- The Honda Pilot is new for the 2023 model year and we just drove it.
- An off-road-ready TrailSport version packs additional hardware and all-wheel drive.
- Just like prior generations, the new Pilot is comfortable and easy to drive over long distances.
- Decreased fuel economy and missing interior luxuries hold it back from being a segment leader.
Driven: The 2023 Honda Pilot Is Improved but Its Tech Falls Short of the Best
More space and practicality, but still missing luxury
What's new with the Honda Pilot?
With its exceptional levels of road and seat comfort, upscale cabin design, and useful storage areas, the third-generation Honda Pilot immediately became our favorite three-row crossover SUV when it debuted in 2016. But the years hence have seen the Kia Telluride and its mechanical twin, the Hyundai Palisade, usurp the Honda to claim the crown as their own. So what's a deposed ruler to do? Rally the troops and get better, and that's what we see in the fully redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot.
Many of the Pilot's updates occur to attributes that we thought the old Pilot needed to make improvements to. Honda stretched out the wheelbase (the space between the front and rear wheels) and overall length to open up more passenger room, particularly in the second and third rows to make them more accommodating for adults and bulky child safety seats. New styling inside and out helps to modernize the Pilot and make it feel more rugged and less curvy. And in an effort to inject some excitement into what was a very competent (but also slightly boring lineup), there's a new Pilot TrailSport that dials in some real off-road upgrades.
The Pilot also was in need of a technology infusion and that's one area in which Honda still needs to do a little work. But these changes definitely put the Pilot on more equal footing with the top of this segment.
How does the Pilot drive?
The Pilot's engine is again a 3.5-liter V6. Honda says that it's all-new, with a brand-new aluminum block among other changes. It produces 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. That's just a slight 5-hp increase over last year's model, though the new Pilot also features a 10-speed automatic transmission that gains a gear over the outgoing nine-speed box.
The new V6 and transmission combo could produce slightly better acceleration, but we won't know for sure until we get a new Pilot in for our full evaluation. The last-generation Pilot we tested went from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds, which was already a quicker-than-average time for a midsize three-row SUV. Front-wheel drive is standard on most trim levels, with all-wheel drive optional (though it is standard on TrailSport and Elite models).
Even with its updated internals, the new V6 seems a lot like the older version. This Pilot's bigger overall footprint erases any gains from the 5 additional horsepower (now 285 hp total). And with an unchanged 262 lb-ft of torque, there isn't any more grunt on offer to help move things along. Honda's new 10-speed transmission shifts smoothly but always feels like it's working. Around town, we wish that it would settle into gear faster and stay put. This updated powertrain feels adequate with its power delivery but isn't the Pilot's strong suit by any means.
There are now up to seven (yes, really) drive modes to choose from, including new Sport, Trail and Tow modes. Honda's improved all-wheel-drive system in the Pilot can now send up to 70% of the engine's torque to the rear axle and shift power to each wheel independently as needed.
We had the opportunity to put all of this to use while driving a TrailSport over varied off-road terrain. With an occasional wheel lift, the SUV would take a second to settle in and send power to the correct corner, ultimately soldiering on with little issue. The only unsettling moments were the several times we knocked the center skid plate over rocks, though Honda engineers reassured us that they built them strong for a reason.
We came away impressed by how relaxing the Pilot is to drive on the highway for long stretches of time. Honda installed new seats in this generation and they are a huge improvement, with support all the way up your back. Optional heated and ventilated seats in the front row and a heated second row help keep things a little more comfortable as well.
Even better is the Pilot’s stellar ride quality. We drove the Elite on 20-inch wheels and the TrailSport with all-terrain tires, and neither was problematic at any point. The Pilot's suspension isolates big bumps in the road extremely well, yet the SUV feels connected as you're driving along. We never knocked the old Pilot for its ride quality, but this new one is even better.
How's the Pilot's tech?
This is the area where the Pilot feels like it could have done more. The TrailWatch camera is a cool tech addition, but the Pilot's largest multimedia screen only measures 9 inches and that puts it behind many of the other vehicles in this segment that offer screens of 12 inches or more. On top of that, the navigation lags and the maps feel pixelated and low-resolution. They look much better when connecting a smartphone and using Google or Apple Maps. A 7-inch touchscreen comes standard on the base trim level, and that's disappointing compared to the standard 12.3-inch screen now found in the Telluride.
As a partial saving grace, the larger screen at least comes standard on the EX-L trim level and above, and with the bigger screen comes wireless connectivity for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a wireless charging pad. Even so, it still feels like the Pilot could use some improvement in this area, especially considering the new Accord's available 12.3-inch display with built-in Google integration
The Pilot's advanced safety features also get an upgrade for 2023. There's a standard Traffic Jam Assist system that allows the adaptive cruise control to work down to a stop while still centering the Pilot in its lane. The forward-facing camera and radar have also been upgraded, with a wider field of view to better detect potential hazards.
And what about the rest of the interior?
We had a chance to check out both TrailSport and Elite models of the Pilot. Both offer pleasing cabin materials and a new interior look that bears some vague resemblance to the new Honda Civic's, a look that has percolated around the rest of Honda's smaller vehicles. As with the Civic, the multimedia screen is mounted on top of the dashboard rather than being more integrated into it like before. The Pilot isn't the most luxurious member of this class — that distinction still belongs to the Telluride and the Palisade — but it won't be a letdown.
The Pilot's extra length gets put to good use for second- and third-row passengers. This was a shortcoming of the previous Pilot — it had a small third row that didn't fit adults comfortably and couldn't match up with larger competitors. Honda says that second-row legroom has grown by 2.4 inches and third row only by 0.6 inch, but all of those gains help out the third row the most since the second row has the ability to slide back and forth. I am just under 6 feet tall and after I set up the driver's seat and moved up the second row to a position where it was still comfortable and had a few inches of space between my knees and the seatback, there was enough room in the third row for me to fit. The third row's seat cushion is a bit low so your thighs lift up off the cushion so it won't be great for long trips, but for anything two hours and under, the third row can now fit two adults without you feeling guilty for putting anyone back there.
Most other three-row SUVs make you choose between a seven-passenger setup with captain's chairs or an eight-passenger configuration with a bench seat, no ifs, ands or buts. But in the Pilot you can have both, thanks to a removable middle seat for the second row that's available on Touring and Elite models. That way, if you happen to pick up another passenger and need a place to put them … there's a spot for that butt. The seat stores in a bin under the rear cargo area when not needed and weighs 20-25 pounds, so it can be moved and installed fairly easily.
Honda has addressed several of the Pilot's weaknesses directly in this redesign, with added passenger room and some pizazz with the exciting TrailSport. Is it enough to dethrone the top-ranked Kia Telluride? The Pilot's space and comfort are a big draw, but the lack of innovative tech might ultimately hold it back. We'll have to wait until we can put one through our full testing process to know for sure.