2016 Honda Pilot
No one at Honda will argue that their outgoing Pilot, which while a good, reliable and utile mid-size crossover, wasn’t dated. Its tall, boxy, traditional SUV styling might still work for a true off-roader like Land Rover’s LR4, but more often than not the seven-year old second-generation Pilot was overlooked by today’s CUV buyer seeking a sleeker, more stylish ride. As of June 2015, this stopped being an issue.
That was the month the 2016 Honda Pilot went on sale, a vehicle that went from passé to preeminent in one very thorough redesign. The only thing that stays the same is the displacement of its standard 24-valve, SOHC, cylinder-deactivated 3.5-liter V6, with everything else new.
Direct-injection and other improvements add 30 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque for a total of 280 and 262 respectively, while standard six- and optional nine-speed automatics, the latter with a fancy pushbutton selector, steering wheel paddles and idle start/stop make sure it’s as up-to-date as electromechanically possible. Honda’s Active Eco Assist continues to reduce engine and HVAC performance while minimizing output when using cruise control, standard Agile Handling Assist adds brake pressure to the inside wheels during high-speed cornering to limit understeer, optional Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD adds dynamic torque vectoring that combines with new a Intelligent Traction Management system featuring Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes for improved handling in dry and wet or otherwise slippery conditions (the FWD version gets Normal and Snow modes), or so Honda claims.
It was mostly sunny during my test week, so while I prodded the throttle and pushed the big CUV’s envelope as much as possible I wasn’t able to experience its reactions in untoward weather. It was certainly capable in the dry, however, my top-line tester’s 249 lbs of lost weight resulting in a much nimbler vehicle despite being a lot larger. It’s 3.1 inches longer than the old one with a 1.8-inch longer wheelbase, while its width has grown by 1.3 inches. This said its height is shorter by 2.5 inches, the latter partially due to 0.7 inches less ground clearance, now a more car-like 7.2 inches. This aids handling, of course, while the weight loss improves fuel economy.
My tester’s more sophisticated gearbox made it almost as thrifty with its standard AWD as the base FWD model, with an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined; the base model’s highway rating is 27 albeit its combined rating is the same at 22 mpg, whereas the six-speed auto with AWD is good for 21 combined city/highway. The thriftiest Pilot combines the nine-speed auto with FWD for 23 mpg, but even with all of its new technologies the new 2016 Pilot hasn’t exactly run away from last year’s brick on wheels that still managed a decent 21 and 20 combined in FWD and AWD guise, its carryover cylinder-deactivation system no doubt helping in this respect.
Before we start denigrating the new design for not making enough gains at the pump, don’t forget to factor in its overall growth. While you’ll need a bit more space when parking, it delivers big in interior roominess for all three rows. Second- and third-row legroom is much more generous, although the latter impinges on available cargo space behind its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks, reduced by 2.3 cubic feet to 18.5 cubic feet in the bottom five trims and cut even more in the Touring and top-line Elite that measure 18.0 cubic feet behind the rearmost row. The rest of the new Pilot’s gear hauling news is good, however, with 8.2 cubic feet more volume behind the second row, now measuring 55.9 cubic feet with lower trims and 55.0 cubic feet in the Touring and Elite, while maximum cargo volume has grown by 21.5 cubic feet to 109.2 cubic feet in lesser models and 108.5 cubic feet with the topmost twosome. What’s more, AWD models can tow 492 pounds of additional trailer weight for a total of 5,000 lbs.
I would’ve loved to test it out with a classic Chris Craft in tow or even a little Airstream, although something more modern would probably suit the new Pilot better. The SUV’s styling is all about new, but then again Honda hasn’t held back instilling its fair share of CR-V cues. The Pilot’s grille, for instance, starts with three straightforward chromed slats spanning its upper section, not dissimilar to the smaller ute in shape or execution (especially the new 2016 CR-V Hybrid), but it then deviates from the norm with the top slat stretching further outward to meld into the uniquely shaped headlamp clusters, the latter being visually complex combination lights that boast white LEDs running overtop before wrapping around their extremities, just ahead of yellow turn signals, while surrounding a set projector LEDs in my test model.
