Back when the Pilot was first introduced in 2003, its boxy but rounded shape reminded us of excellent family cars of the past. It was a Volvo wagon for people priced out of Volvos, and it was fine. Then Honda went overboard with ersatz-SUV styling, and in the teeth of the anti-SUV recession of 2009, it launched the boxy second-gen crossover SUV. Wrong move.
Today's version? It's pleasant in all the right ways, not terribly memorable in the greater view. We give it a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Inside, the new Pilot couldn’t be more different from the old blocky, plasticky design that died with the 2015 model year. It’s very well finished, and trimmed in materials that have let us forgive Honda for the last Pilot's misadventures. We see design elements borrowed from the current Accord sedans, as well as some of the more utility-minded touches from the CR-V. All the lines and materials are subdued, save for the big touchscreen on upper trim levels. And at the top of the range, the Pilot gets its first-ever panoramic roof option, a glassy panel that opens up the rear two rows of seats to natural sunlight.
The Pilot's current sheet metal is legitimately good-looking. It emerged from its wholesale renovation a year ago with a more organic, rounded shape. It makes the most of a lower front end, a three-light sideview with everything in common with Santa Fe and Rogue and Traverse, and a nicely finished rear end that avoids the pitfalls of understyling seen on the Chevy three-row 'ute. Put plain, the Pilot's now elegant and sculpted, without looking too dressy or musclebound.
A trim, sedately styled body and interior put the Honda Pilot right in the crossover mainstream.
The Honda Pilot offers only a V-6 engine, with a choice of automatic transmissions and front- or all-wheel drive. It doesn't need more. It kicks out energetic acceleration, great gas mileage, and handling that's dialed in ideally for its mission.
We give it a 6 out of 10. It rides very softly, but its steering and powertrain performance aren't remarkable. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Ride and handling
The Pilot's composed handling changes by trim level and wheel-and-tire package. With any of them it's set up with a compliant ride and relaxed steering.
The Pilot rides on an independent suspension, struts in front and multiple links in the back for precise body control. Its dual-path shocks damp lighter bumps to a gentle audible thunk, while the secondary action in the shocks rounds off the edges of deep potholes. The Pilot also uses its brakes to help the SUV corner better, by applying an inside front brake in tighter corners.
The result is a crossover SUV that feels luxurious and mature behind the wheel, an Acura MDX in everything but name. Pilots with bigger 20-inch wheels are more softly damped, to counteract the harshness that big wheels can induce. With 18-inch wheels, the base versions are a little more taut.
The Pilot's new all-wheel-drive system has built-in torque vectoring. It can split power from the front to the rear wheels—up to 70 percent to the rear—but also can split power between the rear wheels, via a set of electronic actuators and hydraulically actuated clutches. When it senses the need for more traction--accounting for acceleration, cornering grip, and degree of rotation--it shifts power to the rear wheels and between them, using the electronics to tell the axles to turn more on the outside rear wheel. It's a system that delivers very quick response—so quick, it can take some time to get used to driving it on a bigger, taller vehicle.
Finally, most versions of the Pilot come with a traction-management system like the one on Ford's Explorer or the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It lets drivers choose a mode—normal, snow, mud, or sand—and sets up the drivetrain for ideal traction, whether it means starting in second gear, speeding up throttle progression, or disabling traction control. It and the Pilot's 7.3 inches of ground clearance give it serious all-weather capability, but like its towing capacity, it's somewhat limited, and hardcore users will probably be better served by other vehicles if they want to venture deeply off-road, or to tow more than 5,000 pounds.
Pilot performance and economy
The Pilot's engine is a revamped version of Honda's direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6. Wound up toward redline, it has a lovely, pure engine note that underscores Honda's reputation as an engine maker first, car company second. We'd put acceleration easily below seven seconds to 60 mph.
With the Pilot, the choice in transmissions comes by trim level. Buy a Pilot LX, EX, or EX-L, and you get a 6-speed automatic; Touring and Elite models come with a new 9-speed automatic. We wouldn't turn away from the pricier models because of their transmission, but we did prefer the 6-speed. It has a narrower spread of gears, which means it's a little less adept at low-speed launches and high-speed cruising as the 9-speed—but the shift action was cleaner. Just once or twice we felt the transmission hanging on for a moment, deciding which gear to choose next—something that happened far more often in the 9-speed automatic, which also surged at times when it sought a gear lower than we might have chosen manually with its paddle shift controls.
With the 6-speed, there's still a shift lever on the console. With the 9-speed, a swath of buttons replaces that lever, but those shift paddles also come standard. The 9-speed also has a Sport mode and shift logic that anticipates downhill gear changes, and can hold specific gears when cornering. Clicking the left paddle twice will also let the 9-speed double-downshift, to make the most of the engine's energetic thrust and sound. You don't even have to be in Sport to use the paddles: click on them and the transmission goes into a temporary manual mode, reverting back to automatic gear changes in a half-minute, to save fuel.
