By Bill Schaffer
Cincinnati, Ohio ? Completing Honda?s total SUV renaissance the all-new Honda Pilot joins the recently introduced HR-V and the refreshed and all time best-selling SUV, the CR-V. This lineup now means Honda has all the latest SUVs at a price and size to fit the requirements of nearly every SUV shopper.
The boxy second-generation Pilot is replaced with a sophisticated body style, sleek muscular lines, broad grille with integrated headlights and even standard LED headlights on the top model. A product of intensive wind-tunnel tuning and weight saving engineering, the slick 2016 Honda Pilot is 3.5-inches longer and weighs about 300 pounds less than the previous model.
The spacious redesigned interior is about 20 cubic feet less than the Honda Odyssey minivan, and has comfortable seating for seven or eight depending on the trim level ? the new Elite model is equipped with second row Captain?s chairs. Many reviewers consider the Pilot to be a variation of a minivan, but with its off-road capabilities and 5,000-pound towing capacity (4WD model), I consider it to be very much an SUV.
The new interior is rich with soft touch surfaces, uncluttered styling and comfortable seating. One of the only features I?d change is the interface for Honda?s new navigation, entertainment and communications system. It?s a total touch system with no knobs or active buttons. That means when you want to change the volume on the radio, for example, you have to touch the screen, and that?s not always an easy task, especially with any undulations in the road. I had the same difficulty when trying to zoom the map in or out, which I do quite often?I wish they would keep a few of the easier-to-use knobs. Other than that, it?s an excellent system.
Five trim levels make up the Honda Pilot lineup: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and the new Elite. Each variation adds more features and components to the level below until you get to the Elite, which has the whole kitchen sink of equipment and encompasses all the new safety technologies. Included in the extensive list are several Honda firsts including 20-inch wheels and tires, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, remote engine start, panoramic glass roof and others.
Honda Sensing?, an impressive suite of safety features, is available on the EX and EX-L and standard on the Touring and Elite. It includes a Multi-Angle Rearview Camera, LaneWatch? display, a blind spot information system, Collision Mitigation Braking System?, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and two Honda-first technologies: Road Departure Mitigation and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor.
Honda?s 3.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC V-6 engine from the EarthDreams? Technology collection powers all variations of the Pilot. The completely re-engineered engine is rated at 280 hp and has direct injection and a Variable Cylinder Management? system which invisibly shuts off three cylinders when the engine load is relaxed, like on flat roads or ?coasting? down hills.
The LX, EX and EX-L trim levels have a six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the previous five-speed. The Touring and Elite trips up the ante to ZF?s nine-speed automatic with an interesting new shift-by wire control system mounted on the center console. Rather than use the traditional shifter handle the Pilot uses a series of buttons lined up on the console. The buttons are all different to help the driver avoid pushing the wrong button, and reverse actually requires lifting up on the button. For better control the nine-speed also has steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
An official 0 to 60 mph acceleration time is not available but estimates are in the 7 to 7.5 second range for the nine-speed model and a bit more for the six-speed. EPA fuel economy estimates are 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the nine-speed with front-wheel drive. The AWD model is about one mpg less across the board and the six-speed transmission is one more mpg less.
To insure maximum traction on- and off-road, the Pilot is equipped with a new Intelligent Variable Torque Management AWD System. It not only distributes torque as needed between the front and rear axles, but between the left and right rear wheels. The system improves handling and provides a neutral and more accurate steering. The Pilot also has a Traction Management system to go with the AWD system. Press a button and the system cycles through Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand settings which change the drivetrain configuration to best suit the conditions.
The Pilot?s unibody platform is the same one that underpins the Acura MDX ? that?s good! It has a four wheel independent suspension ? MacPherson Struts in the front and multilink in the rear, front and rear stabilizer bars, one of the best electric power assist steering system in the business and four-wheel disk brakes. Combined and assisted by all the electronic driver aids, the Pilot has a ride and handling characteristic more in line with a sedan than an SUV.
The 2016 Honda Pilot pricing starts $30,875, including the destination charge, for the front-wheel drive LX and then steps up to $41,900 for the Touring. All-wheel drive adds $1,800 and Honda Sensing package is a bargain for $1,000 extra on the EX and EX-L models. The new Elite trim level is priced $47,300 and includes the AWD, Honda Sensing and everything Honda offers. There are a couple of dozen aftermarket accessories available too.
The original Pilot was a very good SUV, but not overly exciting. That?s all changed with the 2016 Honda Pilot, which adds new spice and significant improvement in styling and technologies. Honda now has a trilogy of top SUVs with the right size for every shopper.