by Roger Biermann
The midsize family SUV segment has some strong competition, with the likes of the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas offering comprehensive three-row packages. But it’s the eight-seat Honda Pilot that piques our interests, as for 2019 it receives a range of welcome revisions including updated styling, the addition of a volume knob, and refinement of the nine-speed automatic transmission on higher trims. A six-speed is still available on lower trim levels, but all models are powered by a 280 horsepower, 262 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter V6. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available on all trims and standard on the Elite. Comprehensive standard safety, typical Honda packaging, and styling that now shifts the Pilot away from the minivan aspersions previously cast are all part of the justification in asking between $31,450 and $48,020 for the five available trims.
2019 sees Honda give the Pilot a range of improvements, updating the styling to be rugged and SUV-like to change perceptions of the Pilot’s previous minivan appearance. The styling tweaks include an updated front grille, squared off lower fascia, and a silver bit of trim imitating a traditional skidplate. Minor adjustments have also been made at the rear on individual trims, while under the skin, higher trims get revised tuning on the nine-speed automatic gearbox for smoother shifts.
Inside, there’s a new steering wheel, redesigned gauge cluster, a volume knob on the infotainment system, and there’s 4G Wi-Fi capability and streaming capability for the rear entertainment screens. New features include Honda’s CabinTalkfrom the Odyssey, and a power liftgate is added to certain trims. Lastly, Honda Sensing is equipped to all trims as standard.
The Pilot isn’t a traditionally aggressive SUV in its styling, but tweaks for 2019 have upped the aggression levels. Exterior design highlights include standard LED headlights across the Pilot range, while EX trims and higher get LED foglights as well. The LX also misses out on body-colored door handles and side mirrors with black items instead, while 18-inch alloy wheels are standard up to the EX-L trim, with the Touring and Elite models getting larger, 20-inch diameter machine-finished wheels with black detailing. Touring and Elite trims also feature a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, which is panoramic on the top Elite trim.
The Honda Pilot has midsize proportions comparable to numerous rivals in the segment, with a 196.5-inch body riding on a 111-inch wheelbase. The Pilot stands 70.6-inches tall with 7.3-inches of ground clearance on both front- and all-wheel-drive models giving approach and departure angles of 19.7 and 20.8 degrees respectively. The 78.6-inch width allows for decent interior hip and shoulder room across all three rows. The Pilot is a large machine, though, with a weight range between 4,036 lbs and 4,319 lbs on the heaviest all-wheel-drive variants.
Honda’s color palette for the 2019 Pilot remains unchanged from last year with a range of eight hues across all five trim levels. Three metallic options: Steel Sapphire Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic, and Lunar Silver Metallic are offered while the remaining five color trims are pearl colors of Obsidian Blue Pearl, Black Forest Pearl, Crystal Black Pearl, White Diamond Pearl, and Deep Scarlet Pearl. For those who dare to be different from the traditional whites and silvers, the Deep Scarlet plays off the Pilot’s body lines and looks highly attractive. All colors are included at no additional cost.
While aggressive styling may not be the Pilot’s forte, it’s bite is stronger than its bark, with a seven-second 0-60 mph time and 130 mph top speed on models with all-wheel drive and the nine-speed automatic gearbox. It’s courtesy of the 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 equipped to models across the range, mated to either front- or all-wheel drive. The latter models get the better all-around performance with a towing capacity of up to 5,000-lbs to the FWD’s 3,500-lbs. The nine-speed is only available on higher trims, revised for 2019 for smoother shifts, but it still lacks the smoothness of the six-speed in lower trims. Outright muscle matters little without the composure to put it to the ground, which is something the Pilot does pretty well. No SUV of this size is light on its feet, but the Pilot is more agile than most in this class with quick changes of direction, decent levels of composure, and brakes that are par for the course. Its strongest suit is its acceleration, which even in front-wheel drive guise is impressive, if not ideal for a vehicle this size. But performance is paired with a comfortable suspension that filters out secondary bumps without separating the Pilot from the driving experience.
Equipped under the hood of all Pilot derivatives is a 3.5-liter V6 engine equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC fuel injection and variable valve timing. In all trims, it produces maximum outputs of 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft, directing through a six-speed automatic gearbox on LX, EX, and EX-L trims and a nine-speed automatic on the Touring and Elite models. Front-wheel drive is standard on all but the Elite model, while all-wheel drive is optional on those and standard on the Elite. The nine-speed has been revised for 2019, alleviating the clunkiness that afflicted last year’s model. The fix has compromised off-the-line performance a little, but the V6’s strength throughout the rest of its engine speed range hasn’t been diminished.