The engine and gearboxes do much to give the Pilot its meaty acceleration, but weight loss plays a part, too. The Pilot's made up now of a lot more high-strength steel, which can mean lower curb weight. Honda says here, in fact, it does: the new Pilot is up to 300 pounds lighter, weighing in at between 4,054 and 4,317 pounds, when some rivals ping the 5,000-pound mark.
The Pilot's amiable road manners put ride comfort ahead of sharp steering and quick shifts.
With three rows of seats and room in any of them for a full-grown adult, the Honda Pilot comes perilously close to maxing out space in the same way as Honda's own Odyssey minivan. All it's missing are those sliding side doors, really.
We give it a 9 out of 10 for comfort and utility. A little Alcantara here, some knurled aluminum there, and it would get the "exceptional" 10th point, but we're not holding our breath. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
By the numbers, the Pilot gains 1.7 inches of wheelbase, to 111.0 inches; it's 3.5 inches longer than the previous version, at 191.0 inches long. However, the track is slimmer (from 67.7 to 66.3 inches), and height is also down 70.7 to 69.7 inches. The net is about the same interior volume, according to Honda, with more space devoted to frontal crash structure, third-row seating and cargo space.
Depending on which Pilot you buy, you'll either have a relatively quiet driving experience with a fair amount of rich V-6 snarl—or a little less of it. Soft-touch trim is everywhere, correcting the major faux pas of the last-generation Pilot. There's a finer attention to detail everywhere—and at the EX-L trim level, an acoustic windshield blots out some noise. Touring and Elite models get acoustic glass on the front doors, too, and tucked inside them, the Pilot delivers a cabin where the front and second-row passengers can talk with ease.
Three rows of comfort
The Pilot does a great job delivering front-seat space and comfort. The seats are well bolstered, with good definition, even on the base trim levels (through EX-L). A high driving position gives a commanding view out of the vehicle even for smaller drivers.
The controls and storage surrounding the driver and front passenger are usefully placed and arranged. The steering wheel has round controls to operate the driver's smartphone and the car's audio system—good thing, since the touchscreen is missing a knob for volume, entirely. A shallow bin in front of the deep cupholders holds a Plus-sized smartphone right next to a high-power USB port. On 9-speed models, the lack of a shift lever gives a little better sense of space in the cabin. A sliding lid covers the deep center console. Be warned: you could lose a small bag or phone in there.
Second-row seating comes in the form of a split-folding bench or a pair of captain's chairs on upper trims; between those buckets is walk-through access to the third-row seat, and a floor-mounted tray and set of cupholders. Also on upper trim levels (EX-L and above), there's a one-touch button that folds forward the second-row seats and slides them toward the front of the vehicle, opening up better access to the third-row seat. Honda says there's 1.5 inches more clamber-in room, and the floor sits 1.2 inches lower than before.
It's still a little slim on space, for adults to climb in the back—but once they're back there, the Pilot provides amazing space for fullback-sized people. Head room and leg room are about the best we've been in, and even if the seat cushion sits right on the floor, it's still a surprise to be able to fit large passengers in the third row.
Storage space is commodious behind any row of seats. The space behind the third row is 18.5 cubic feet, or about as much as the trunk on an Acura RLX. Behind the second row, there's 55.9 cubic feet, and behind the front row, 109 cubic feet of space—enough to move more than a half-dozen rubber tote bins and still leave an unobstructed view through the rear glass.
The Pilot has one of the most useful interiors among crossovers; even adults can fit in its third-row seat.
The Honda Pilot earned commendable marks from federal and independent testers, including a five-star overall rating from the government and a Top Safety Pick+ nod from IIHS testers.
We give it a 9 out of 10, based on its crash tests and its relatively inexpensive safety options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Every Pilot has a wide-angle rearview camera. On the EX, EX-L, and Touring models, a right-side-view camera offers a look down the vehicle on the dash display, activated by a right turn signal.
Honda also programs the Pilot to shift into Park if the driver's seat belt is unlatched, and if the driver door is open.
Honda Sensing is offered on the Pilot EX and Pilot EX-L. It includes adaptive cruise control; lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems with automatic emergency braking; active lane control; and road-departure mitigation, which uses sensors and cameras to determine if the Pilot is leaving the pavement, then tries to pull a car back on the road with stability, braking, and steering inputs. The package comes standard on Pilot Touring and Pilot Elite trims.
On the Elite model, the LaneWatch camera is deleted in favor of blind-spot monitors with rear traffic alerts—a system we prefer for its superior information and field-of-vision alerts (with LaneWatch, you must divert your eyes to the car's display screen).
