The 2016 Honda Pilot – a completely redesigned 8-seater that raises the bar in the category.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
Pricing: 2016 Honda Pilot
Base price (EX-L trim): $44,490
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $46,285
Compared to the previous Pilot (which had a confident boxy look all its own which I quite liked), the new one sports a very sleek and modern body. While there are some interesting sculpted lines, including a very noticeable crease at the door handle height, the overall shape is a bit reminiscent of a mini-van and you get a bit of CR-V-on-steroids. The new Pilot is 90 mm longer than before, and its wheelbase grows by 45 mm as well.
Honda’s current corporate grille is flanked by big headlight pods and nice LED daytime running lights, and the LED tail lights give the Pilot a very distinctive signature from the back. The handsome 18-inch rims are shod with some serious 245/60-sized rubber – the Touring trim comes with 20-inch rims!
While the new Pilot isn’t going to blow anybody’s mind with some outrageous styling direction, it is bold, handsome and its beveled edges give it a new confidence.
It looks like Honda gave their designers and engineers free reign and a blank slate inside the Pilot – the fresh interior styling is sleek and clean and works really well. The materials are nice, with plenty of soft-touch plastics and high-end texturing to be found throughout the cabin and my reviewer’s two-tone cabin was a nice place to be.
I appreciated the heated steering wheel and we found the leather-trimmed front seats to be very comfortable. Each seat has its own armrest built-in, which you can adjust or swivel up and out of the way if you prefer.
Honda went with a one-screen system in the new Pilot. While I much prefer this to their two-screen set-up, I found it be less responsive than it should be and occasionally the interface uses a few too many layers to get certain things done. And call me a cantankerous old codger but I still want a volume knob to quickly change the sound volume. In the EX-L trim, the screen handles your phone, audio, the HondaLink app and some settings. Below that is a tri-zone (the third zone controls the temperature for the rear seats) automatic climate control system.
Some nice touches are the keyless entry, the push-start ignition, a HomeLink universal garage door opener and a regular-sized sunroof overhead. A big panoramic sunroof over the second and third rows is available on the top-line Touring trim.
If you like driver assistance technology you’ll find lots of it here. My mid-level EX-L trim came with a LaneWatch blind spot camera, multi-angle rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, collision mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist and a road departure mitigation system.
Second and Third Row Seating
The second row has three seats, each with a seatbelt and a head rest. There is a lot of head room, and at 5’10”, I had more than enough leg room too. The seats are heated (not the middle one though), and they recline and slide fore and aft, making for a highly customizable space. The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with a couple of cupholders.
There’s a climate control system on the back of the centre console but here’s the kicker, and what I consider a huge issue – no 12V or USB charging ports back there. I find it strange that there’s something as luxurious as rear heated seats but no plugs. For such a well thought-out SUV, that seems just silly to me.
Accessing the third row is quite easy even for adults, thanks to a “one-touch” button on the outboard second row seats which flips the seat back forward and then slides the entire seat forward. There’s a button on the side of the seats (so you can press it when you’re standing outside) and a duplicate button on the back of each seat (so the third row passengers can press it, letting themselves out). It’s brilliant.
The third row works for adults – leg room is tight but manageable and the head room is plentiful. There are three seats back there, each with a seatbelt and head rest as well. Size-wise, the middle seating position works for a kid, so you could sit three kids across in the very back.
Our kids were thrilled with the Pilot, thanks to the various seating options they could pick from. We were thrilled that we could split them up when they were fighting. If you need to secure child seats, the Pilot has four sets of LATCH anchors – that’s the most I’ve seen in an SUV as far as I remember.
For the front passengers, there are plenty of places to put your things. There is a rubberized drop-in bin at the front of the centre console, complete with one 12V and two USB plugs. There is no central armrest, but you get a massive storage bin underneath a scrolling lid – this is also where you’ll find the auxiliary and USB input ports, as well as another 12V plug.
You get into the trunk via a power lift gate, and there is a respectable 524 litre trunk behind the third row. Both the second and third rows split 60/40 and fold down. Drop the third row and you get a sizeable 1583 litre trunk out of the deal. Flip the second row down as well, and that grows to a gargantuan 3092 litre cargo space to work with.