The engine is quick to get up to speed from a standstill and offers quick responses to throttle inputs. In spite of the Pilot’s size, the impressive responses make the Pilot nimble in the city, while the punch is strong and prolonged enough to easily reach highway speeds and affect overtaking maneuvers swiftly when needed. The nine-speed automatic on higher trims may be more refined for 2019, but it’s strangely enough not the best gearbox. Despite extra rations and refinement, the six-speed gearbox is still the sweeter-shifter of the two available. That’s one of the reasons we recommend the EX trim.
The Pilot’s engine is its biggest asset while the suspension offers a balance between softness and composure, with comfort its first and foremost goal accomplished impeccably. Body motions of the SUV are well-controlled, whether riding solo or fully-loaded, with high levels of composure maintained on most road surfaces. Only the worst surfaces upset the Pilot, but for the most part, the Pilot is able to suitably iron out secondary bumps, only allowing the most severe to permeate the cabin.
This composure is applied through corners as well. Turn-in is precise and changes of direction happen swiftly, but the wheel doesn’t offer much feedback. However, the suspension keeps things in check and you can rely on the mechanical grip available. There are minimal amounts of body roll to contend with, while cornering is competent and enjoyable - traits not usually associated with vehicles in this class. The brakes are par for the segment.
While front-wheel drive models are competent, the all-wheel-drive derivatives are the best pick. Not only does all-wheel drive offer extra towing capacity, but grip levels are higher and the Pilot handles a full complement of passengers better with four driven wheels. The surface control system also makes swift work of cold and wet surfaces, but don’t expect any full offroad potential.
While the nine-speed transmission isn’t the better gearbox to drive with, it does carry the best economy figures. In front-wheel drive guise, the nine-speed equipped Touring model is the most efficient, with EPA-rated consumption estimates of 20/27/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. With a 19.5-gallon fuel tank, buyers can expect a range of up to 450 miles in mixed driving conditions. The six-speed automatic in front wheel drive is marginally less efficient, with consumption figures of 19/27/22 mpg. All-wheel drive models with both transmissions lose 1 mpg off each driving cycle, with 18/26/21 mpg on six-speed AWD models and 19/26/22 mpg on AWD nine-speed Pilot derivatives.
Honda’s typical ability to provide solid build quality and more space and storage than its rivals is something that can’t be extolled enough - and it’s a trait that continues in the 2019 Pilot, equipping an abundance of features and space into this family-friendly package. Updates for 2019 improve both the aesthetic and the functional aspects of the Pilot’s interior with a new infotainment interface more practical than before, and thankfully including a volume knob. Many may identify Acura as the more luxurious brand, but Honda hasn’t skimped on quality materials here, with an abundance of soft-touch materials and luxurious finishes. Seating, too, is more generous than most, in both seven and eight seat configurations, with room for adults in all three rows of seating and comfort enough for the long haul.
The Honda Pilot provides seating for up to eight occupants across three rows, with a standard two-three-three configuration up to the Touring trim. Optional on the Touring and standard on the Elite, the second-row bench is swapped out for two heated captain’s chairs, reducing the seating numbers to seven. All three rows of seating cater to adult occupants - a trait not all rivals can claim - with more than ample headroom and legroom for all, and four full sets of LATCH anchors for child safety seats. Only the Volkswagen Atlas offers more space for third-row occupants. One-touch tilt-and-slide mobility for the second-row aids third-row access, but it’s still a fairly small pass-through space, even if the room is generous once through. The driver’s seat has a range of adjustment to get comfortable and provide decent visibility, but the perch is upright and tall, even in its lowest setting, which may frustrate taller drivers.
The Pilot range equips cloth upholstery to the LX and EX trims, with three available color options varying based on the chosen exterior paint color. The Steel Sapphire, Obsidian Blue, Crystal Black, Modern Steel, and Lunar Silver exterior hues are paired with gray cloth, while the beige cloth is standard with the Black Forest and Deep Scarlet exterior paint options. The only exterior color that pairs with black cloth is White Diamond, which also gets the option of beige upholstery. For the EX-L trim, leather upholstery is made standard in the same three color options - beige, gray, an black - with options once again limited based on the exterior color, while the Elite model gets perforated leather in the same colors. Upholstery colors correspond with lower dash and door trim colors, while the upper dash on all models is black. The detail strip across the dash and the surrounds of the center console are finished in gloss black plastic.
While the Pilot’s crossover nature precludes it from towing as much as truck-based SUVs are capable of, Honda claws back in other aspects, particularly its internal practicality. Behind the third-row seats, the Pilot boasts trunk space of more than 16 cubic feet or enough space for six to eight grocery bags. The third- and second-row seats, when in eight-seater configuration, fold to increase cargo capacity to nearly 84 cubic feet. However, when the Pilot is in its seven-seat configuration it loses some practicality as the center console between the second-row captain’s chairs can’t be removed. The cargo floor is adjustable and can be set up for either maximum volume or as a two-tiered cargo bay with an underfloor storage area. Others in the segment do, however, offer more cargo volume, but the Pilot’s space is usable nonetheless.