These overarching white LEDs are probably my favorite Pilot design elements due to sheer oddity, the rest of the grille, bumper, lower fascia and corner fogs so simple they’re almost dull in comparison. The Pilot’s profile and rear end design could also be from any rival, Nissan Pathfinder comes to mind, although the multi-angle taillights mirror the front LEDs and therefore add a unique albeit slightly more awkward element, while reminding me a bit too much of the rear lenses on a Subaru Outback. So what do I really think? My first inclination was to slam the design for being both strangely unusual yet somehow bland, like Honda doused vanilla ice cream with sriracha sauce and is now attempting to serve it up as something tasty (don’t knock it ’til you try it), but the new Pilot is so good in every other way that it has totally won me over despite its styling. I’m hoping I’ll warm up to it over time.
Speaking of good, that sheetmetal and body shell is comprised of 21.3 percent ultra-high-strength steel and 5 percent aluminum or magnesium, whereas 34.5 percent of the body structure, particularly areas prone to MVA damage, is made from mild-strength steel to minimize repair costs. Honda says this more rigid Next-Generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body makes the passenger compartment safer in a collision while improving handling and reducing NVH levels, the latter also aided by active control engine mounts and active noise cancellation.
The undercarriage is fully independent with struts up front and a multilink setup in the rear, plus amplitude reactive dampers and stabilizer bars at both ends, the result being a wonderfully compliant ride that wakes up when pushed, not feeling as firmly capable as the MDX it shares underpinnings with, but nevertheless delivering much more spirited performance through the curves than the outgoing model, while the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels reasonably reactive when coaxing the big ute through fast-paced maneuvers.
Its four-wheel discs bind appropriately, ABS intervening when needed and electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist there if called upon, while the usual traction and stability control join the aforementioned electromechanical driving aids to improve things further. Additionally, hill-start assist, trailer stability assist, and tire pressure monitoring are standard Pilot kit, while the Honda Sensing active safety suite, which is optional with EX and EX-L trims and standard with Touring and Elite, include collision mitigating braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation, while my absolute fave, Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blind spot display system, is actually standard with second-rung EX models and above. It uses a rearward-facing camera on the passenger-side mirror to project live video of the blind spot when activating the right turn signal, and really could be a lifesaver. Elite trim adds blind spot information and rear cross traffic monitoring to the list, while the usual assortment of airbags makes for a particularly safe SUV.
How safe? The IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick + rating when said crash prevention extras are included, while the NHTSA has awarded it 5 stars. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The new Pilot can be had in five trim levels, not including FWD and AWD variants. The base LX model, which starts at $29,995 for FWD or $31,795 for AWD, plus freight and dealer fees, is incredibly well equipped. Really, the list is way too long to even begin to elaborate, so suffice to say it features all of the usual powered accessories plus a number of highlights that can’t be left off these pages, including daytime running lights, LED taillights, remote entry with pushbutton start, walk-away auto locks, a beautiful, bright 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display, a five-inch infotainment touchscreen filled with a multi-angle rearview camera featuring dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 200-watt audio with seven speakers including a sub, three USB ports, one-touch turn signals, a storage compartment under the cargo floor with a removable and reversible lid featuring carpeting on one side and rubberized flooring on the other, a capless fuel filler, etcetera, etcetera.
I’m going to guess EX trim will be very popular, as its $32,430 for FWD or $34,230 for AWD price point won’t be too big a stretch for families buying into this class, while its many more features and availability of aforementioned Honda Sensing safety technologies plus standard LaneWatch blind spot display will be hard to pass up. Some of those additional features include front fogs, body-color door handles and side mirror housings with an expanded driver’s mirror (plus heatable elements when upgrading to AWD), proximity-sensing entry, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar, a universal garage door opener, tri-zone auto HVAC, second-row HVAC controls, a larger eight-inch crystal clear full-color infotainment touchscreen display with SMS text message and email functions, a more powerful 225-watt stereo with satellite radio, Pandora compatibility and Song By Voice, upgraded HondaLink smartphone connectivity, and more.
If you’re willing to go for a slightly larger payment the EX-L starts at $35,905 with FWD or $37,705 for AWD and includes a quieter acoustic windshield, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-clad steering wheel, black, beige or gray leather upholstery (depending on your choice of exterior color), a one-touch powered moonroof, a powered passenger seat, heatable front seats, one-touch flip-and-fold second row seats that are wonderfully easy to move out of the way, and a powered tailgate. For $36,905 with FWD or $38,705 with AWD, EX-L Navi trim adds navigation, as you may have guessed, along with voice recognition and Honda HD Digital Traffic, or you can choose a rear entertainment system (RES) for a total of $37,505 with FWD or $39,305 with AWD and get a DVD-based system with a nine-inch overhead screen, wireless headsets featuring personal surround sound, an HDMI jack, a 115-volt power outlet, and second-row sunshades.