Under the Hood
All trims get Honda’s updated 3.5-litre V6 making this the most powerful Pilot yet. 280 HP and 262 lb.ft of torque are routed to the all-wheel drive system through a 6-speed automatic (the Touring trim gets an all-new 9-speed!). Fuel economy is improved. Honda rates the Pilot in this configuration at 13 L/100 km (18 US mpg) in the city and 9.3 L/100 km (25 US mpg) on the highway. We averaged 13.3 L/100 km (18 US mpg) during our week with the Pilot.
The previous Pilot was a bit of a sluggish performer but the new one is a whole different animal on the road. I found it pretty responsive in nearly every situation – off the line as well as when you’re on the go, and even passing felt effortless.
This transmission is smooth and intelligent, nearly always ending up in the right gear for the situation. It does not have a Sport mode, nor can it be shifted manually.
There are four driving modes available – Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand – each one adjusts the vehicle’s responsiveness and tunes the dynamics to suit your environment. You can also put it in the ECON driving mode which dulls the Pilot’s responsiveness to save fuel. The new torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system pushes you through corners with confidence and the system is very intelligent and effective on snow and on icy, rutted roads. I thought it was an outstanding system in all driving situations and overall, I found that the whole drivetrain felt very smooth and refined.
The Pilot’s ride is pleasantly firm and very comfortable around town and is simply outstanding on the highway. Road handling is very competent and predictable, although the vehicle still feels heavy – for an SUV, it weighs in at a reasonable 4332 lb/1965 kg. Cornering reminds you that things are a tad top-heavy, with some body lean into the corners. That’s not a ding on the Pilot – it’s typical for nearly any SUV.
We were impressed with the sound levels in the new Pilot – engine, road and wind noise are all managed very well, including at high speeds. If you’re needing to do some towing, the Pilot (when properly equipped) can tow up to 5000 pounds (2268 kg). The 6-speed transmission has a D4 lock button, which limits the transmission to the first four gears – very helpful for towing in hilly terrain.
I loved the Pilot’s front wiper de-icer which heats up the bottom of the windshield to keep the slush and ice at bay – it made a big difference while driving during a snow storm.
The remote starter was a very nice touch in the frigid temperatures as well.
A cool detail in the trunk: I really liked the cargo lid for the rear underfloor storage. It’s reversible, allowing you to alternate between carpet and plastic pending on how messy/muddy your stuff is, and you can change it from upper to lower positions pending on what you’re transporting.
While the vehicle was impressively insulated from noise, the climate control fan was incredibly noisy. It averaged between -12 and -15 C the week we had the Pilot, and on the automatic setting, the fan was blowing nearly all the time, often so loud we found ourselves having to speak up to be heard. It was an odd anomaly for such a refined and well-done vehicle.
For some reason, Honda continues to insist on locking you out of accessing the touchscreen unless you tap “OK” upon start-up, agreeing to their disclaimer that using the screen is dangerous while you’re driving, blah blah blah. You have to do this every single time you start the vehicle. If you don’t, you’ll be unable to access anything on the screen until you tap the “Back” button, and then the “OK”. It is perhaps the most annoying thing happening in the in-vehicle electronics department these days and I can’t understand why Honda keeps doing this.
Honda has definitely done their homework on the new Pilot. It’s a family-friendly, sensible, capable, good-looking SUV that can haul a lot of your stuff.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high! She really loved the styling (I think it reminded her a bit of her beloved Odyssey) and how it drove. She felt it was easy to operate in terms of the driving experience as well as the technology inside, and she really loved that it had 8 seats, which would come in handy for the many sleepovers our kids are doing these days.
If you have to move a lot of people and/or a lot of stuff, the 8-seat Pilot is definitely an excellent vehicle to consider. It’s modern, well thought out and well executed. This capable people mover is one that I would highly recommend and would consider for my own family.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Wheaton Honda.
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Competitors: Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Flex, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Dodge Durango, Mazda CX-9