The Honda Pilot has always seemed to us to be a vehicle in search of an identity. Is it a boxy and rugged SUV? A family hauler with third-row seating? Honda couldn't seem to decide — until now. The all-new third-generation Pilot is a sleek crossover for those who need plenty of passenger room but don't want to sacrifice styling or comfort.
Appearance: This is one redesign that is long overdue. The word "boxy" is now but a memory. The new crossover is aerodynamic and sophisticated — befitting of a vehicle called a Pilot. The Honda family's DNA is evident in its upswept lines and the long body that recalls the Odyssey minivan. The creased hood sits high above a chrome-heavy grille. The grille's top bar integrates with the upswept headlights that are framed by LED running lights in the Elite trim like our tester. The Pilot's fender flares help give it a bolder look, as does a hatch-top spoiler and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Performance: Big improvements also come in ride and handling. When Lyra was in the market for a car a few years ago, she test-drove a Pilot and was disappointed in its rough, trucklike manners. No more. We both felt this Pilot rides as smoothly as some sedans. The 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 engine puts out a more-than-adequate 280 horsepower and has an idle-stop feature in the Touring and Elite trims to help with the estimated 19/26 MPG. New for those trim lines is a 9-speed automatic with push-button shift, a trickle down from Honda's Acura luxury brand. Lyra found the gearbox still needs some fine-tuning. Example: She found it jerky on a start after a quick stop — such as when you're turning left onto a busy highway. The upper trim levels also have Honda's Intelligent Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system, which improves torque distribution in low-traction conditions, such as mud, snow or sand. The Pilot also recently earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating. Our tester also had a suite of safety features that included collision-mitigation braking.
Interior: The cabin of our loaded tester was attractive — bordering on the upscale — with quality materials. You could be forgiven if you were to mistake its refinements for Honda's top-level Accord sedan. The perforated-leather front seats (heated and ventilated) were plush and comfortable. Up front, Peter had plenty of headroom. The area between the front seats is uncluttered thanks to the lack of a shifter, with room for a 10-inch tablet in the console bin. The driver's more modern displays include 4.2-inch color LCD screen between the gauges and an 8-inch color touchscreen that you can pinch and swipe with tabletlike movements for the infotainment system. The Pilot also has plenty of storage nooks and cupholders. It seats up to eight depending on seating configuration. The one-touch second-row seats easily move forward for access to the third row which, like most way-back seats, is best for the kids. Overall, there is more than 82 cubic feet of storage space. Peter took the Pilot grocery shopping and, with the third row folded, had more than enough room for a week's worth of groceries.
Our 3 favorites
The view: good sight lines for the driver, and a two-part panoramic roof
The ride: composed and comfortable, almost sedanlike
Practicality: Honda's Odyssey minivan now has a competitor in the family.
Shedding its past: streamlined and attractive design, comfortable ride
Important things: 15 cupholders, 115-volt power outlet, second-row pull-up shades
Keeping kids happy: entertainment system with Blu-ray disc player on a 9-inch roof-mounted screen
The bottom line: Honda has hit a home run with a redesign that should move the Pilot atop the list of family haulers. However, the base LX model might be the more popular price point ($30,000) for families. Our fully loaded tester was pushing $50,000, which is Acura territory.