2016 Honda Pilot Review - The Sensible 8-Hauler

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
2016 honda pilot review the sensible 8 hauler

2016 Honda Pilot Elite AWD

3.5-liter i-VTEC SOHC V-6, direct injection, cylinder deactivation, CVVT (280 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm,


262 lbs-ft @ 4,700 rpm)

9-Speed ZF 9HP automatic

19 city/26 highway/22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

21.6 mpg (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Elite Trim

Base Price:


$30,875*


As Tested:


$46,420*


* Prices include $880 destination charge.

My sister-in-law announced that she and her husband were having child number four. As a result of this announcement, they decided it was finally time to sell the five-seat sedan and buy another crossover. Since she is constantly flooded with a parade of visiting family members, she asked what sounded like a simple question: What’s the best 8-passenger crossover with a comfortable third row and room for cargo. My answer: Buy a minivan. No, seriously, just buy a minivan. Think you need AWD? Get some winter tires. Really, really need AWD? Get a Sienna.

I’m sure you can guess what she said: “I am not driving a minivan.”

The problem is, aside from minivans, there are few 8-passenger options that aren’t expensive, full size, body-on-frame SUVs. Those options are: the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and GM’s identical triplets — the Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. That’s it. If you need more room, be prepared to shell out for a Suburban, Escalade, Navigator or a few other spendy options.

Today we look at the freshest entry in this phonebooth-sized segment, the all-new 2016 Honda Pilot.


Exterior


Back when the crossover segment started, shoppers were drawn to truck-like proportions and boxy shapes. The last-generation Pilot wore some of the same questionable styling cues you see on body-on-frame SUVs like the Nissan Armada where the third-row window line doesn’t jibe with the rest. Perhaps because the crossover segment is maturing, or perhaps because everyone is finally admitting that the 3-row crossover is the modern-day minivan, Honda’s designers penned a body that looks the CR-V and Odyssey mashed together. The overall look is sleeker and more modern, but certainly less like a traditional SUV.

Base models get halogen headlamps while Elite trims like ours receive Honda’s new LED low beams. Although the Acura MDX is a close relative, Honda did their best to differentiate the products. Aside from the general dimensions, the DNA is well hidden. As we’ve seen from other crossovers, ground clearance drops from an SUV-like 8 inches to 7.3; still more than your average minivan but less than the truck-based people carriers. The decrease in ride height and addition of sleek lines help hide the three inch stretch Honda gives the Pilot for 2016.

Interior


The biggest change for 2016 is inside where Honda ditched the discordant faux-truck theme of the last Pilot for a more elegant and restrained look. In the center of the dash is a single 8-inch LCD, which surprised me since the Accord uses Honda’s 2-screen system. If the CR-V is the “‘Civic Crossover” then surely the Pilot is the “Accord Crossover”, so you’d think it would sport the same infotainment setup. The most logical reason for this change is that Honda didn’t want the Pilot to look like a bargain MDX on the inside. Whatever the reason, the infotainment system looks more like the Civic than the Accord. In another twist, Honda didn’t use a variant of the Accord’s instrument cluster like we see in the CR-V, instead opting for three dials and a digital speedometer in all models — again, rather like the Civic.

Front seat comfort proved excellent in our Elite tester, but I actually found the cloth EX model to be a hair more comfortable. Like other Honda products, front seats have generous lumbar support and a soft bottom cushion designed for hours of comfortable highway cruising. On the down side, even our top-of-the-line Elite model gives the front passenger electric adjustability in just four directions.

The second row in LX through Touring models ia a comfortable three-across 60/40 folding bench, but our Elite model swaps in captain’s chairs reducing the seat count to seven. The three-across third row surprises with more headroom and legroom than you find in most large SUVs but only a hair more width than the tight Highlander. This is thanks to the Pilot’s minivan-like profile and by the engineers cramming the seat bottom cushion as low as possible. The obvious downside to seats that are so low is the lack of thigh support for adults. Kids should be fine and Honda shows their love for LATCH anchors by giving you four sets in most Pilots — three for the middle row and one on the right side of the third.

Why bother with the three-across third row? It does have a practical application. It is possible to jam two skinny folks in the way-back and fold the row’s 40% side down. Those two would need to be skinny, friendly, or my mother in law. If you can make it work, you can put cargo on that 40% side and squeeze in 7 people and more cargo than large 7-seat crossovers like the Pathfinder.