The Pilot’s strong suit is the small item storage throughout the cabin, with plenty of large storage binnacles, large door pockets, and numerous cupholders. The center console storage bin also features a configurable small-item storage assembly.
Across its five trims, the Pilot boasts a broad array of technology and features, with a rearview camera, active noise cancellation, and Honda Sensing standard across the range. The latter is Honda’s safety suite including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and road departure mitigation. As you move up the trim ladder, remote start, tri-zone climate control, heated front and second-row seats, and power front seat adjustment are all made available. Ventilated front seats are available on the Elite model, while the Touring and Elite both get a power sunroof - panoramic on the latter trim. Wireless device charging is equipped on the range-topping Elite model. One of the Honda Pilot’s best party tricks is the CabinTalk in-car PA system on EX-L, Touring, and Elite models, enabling the driver to talk to the rear passengers, even with their headphones on.
The base Pilot LX receives a basic infotainment interface with a five-inch color LCD button-operated screen with a single USB audio input, AM/FM radio functionality, and Bluetooth hands-free and media streaming. The system is paired to seven speakers including a subwoofer. While the EX-and EX-L retain the seven-speaker configuration, they receive an eight-inch touchscreen HondaLink infotainment screen that boasts SiriusXM and HD radio capabilities and full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. This system is implemented on all remaining models in the line-up, but the Touring and Elite trims receive an upgraded 590-watt sound system with ten speakers and multi-zone audio. Optional on the EX-L, and standard on the Touring and Elite models, a rear seat entertainment system equips a 10.2-inch infotainment screen and Blu-ray player with HDMI input, while the Touring trim gets a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. The rear entertainment system features satellite navigation with voice recognition and HD digital traffic.
This third generation Pilot was released in 2016, and after a few weaning issues in its first year, Honda has turned it into a reliable crossover. Although its overall J.D. Power reliability rating of 77 out of 100 lags behind some segment rivals like the Toyota Highlander at 80 out of 100, the number of reported problems in the last three years have been minimal. Honda’s generous warranties also provide peace of mind for buyers. Only one recall has been issued for the current generation Pilot, with rivets on the front seat assembly not being strong enough and potentially breaking in the event of a crash. The recall only affected 2018 model Pilots.
The Honda Pilot’s standard Honda Sensing safety suite results in high safety ratings in crash tests by the IIHS and NHTSA. The NHTSA gave the Pilot an overall score of five out of five, while the IIHS awarded it the title of Top Safety Pick for 2019 due to superior frontal crash prevention.
For 2019, the Pilot has been equipped with a wide range of safety features as standard, including the Honda Sensing safety suite on all trims. The suite is composed of forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and road departure mitigation, while Honda has also added adaptive cruise control and a multi-angle rearview camera as standard fit on all Pilot derivatives. Seven airbags are standard (dual front, front side, three-row curtain, and driver knee airbags), while a blind spot monitor is included on all but the base LX trim. Front and rear park sensors are equipped on the Touring and Elite models.
The Honda Pilot is a highly accomplished, versatile three-row family SUV of midsize proportions, plying itself as a jack of all trades. It masters some of those too, with one of the best suspension setups in segment, highly capable driving dynamics, and a punchy yet still frugal V6 engine. Truck-based SUVs offer better towing capacity but lack the comfort and driving dynamics, while other crossovers in the segment lack the refinement and high-quality interior of the Pilot. The 2019 edition rectifies some of the misgivings of last year’s model, with the revised nine-speed automatic gearbox smoother than ever and the infotainment now quicker and more intuitive. This gives the Pilot a leg-up on the competition and elevates the stature of a crossover we already rated highly in this category. It’s one of the most complete vehicles in the segment, but buyers may want to also consider the Mazda CX-9 and Volkswagen Atlas.
The entry-specification Honda Pilot LX carries a base MSRP from $31,450 in front-wheel drive guise. Four further trims exist with sticker prices of $34,440 for the EX, $37,760 for the EX-L, and $42,520 for the Touring respectively, with the Elite trim topping the range carrying a base MSRP of $48,020 before options, taxes, registration, license, a $995 destination charge, and the incentives dealers may give buyers to move stock. All models except the Elite get all-wheel drive as an option, while the Elite boasts all-wheel drive as standard.
The Pilot range comprises five trims: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite, all of which feature a 280 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. A six-speed automatic gearbox is standard on LX, EX, and EX-L trims, while higher trims get a reprogrammed nine-speed auto instead. Front wheel drive is equipped as standard to the LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring models, with optional all-wheel drive available on all trims and standard on the Elite.
