By Derek Price
The Honda Pilot has long been an enigma on wheels, but an all-new version for 2016 could be changing that.
As the largest vehicle Honda sells in America, the Pilot never seemed to fit in with the rest of the brand’s lineup. It wore the badge, sure, but its truck-like ride, boxy styling and plastic-laden interior didn’t match the sleek, sporty, ultra-solid cars that surrounded it on dealer lots. I always thought it stood out in a mysterious way, almost like it was built by a totally different car company.
After its fresh redesign, though, the Pilot finally feels like a Honda through and through. And that’s a great thing.
I spent a week driving the all-new 2016 Pilot, and I came away impressed at the huge leap Honda’s designers and engineers managed to make compared with the outgoing model. It’s improved in every way.
The interior, in particular, has gone from being some of Honda’s worst work to some of its best work. Soft-touch materials, tight construction, lots of well-integrated technology and ample, smartly placed storage nooks make it one of the most family-friendly vehicles you can get this side of a minivan.
While its body has lots of civilized features like a power lift gate and panoramic glass roof, it retains a pinch of truck-like styling that gives it an air of toughness.
The overall look is brought up to date with raked-back headlight lenses, LED lighting and muscular character lines, and Honda says the changes are about more than appearance. An acoustic windshield and careful sculpting in the wind tunnel result in better fuel economy and a surprisingly quiet, sophisticated feel on the highway.
I thought the steering and brake response were some of the best I’d ever felt in a vehicle this size, with a quick response that belies its heft. I wasn’t quite as impressed with the suspension, which still feels a bit bouncy and truck-like for my taste, although it’s a nice improvement over the last-generation Pilot.
To be fair, the rugged suspension feeling could be because Honda is still trying to give the Pilot some actual truck-like capability, not just making it an on-road-only vehicle like most big crossovers have turned into lately. With available all-wheel drive and selectable traction control settings for snow, mud and sand, the new Pilot seems designed to get you out of situations that might cause problems for some of its softer competitors.
Thanks to a new 3.5-liter V6 with lots of fuel-saving tricks — it has cylinder deactivation, advanced variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, for example — Honda can claim class-leading fuel consumption of 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.
Like the rest of its interior, the Pilot’s technology seems to be designed with families in mind, something I appreciate as a dad with three kids.
You can outfit the Pilot with up to five USB ports, four of which have a 2.5-amp output that’s strong enough to charge an iPad — something many cars don’t offer. It also has an auxiliary audio jack for connecting music players, an HDMI port for connecting a game console or other video sources to the entertainment system, two headphone jacks, three 12-volt power outlets and a 115-volt AC outlet.
Clearly it’s designed for today’s connected kids.
My test vehicle, a top-of-the-line AWD Elite model, was priced at $47,300 with a full suite of luxuries and high-tech options. You can get the two-wheel-drive base LX model starting at $29,995 and the EX-L with leather for $35,905.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite ($46,420). Options: None. Price as tested (including $880 destination charge): $47,300
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 194.5 in.
Width: 78.6 in.
Height: 69.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Mileage: 19 city, 26 highway
2016 Honda Pilot
Why buy it?
It’s brilliantly designed with families in mind, but its rugged styling and a bit of off-road capability mean you don’t have to live with the stigma of a minivan. The new generation for 2016 is a huge upgrade over the outgoing model.