Although the Pilot has grown for 2016, it is still among the smaller 8-passenger vehicles on sale. This lack of length is primarily a problem with it comes to cargo hauling where the Acadia/Traverse/Enclave have considerably more room behind the third row (the Pilot will haul more widgets than the Highlander however). Honda says that four carry-on sized roller bags will fit behind the third row in the vertical position, but it is a tight fit.

Infotainment


2016 brings Honda’s latest Android-based touchscreen infotainment OS. Using an 8-inch capacitive LCD, the new system is similar in appearance to what we see in the Honda Civic with some important differences. The system now runs Android OS and uses a new processor making the user interface snappier. The graphics have also been tweaked for the higher-resolution screen and Garmin now provides the optional navigation software. Like Chrysler’s uConnect system, the nav interface looks very much like someone jammed an aftermarket windshield-mount nav unit into the dash. Operation is easy and intuitive and familiar to anyone using Garmin products.

Perhaps the biggest change between this system and the similar looking one in the Civic is that the Pilot does not support smartphone-based navigation integration. With the Civic you can buy a $60 app and the car’s touchscreen LCD displays the interface while your phone does the processing. Also absent is Android Auto or Apple Car Play support which we see in the new Accord. Honda has yet to comment officially on the lack of smartphone love, but since the system in the Accord is related, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in 2017.

Drivetrain


All Pilot trims get the same 3.5-liter V-6 we see in a variety of Honda products, from the lowly Accord to the upper-end Acura MDX. As usual, the engine is tuned differently from Honda’s other applications. Versus the Acura, power drops to 280 horsepower primarily because the Pilot is tuned to run on regular and the MDX is tuned for premium.

Power is routed to the front wheels via a Honda 6-speed automatic in LX through EX-L trims, or a ZF-sourced 9-speed in Touring and Elite. The $1,800 AWD system is optional on all trims, except the Elite where it’s standard. Pilots with the “i-VTM4” AWD are the first Honda branded vehicles in America with a torque vectoring rear axle.

The AWD system is functionally similar to the latest SH-AWD system used in the 2016 MDX, but the software is programmed very differently. In addition, the Pilot appears to lack the “overdrive” unit that spins the rear wheels 2.7-percent faster than the fronts under certain conditions. Regardless of which transmission you get, towing ratings are 3,500 pounds in front-wheel-drive models and 5,000 pounds in AWD trims.

Drive


Offering the 9-speed in top-end trims is an interesting alternative to offering an engine re-tune that might step on Acura’s toes. Adding 10 or 15 horsepower to a top-end trim would have a negligible impact on your acceleration times, but adding three extra gears to the Pilot makes it go from 0-60 a half second faster.

How is that possible? It’s all about gearing. The 9HP transmission not only has more gears, it also has an extremely broad ratio spread. Honda chose to use this ratio spread differently than Fiat Chrysler did in their Jeep Cherokee. The Jeep engineers wanted high-speed fuel economy improvements for the European market. In the V-6 Jeep, 9th doesn’t engage until over 85 mph and the low ratio is a fairly average 15.3:1. Honda doesn’t sell the Pilot in Europe and only Texas has speed limits that high in the U.S., so they took a different approach and tuned the final drive for acceleration. The result is an incredibly low 20:1 stating ratio vs a 14:1 ratio with the same engine and the 6-speed auto. That means that in normal driving, the Elite is done with first gear by 10 mph. By the time you’ve hit 40, you’ve used more gears than the LX possesses. On the flip side, the deep first gear and closely spaced 2nd have an enormous impact on the Pilot’s 0-30 time. Of course, if you skip the AWD system entirely, you’ll get plenty of torque steer and one-wheel peel.

Remember how I said the AWD system wasn’t exactly the same as the MDX’s SH-AWD system? You’ll notice this on the road if you drive them back-to-back. SH-AWD employs a few tricks to make the MDX dance like an X5 alternative. The two most important being the aggressive side-to-side torque vectoring and the overdriving of the rear axle. By making the rear differential spin slightly faster than the front and then shunting all the power to one side, the MDX can feel more like a RWD-biased AWD car under power. The torque vectoring function on the Pilot appears to be much less aggressive, although it does feel more nimble than most of the mass-market competition. If you’re after the best driving dynamics in this segment, you’ll have to give up a few seats and get the RWD Dodge Durango.

When it comes to dynamics, the Pilot feels large and moderately soft. The suspension is tuned firmer than GM’s Lambda triplets or Nissan’s Pathfinder, but a little softer than some versions of the Highlander. The steering is light — as numb as you’d expect from electric power steering — but more accurate than the Buick Enclave. Elite trims get 20-inch alloy wheels and suspension tuning tweaked to be a little softer than the Touring model. The result is an entirely competent crossover sitting near the top of the pack.