The range starts with the LX as an entry point with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, eight seats, a five-inch radio system, and standard Honda Sensing.
The EX is the first to offer an eight-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, but also gets tri-zone climate control, a one-touch slide-and-fold second-row seat, and heated front seats.
The EX-L is the first of three trim levels to equip leather upholstery, also adding premium features like a sunroof, while optionally available is a package including both navigation and a 10.2-inch rear entertainment system with a Blu-ray player.
The Touring gets that as standard, but adds 20-inch alloy wheels, a hands-free tailgate, Wi-Fi hotspot, and premium ten-speaker multi-zone audio system.
The Elite is the highest of trims, equipping a panoramic sunroof, standard second-row captain’s chairs (an option on the Touring), ventilated front seats, a wireless charging pad, and standard all-wheel drive.
|LX||3.5-liter V6 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$28,761||$31,450|
|EX||3.5-liter V6 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$31,387||$34,330|
|EX-L||3.5-liter V6 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$34,516||$37,760|
|Touring 8-Passenger||3.5-liter V6 Gas||9-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$38,858||$42,520|
|Touring 7-Passenger||3.5-liter V6 Gas||9-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$39,131||$42,820|
On all but the Elite model, all-wheel drive is the main optional extra for an additional $1,900, but a range of other options and accessories are also available. Upgraded wheels are available in chrome or diamond-cut finish and in 18- and 20-inch diameters, with prices ranging between $1,596 and $2,854. A trailer hitch can be equipped at $360, while a range of exterior appearance accessories and storage options can be found in the accessories catalog. Back up sensors are available on LX, EX, and EX-L models for $500, but come standard with additional front sensors from the Touring trim.
There aren’t many important interior options; however the EX-L gets the Advanced Navi and RES package at $1,600, adding satellite navigation up front, while the rear of the cabin gets an entertainment setup with a 10.2-inch screen and a Blu-ray player. The package is standard on the Touring and Elite models. The EX-L also allows the addition of a heated steering wheel at $410.
Interior options on the Touring model are limited to the heated steering wheel and heated second-row captain’s chairs, the latter a $300 expense, while the Elite model gets all the aforementioned interior upgrades as standard.
With all models now receiving Honda Sensing, every Pilot is safer than ever before. However, the EX model is the best value-for-money bundle in the range with full smartphone integration, heated seats, keyless entry, and one-touch slide-and-fold second-row seats. The EX also gets the six-speed automatic gearbox, which is our pick of the two available transmissions, and all-wheel drive is available if you need it. It misses out on leather and a power tailgate, but both are only available from the EX-L and at an expense that we feel isn’t quite worth it if budget matters to you.
The Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander are both similarly sized SUVs in the midsize segment, but the Highlander provides marginally more ground clearance than the Pilot; however neither is particularly suited to offroading. Both are capable of seating up to eight, but the Honda offers a little more passenger space across the two rear rows of seating. Behind the third row, the Pilot also boasts more cargo volume with 16.5 cubic feet vs 13.8 in the Highlander, but share similar volumes when the seats are folded. Both are standard with front-wheel drive, but where the Honda uses a 280-hp V6 across the range with optional all-wheel drive, Toyota starts the Highlander off with a 2.7-liter inline-four developing 185 hp mated to front-wheel drive only, which does result in better fuel economy. It’s a tight comparison with both models packing incredible safety features, but the Honda is more exciting to drive, is marginally more practical, and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while Toyota doesn’t, but the Toyota does have a more upscale interior and better economy. The Honda is better here, in our opinion, even if only by a small margin.
Acura is Honda’s luxury division and the MDX is, as a result, the Pilot’s upscale cousin, sharing the same platform and engine. Price is the biggest differentiator here, with approximately $14,000 separating base models from each brand, with the Pilot on the cheaper side of things and available in multiple trims. Both SUVs offer comparable first and second-row seating, but the Pilot has more third-row legroom that can comfortably seat adults. This extra space at the rear also continues to cargo volume, where the Pilot offers 16.5 cubic feet to the MDX’s 14.9. By folding the second- and third-row seats, the Pilot’s advantage grows further still. The Acura boasts a higher quality interior with more standard features, however higher trim Pilots are comparable, even if they feel a little cheaper. Performance is also similar, even though the Acura’s motor is slightly more powerful and marginally more economical. The Acura is more fun to drive and provides greater composure and ride comfort. It’s an awkward test between kin, and it ultimately comes down to needs. If you require spaciousness on a friendlier budget, the Pilot is better, but if you don’t need seven spacious seats and prefer a higher-quality interior, the MDX is the better of the two.