2016 Honda Pilot Test Drive

2016 Honda Pilot side

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

Since it debuted in 2003, the Honda Pilot has been a top utilitarian model in the family-oriented three-row sport utilities category but it?s never been a beauty queen. The all-new 2016 is not only a beauty pageant finalist but it offers a whole new level of sophistication and puts the Pilot at the head of its class.

The boxy second-generation Pilot has been 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 new Pilot is 3.5-inches longer and weighs about 300 pounds less than the previous model.

2016 Honda Pilot rear seat

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 Capitan?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), which we think, very much qualifies it for an SUV badge.

2016 Honda Pilot rear q

The 2016 Honda Pilot interior is a clean-slate design that offers new levels of premium quality, convenience and user-friendly technology in an even more spacious, versatile and family-friendly package. The new Pilot reaches higher into the premium end of the market with major upgrades to interior quality, refinement and more premium features than ever before, including features like available heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, and a Honda-first panoramic glass roof option ? all offered as standard equipment on the new line-topping Pilot Elite trim.

2016 Honda Pilot dash

One of the only features we would 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. (It is possible to make some changes from redundant steering wheel-mounted controls.) 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 ?gimmie the works? equipment inventory 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.

2016 Honda Pilot frontHonda 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. We think this a ?must have? package of features.

2016 Honda Pilot dash 2

We did think the adaptive cruise in our test vehicle was a little rough and didn?t make speed transitions as smoothly as some systems we?ve drive.

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.

2016 Honda Pilot front q

The LX, EX and EX-L trim levels have a six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the previous five-speed. The Touring and Elite raises 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. The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, but the shifts felt somewhat tentative at times.

2016 Honda Pilot rear 2

Browsing buff magazines for 0 to 60 mph acceleration times we found a best 0 to 60 time of 6.1 seconds and other estimates in the low 7 second range, which we think the latter is more realistic. 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. We averaged 23.3 mpg in our AWD Elite test vehicle.

To insure maximum traction on- and off-road, the Pilot is equipped with a new Intelligent Variable Torque Management AWD System with intelligent Traction Management. It not only distributes torque as needed between the front and rear axles, but between the left and right rear wheels. Bill did some slippery hill climbing during the introduction earlier this year and was impressed by its excellent grip. 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 system also improves handling and provides a neutral and more accurate steering.

2016 Honda Pilot side 2

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, but with no compromise in off-road abilities.

2016 Honda Pilot rear

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 new Pilot was designed and developed by Honda R&D Americas, Inc., in Los Angeles and Ohio, and is manufactured exclusively by Honda Mfg. Alabama, Inc. in Lincoln, Alabama.

More from Our Auto Expert