The 2020 Honda Pilot

From the April 2020 print edition

Classically handsome and with ample cargo space, the Pilot is a reliable option

Over the last few months, the three-row SUV market has been upended. New products have taken the segment by storm, such as the Hyundai Palisade and the Kia Telluride, and several faithful standbys have had top-down overhauls, including the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Explorer.

The Pilot’s 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine is a steady and reliable choice that’s made more fuel efficient in frequent highway use through its variable cylinder management.

Where does that leave this vehicle, the Honda Pilot? This brand is fortunate to have many loyal customers, some of whom pass that devotion down to future generations, thanks to a long-standing reputation for quality and reliability. While this is likely to keep sales moving for the Pilot, its five-year-old platform currently needs to stand up to some serious competition.

For starters, although all-wheel drive is standard, as is commonly the case within this segment, the starting price of $43,236 including delivery fees is higher than some products of similar size and equipment, most notably the Subaru Ascent.

On the other hand, the Pilot’s 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine, rated at a competitive 280hp and 262lbs-ft of torque at 4,700rpm, is a steady and reliable choice that’s made more fuel efficient in frequent highway use through its variable cylinder management. In the eight-seat Touring trim tested here, priced at $55,236 including fees, the nine-speed automatic transmission with an auto start-stop function helps to bring down the average further to 12.4L/100km in city driving, 9.3 on the highway, and 11.0 combined. My experience lined up with this, landing at an average of 11.7 in mixed use, which is one of the better figures I’ve recorded in a three-row SUV thus far in the 2020 model year.

The Pilot boasts 524 litres of cargo space behind the third row, 1,583 litres behind the second row and 3,092 litres behind the first row.

If there’s any aspect of the Pilot’s drive dynamics that hasn’t caught up as new products have cropped up around it, it’s the handling. While others have perfected a light and more car-like feel with planted suspensions, the Pilot does exhibit some bounce on rougher roads and body roll in curves. These traits are by no means to a degree that’s unacceptable; it’s only that several others are stronger performers.
The Pilot’s relative age doesn’t show through in its appearance, which is classically handsome among a field of increasingly experimental competitors. It could be said that the interior is on the darker side with extensive use of black materials and a lack of light to offset it since a panoramic roof is only available at more expensive trims. And though wood or chrome accents would break things up, functionally the Pilot’s interior is quiet and well thought-out with controls found in the places one would expect and door-mounted cup holders positioned within easy reach. One exception to this, however, is the gear selector: this driver is not a fan of the trigger-like action on the reverse button, which leaves swapping between gears feeling neither intuitive nor seamless.

Honda’s smartly laid-out infotainment system is a standout. The home screen displays functions with icons similar to a smartphone, and while it would be nice to have hard buttons for things like radio station tuning, the most frequently used digital buttons are positioned on each screen within easy reach of the driver. As with most Honda products, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard equipment.

Other standard features on the Pilot include 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, heated front seats and exterior mirrors, and the Honda Sensing safety suite that includes forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control. Automatic high beams are also standard. These were exceptional standard features not so long ago, but they’ve become more common in recent years.

The Pilot’s interior is quiet and well thought-out with controls found in the places one would expect.

In this Touring model, the blind spot information warning system is added, as are 20-inch wheels, auto-leveling front headlights, a hands-free power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, the CabinTalk voice projection feature, a wireless charger, driver’s seat memory function and ventilated front seats, heated second-row outboard seats and a rear-facing roof-mounted entertainment system, among others. These feature offerings are more or less on par for the price point.

But one area where Honda often excels is in cargo space, and the Pilot is no exception. Its 524 litres of cargo space behind the third row, 1,583 litres behind the second row, and 3,092 litres behind the first row are made better by seats that fold flat for the best use of the space.

Though it’s not the flashiest, best handling, or most powerful three-row SUV on the market, it continues to be a functional and reliable option for those who prefer the traits that Honda offers.