’s 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 engine has been enhanced to the tune of 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. That’s 30 more ponies than the 2015 model boasted, which results in a more responsive feeling 4,300 pound SUV.
The V-6 retains Honda’s variable cylinder management system, which allows it to deactivate three of its cylinders during light cruising to save fuel. The mill is paired with either a six-speed automatic transmission for the lower trim levels or a new nine-speed automatic for the top-trim Touring and Elite models. The nine-speed models also feature a new stop-start system that shuts the engine down when the car is stopped to reduce fuel losses to idling.
Depending on the trim level and equipment, you’re looking at between 18 and 20 city mpg and between 21 and 23 highway mpg. That’s only about a 2 mpg gain across the board, which isn’t exactly game-changing, but is better than nothing. The greatest gains come from the new nine-speed equipped Touring models.
The final powertrain choice set before prospective Pilot drivers is front- or all-wheel drive. The latter is Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system which can send torque on-demand to the rear axle and features torque vectoring.
On the road, the Pilot feels a bit sharper and quicker than before when pushed in a back-to-back test with the previous generation on a twisty Kentucky road. Though the Pilot is no sports car, these moderate performance gains when pushed to its limits translate into the SUV feeling significantly more planted and predictable at more family-friendly speeds.
The Pilot also gains refinements in the cabin starting with the 8-inch display audio system an enlarged version of the infotainment system that we’ve seen previously in the Honda Fit and HR-V. The system, which is coincidentally based on Android software, is significantly simpler and easier to use than the dual screened mess that you’ll find in the current Honda Accord and rolls in optional Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation — now powered by Garmin software — and Honda HD Digital Traffic.
The display audio system also features a new generation of SiriusXM satellite radio that rolls in the ability to pause and rewind satellite radio broadcasts up to half an hour.
Around the cabin, you’ll find plenty of USB ports for connecting digital audio and charging portable devices. There’s a 2.5-amp charging port in the center console that can charge a tablet like the iPad at full speed. There’s also a pair of ports under the dashboard — one 2.5-amp and one 1.5-amp — that can charge and play digital media. Touring and Elite models also feature a pair of 2.5-amp ports on the second row.
The Pilot is also available with a Blu-ray rear seat entertainment system that features an HDMI input.
Honda makes some interesting choices where safety tech is concerned. For example, the SUV comes standard with the automaker’s Honda’s LaneWatch side camera system, which displays a video feed of the passenger-side blind spot when the turn signal is activated. However, this feature is deleted and replaced with a traditional indicator light and chiming Blind Spot Monitoring system when the Honda Sensing package is added — optional on the EX, and standard for the Touring and Elite models. When asked why it didn’t give drivers both, Honda’s representatives didn’t seem to have any convincing explanation.
Also added as part of the Honda Sensing suite are radar and camera-based forward collision-warning and collision-mitigation braking systems, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist (which uses the electric power steering to add assisted steering when the Pilot drifts over lane markers), and adaptive cruise control.
I was able to test these systems and confirm that they largely operate identically to the safety tech in the Acura MDX, the pilot’s upmarket cousin.
The 2016 Honda Pilot is significantly improved over the last generation, whether you’re talking about performance, technology or simply curb appeal. The new model’s pricing starts at $29,995 for the base LX model and works its way up to a max $46,420 for the line topping Elite with Navigation and rear seat entertainment.