Touring trim cracks the $40k threshold at $41,020 plus freight, while including navigation and all the EX-L RES features plus all the mechanical upgrades and active safety features I mentioned earlier, while the alloy wheels increase from standard 18s to 20s on 245/0R20 all-seasons, and additional gear gets added including LED turn signals on the mirrors, chromed door handles, roof rails, acoustic front door glass, a memory-linked driver’s seat and mirrors, an expanded view driver’s side mirror, blue ambient LED lighting, illuminated front cupholders, a fabulous sounding 540-watt audio upgrade with HD radio, 10 speakers and a sub plus 5.1 surround sound, no less than five USB ports, four of which have 2.5-amp capacity for charging tablets, a Blu-ray player upgrade for the entertainment system, adaptive cruise control (one of my favorite features during road trips), front and rear parking sensors, and more.
Finally, Elite trim hits the road at $46,420 and includes LED headlights that also feature auto-leveling with auto high beam (another road trip fave), rain-sensing wipers, a heatable steering wheel, perforated leather seat inserts with forced ventilation up front, heatable second-row captain’s chairs (that reduce seating to seven), a panoramic glass sunroof, plus the blind spot info and rear cross traffic monitoring already mentioned.
It all comes packaged in a cabin that’s much nicer than the old Pilot’s interior, although it won’t have you missing your MDX. A nice soft synthetic dash top wraps down to the halfway point of the instrument panel where it meets up with some high gloss piano black trim in my test model, the bottom half of the IP done out in a harder plastic that gives off a bit more sheen than the soft stuff. The doors get a padded leatherette insert above even softer padded armrests, but that’s about it for premium plastics. Missing were fabric wrapped A-pillars and soft rear door uppers like some competitors, the new Kia Sorento comes to mind. Those who like piano black plastic won’t care, mind you, as there’s loads of it covering the lower console around the dual cupholders and Honda’s new shifter setup.
I have to admit that this shifter is kind of cool looking and after some time spent fiddling (don’t try anything like a U-turn on a semi-busy street as you might find yourself fumbling to find the reverse pull toggle while traffic approaches) it starts to almost become second nature. Basically it’s comprised of a long row of buttons that might be slightly narrower than a regular shift lever yet doesn’t seem to save much space over that conventional design, making me wonder why they went to all the bother creating something new. I’m not a big fan of Lincoln’s pushbutton system either, but at least it’s located up on the dash where it’s out of the way. Something more like the Jaguar/Land Rover and Chrysler/Dodge/Ram rotating dial selector makes a lot more sense, as the entire shifter takes up about three inches diagonally and therefore can be placed just about anywhere.
The infotainment graphics are superb, however, with a brilliant high-resolution display and one of the smartest most intuitive navigation systems around, capable of automatically guessing the city and road much faster than other systems I’ve tested. The audio system’s touch volume control can be a bit finicky though, but as mentioned its sound quality more than makes up for it, while steering wheel controls made the first issue moot.
An “Oil Life 80%” warning ruined my view of the beautiful primary gauge package all week, but the semicircular tachometer, temp and fuel gauges are really first rate, these surrounded in glowing green rims when driving economically.
In the end I absolutely love being inside the new Pilot. Its dash setup and feature set, overall layout and the comfort of its seats are impressive, its rear accommodations possibly even better, ride and handling excellent and powertrain superb, I can’t even knock its fuel efficiency despite not offering a turbocharged four like some competitors, but the SUV’s styling still has me perplexed. Honda has gone so far to remove any semblance of a conventional slab-sided truck-based SUV that they’ve created something that looks at bit too minivan for my tastes. There’s really nothing rugged about it all. This will likely appeal to many Honda faithful, but will it help pull the Pilot into Highlander/Pathfinder sales territory, let alone Sorento and Santa Fe? This remains to be seen. I certainly hope it’s the winner they’ve been working towards since the Pilot hit the road 13 years ago. It’s easily the most advanced mid-size CUV in its class and deserves to be a major hit.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.