When comparing crossovers, keep in mind that the Santa Fe and CX-9 are both more engaging, but neither seats eight. Nissan’s Pathfinder is more comfortable and delivers a superb highway ride, but again, no eighth seat. Toyota’s Highlander feels more nimble in the four-cylinder version, but considerably less refined. The Acadia, Traverse and Enclave are all quite heavy for this segment with top-end Buick trims nearly hitting 5,000 pounds. There’s just no denying physics; although the GM crossovers ride well, the handling, performance and braking all take a toll. Toss in aging styling and lacklustre fuel economy, and the only thing they have going for them are two inches of legroom and about 30-percent more cargo space.

Honda priced their new people hauler aggressively for 2016. The ladder starts at $29,995 for a base front wheel drive model, which is about $3,000 less than a base GMC Acadia or the base V6 trim of the Highlander. (The $29,765 Highlander has a 2.7-liter four cylinder.) Pricing is also in line with the $30,700 Explorer or the $30,150 Santa Fe — again, those two don’t offer an eighth seat. I was initially worried that the $46,420 Elite represented a decent value compared to a full-loaded Buick Enclave at $50,340. The Enclave gets a softer suspension but the Elite brings a 9-speed transmission, newer infotainment systems, a torque vectoring AWD system and LED headlamps to the party. After sitting in an Enclave, Pilot Elite and MDX back-to-back, the Elite model made more sense. This is perhaps more direct competition with the Buick than the Acura.

Thanks to some steep discounts on GM crossovers, you can expect the Traverse to be the bargain entry in this segment. However, the Plain Jane Traverse is probably my least favorite 3-row crossover. It’s large, thirsty and lacks the modicum of design given to its GMC and Buick siblings. Of course, the real problem here is that none of the three row crossovers really excel at carrying a family of 6 or 7 and their luggage in comfort, something that is supposed to be the role of a large family vehicle. The modern three-row CUV has taken the place of the minivan for modern families. Unfortunately, it trades style and perceived capability for capacity.

This is where Honda’s Odyssey comes in and blows the Pilot out of the water. The Odyssey is 8-inches longer and all of the additional length goes straight to the cargo area and third row. Because the Odyssey isn’t pretending to be an SUV, the shape is optimized for interior room and you get a whopping 13-inches more combined legroom, more than double the cargo room behind the third row (38.4 cubic feet) and nearly twice the cargo room if all rows of seats are folded. That’s before you consider the practicality gained by removing the seats, something not allowed in a crossover. Although the Odyssey can be a hair more expensive than the Pilot, lacks AWD and Honda detuned the engine a hair, they drive more alike than crossover shoppers want to hear. And the minivan has a vacuum. Because: kids.

Although the Pilot is hands down the best 8-passenger crossover available in the USA and one of the best three-row crossovers on sale, the best vehicle for my sister-in-law is the Odyssey. Sorry Rachelle.

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.85 Seconds @ 94 MPH
















Comments
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2 of 209 comments
  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on Aug 25, 2015

    Nice review :) My 2 cents on the subject matter & comments... People can buy whatever they want with their own money to suit their practical needs or to fulfill their egotistical/vanity issues. The rest of us/society don't want to hear them complaining about it afterwards (i.e. it wasn't the right choice as we should've bought [.....] instead. That [.....] had the room, seat, whatever, blah, blah... that we needed). Cripes, you made the damn decision so Live with it! If you plan on having more than 1 kid, then consider a more practical vehicle that suits your expected needs instead of buying something because of your damn image! You're married and you have kids! What type of an image do you think that gives off to others?! Are you that egotistical/narcissistic about your "image"? Oh, Yeah!! Considering that you bought an overprice vehicle that doesn't meet your practical needs... We don't want to hear about it! /rant

  • PeriSoft PeriSoft on Aug 25, 2015

    I will drive a minivan provided it has a thousand-watt subwoofer and can do the quarter in 12. And I'm pushing 40.

  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
  • Zerofoo I was part of this industry during my college years. We built many, many cars for "street pharmacists" that sounded like this.Excessive car audio systems are kind of like 800 HP engines. Completely unnecessary, but a hell of a lot of fun.
  • DedBull In it to win it!
  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.
  • Jeffro As I sit here this morning with my 2 day old TRD OFF ROAD 4RUNNER tucked safely away in the garage, my head spins with this weird desire to locate a 85 LTD equipped with the epic 😵‍💫2.3 and the FOUR ON THE FLOOR. THE HOLY GRAIL. Ying and yang baby!The search begins.
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