Smooth Piloting

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 Honda Pilot

You may not like what I am about to say. Yet, I have to establish something that may be unsettling for those have owned them. It could be that I have to take liberties on what could be contrary to consumers…maybe somewhat enlightening to enthusiasts.

I was never a fan of the Honda Pilot.

To me, they were just a quick way for Honda to get on the Jeep Grand Cherokee's bandwagon. I never felt they were properly executed. The designs for the past two generations seemed uninspiring. The last one reminded me of a Jeep…very upright in design, yet engineered to not follow it off-road.

The interiors were "meh." Just "meh."

Though, I would point out that that Honda actually made a better Pilot. It is called the Acura MDX. The current one is absolutely wonderful.

For Honda to compete in the mid-sized crossover/SUV arena, they had to build a Pilot that had to be a home run in design, engineering and execution. Back in February at the Chicago Auto Show, we witnessed a glimmer of hope. A new Pilot for 2016 was unveiled that looked like it was ready to compete with the Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder. It was at that size – a bit more svelte than before. It looked like it could accommodate three rows of family and friends.

Then, I read the specs. A nine-speed automatic that my colleagues criticized on the Acura TLX with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, actuated through a series of buttons on the console appeared on the new Pilot. Then, we found out that the V6/nine-speed combination would permeate across Acura's crossover lineup. I thought that Honda has gone mad.

2016 Honda Pilot Touring Elite AWD

No, they have not. It was an overreaction. I apologize. I was judging badly. You see, the 2016 Honda Pilot could be a sleeper in its class.

How so? Have I gone mad? Nope. I have not. Considering recent health issues, the 2016 Pilot has not induced any relapses.

In fact, it is one smooth operator. And, very much an improved product.

To understand this train of thought, you have to look at it first. One could dismiss it as anonymous and devoid of actual character. Maybe, but Honda always had a penchant for dazzling us with details. You have to get up close to see where Honda has really done the work. The grille and chromework was actually nice. The lighting units include a running LED lens that had a sharp character. The real taillights may not look like much, but the LED lenses are lovely when lit up.

What was once considered boring is now entertaining. That, along with its presence, has transformed the Pilot into something worth considering – with three rows. That presence is huge. Though parking it alongside a Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban could reduce it to scale, there is a largeness that gives the Pilot an impression that families might enjoy the Honda better than the extra-large GM SUVs.

2016 Honda Pilot Touring Elite AWD

To test this theory, you have to open the huge doors and get inside. The tester I had was the top-of-the-line Touring Elite. I always felt that in order to experience a new vehicle, you have to go to the top. Realistically, I know that you would end up buying a more popular model with less content. But, let me indulge you with the details, because there are plenty to parse out in the Pilot.

The driver and front passenger sit on big chairs that are adjustable to fit everyone. Being smaller than I used to be – I do mean everyone. Even I feel small behind the wheel of the 2016 Pilot. They are supportive wrapped in durable perforated leather. Second row seats in the Touring Elite are captain’s chairs, split with a center cubby. There are audio, rear seat media and climate controls facing out of the main center console. Each second row seat has power fold-downs for extra cargo and third row access. Third row seating is perfect for children of most ages.

Instrumentation is very different than a lot of Hondas of late. A digital speedometer crown a combination of TFT and analog elements. On each side is the tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. In the middle is a TFT screen for vehicle, trip and fuel economy readouts. Switches appear on the steering wheel and below the dashboard's waist line in front of the driver, where the climate and audio controls command the center stack. The main center console offers a few controls, including a series of buttons for the new nine-speed automatic transmission available on the Pilot’s Touring and Touring Elite models. That took a little getting used to for those of us expecting an actual gear lever. Other Pilot models do come with one, attached a six-speed automatic gearbox. Two other buttons appear on the center console – including a discreet one for the Intelligent Traction Management system. I thought that would be ride height, but a specifications check told me otherwise.

Cargo space is expansive. It starts with a sizeable 18.0 cubic feet behind the third row. Fold down one row, and that increases to 55.5 cubic feet. In total, you can carry up to 109.2 cubic feet – depending on model. That alone is the big difference between this and older Pilot models – cargo volume and utilization is very good.

2016 Honda Pilot Touring Elite AWD

The Pilot is not the lightest vehicle in its class, tipping 4,317 for the Touring Elite AWD model. However, Honda did work on its 3.5 liter V6 to make sure it can haul this big crossover over miles of enjoyment. With 280 horsepower on tap, the V6 felt happy under the hood. This is in part due to the new nine-speed automatic connected to it. Plus, a solid all-wheel drive system that worked well on…gravel. With smooth acceleration and shifts, plus an unobtrusive Stop-Start system, the Pilot attained a fuel economy average of 24.7 MPG.

Carrying 4,317 pounds is something that could be a blessing and/or a curse. In terms of ride quality, it is smooth on many surfaces. Smooth enough for everyone to enjoy the ride, including those in the rear two rows of seats enjoying a movie from the drop-down screen. Handling and cornering is on the soft side, with some controlled roll through the turns. Steering is pretty good with solid on-center feel and decent reaction. The turning radius is average, though a few turns would be in order in tighter areas. Brakes are fine, with solid pedal action and average stops in normal and panic situations.

Selecting the Touring or the Touring Elite being reviewed here is the best way to get a whole bunch of great active safety features as standard. These features include the Collision Mitigation Braking System, a Road Departure Mitigation System, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. These additions are branded under the name Honda Sense, but there's more to it. You can these on the EX and EX-L models as part of a package, however. Basic piece of mind also comes standard on all Pilots, which include a Multi-Angle Rearview Camera, Daytime LED Running Lights, the Tire Pressure Monitoring System and Anti-Lock Brakes. There is also Lane Keeping Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control available as well. Why am I mentioning these? Because all of these systems worked extremely well on the Pilot. It shows that Honda is serious in bringing these active safety features to this model, not only to sell more of them, but to compete with the big dogs in this segment.

This Touring Elite AWD tester is as much Pilot one could get without buying something more premium. Therefore, this tester came with a sticker price of $47,300. It is not necessary to get the Elite. A comparably equipped EX-L AWD model with the Honda Sense active safety package – without navigation – would run $40,085. Pilots begin with a well-equipped LX front-wheel drive model at a base price of $29,995.

2016 Honda Pilot Touring Elite AWD

In all, the Honda Pilot is finally positioned to be a family hauler worth considering. It is shaped and formed the way it should be – to accommodate a family of seven or eight without any issues or indifference. When pitted against its three-row rivals, the Pilot takes the right approach down the middle and emphasizes power, comfort and advanced safety that works. It is a good thing when you see a company go back to the drawing board to make a vehicle designed with families in mind just right.

I guess I am now a fan of the Honda Pilot.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by American Honda Motor, Inc.

All photos by Randy Stern

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