The NHTSA has published its data, and the 2017 Pilot retains its five-star overall ranking. That rating comes with a lower four-star score for frontal protection than we'd expect.
For 2017, the IIHS rated the Pilot with top "Good" scores on all crash tests, an "Acceptable" rating for its headlights, and a "Superior" rating for its front-crash avoidance technology, which netted a Top Safety Pick+ honor.
The Pilot's very good crash-test scores are accompanied by lots of leading safety features.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(4/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(4/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Good|
|Roof Strength Test||Good|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Good|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
The 2017 Honda Pilot's seen a small price increase, but it remains a great value in mid-level trims. We'd skip the base Pilot LX model, and choose one of the midline EX, EX-L, or Touring trim levels. The Elite? It's priced close to Honda's own Acura MDX, which deserves a look if you're keen on spending almost $50,000.
Pricing for the Pilot starts at $31,585 for the front-wheel-drive Pilot LX; the EX has a base price of $33,930. At the top of the lineup, the all-wheel-drive Pilot Elite with navigation carries a base price of $47,970.
We give it an 8 out of 10 for features, with credit for its standard equipment, optional features, and new for 2017, the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Audio and infotainment
Honda's audio and infotainment systems aren't the best, but this year's addition of the cleaner, easier Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces should keep any driver happy and safe behind the wheel.
All Pilots get a seven-speaker, 200-watt audio system with a 5.0-inch color touchscreen interface. The EX and EX-L trims get a larger 8.0-inch display and the Android-based Display Audio interface, with its big tiles and icons and generally friendly operation. The Touring and Elite sport a 10-speaker, 540-watt premium audio system.
The Pilot's SiriusXM audio system has some useful time-shifting capability. You can create a custom channel that blends several stations into one, while it buffers songs so that repeat playback is possible. The system can also drop in alerts on the display for team scores and weather alerts.
Apple's Siri Eyes Free is also included in the Pilot's Display Audio system: just hold down the steering-wheel "talk" button and you'll be able to ask Apple devices for all sorts of information, using the audio system as a conduit.
The Pilot's navigation system is Garmin-based, and includes live traffic reports, 3-D map views, and on-the-go rerouting.
The Pilot can have up to five USB ports, four of which will charge an iPad, and an HDMI port can pipe in content to the rear DVD entertainment system. Honda's almost alone in sticking by these systems—it says the roof-mounted systems are more easily viewed from the back two rows, and that the placement leads to less carsickness.
Standard and optional features
All Pilots, from the base LX on up, come with the usual power features; air conditioning; cruise control; a 5.0-inch color audio display with AM/FM/USB port; cloth upholstery; and 17-inch wheels. Honda blocks some features from this model entirely, features such as a forward-collision warning system and the one-touch second-row seat.
On the Pilot EX, you'll find three-zone climate control; a power driver seat; a LaneWatch right-side camera; satellite radio; remote start; two more USB ports; and Pandora audio streaming and texting capability. The Honda Sensing safety package is a relatively affordable option here. It includes forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems.
The Pilot EX-L sports leather; a power tailgate; a power moonroof; heated front seats; and the one-touch second-row seat. Pilot Touring crossovers adopt Honda Sensing safety gear as standard, as well as a Blu-ray DVD entertainment; a navigation system; 20-inch wheels; memory seats; parking sensors; two more USB ports, for a total of five; ambient lighting; stop/start; and a 115-volt outlet.
On the most expensive Pilot Elite, you'll find LED headlights; a second panoramic roof panel over the rear seats; rear heated seats; front ventilated seats; a heated steering wheel; automatic high beams; HD radio; and second-row captain's chairs. You'll also get Honda Sensing, but in this trim it drops the LaneWatch camera in favor of more conventional blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts—a system we prefer for its all-around accident prevention.
On the accessories list are a tent; a trailer hitch; black 20-inch wheels; rear parking sensors; a roof box; roof rails; bike mounts; and all-season floor mats.
The Pilot adds CarPlay and Android Auto to its ample standard features list this year.
The 2017 Honda Pilot is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 22 combined. With all-wheel drive those numbers are roughly the same, just 1 mpg off of highway.
We give it a 6 for fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Last year, with the introduction of the latest Pilot, Honda promised boosts of up to 2 mpg highway for its biggest crossover, thanks to upgraded transmissions with 6 and 9 forward speeds. It also trimmed 300 pounds from the Pilot's curb weight, and added stop/start, to conserve gas at traffic intersections. It can be turned off, but it resets itself to on with every full power-up.
Touring and Elite models with the 9-speed and front-wheel drive are rated at 20/27/23 mpg, and with all-wheel drive, 19/26/22 mpg.
In our long-term test of the Honda Pilot, we're seeing more along the lines of 19 mpg combined.
The Pilot's gas mileage is average, but we're seeing economy lower than official ratings.