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2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Front Hero

First Look: Can the Redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot Challenge the Kia Telluride?

At first glance, it has a chance

  • The Honda Pilot is fully redesigned for 2023.
  • Additional length gives the Pilot more cargo and passenger room.
  • New TrailSport model adds off-road capability.
  • New V6 engine is now mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

What is the 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.

What's under the Pilot's hood?

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 standard on most trim levels, with all-wheel drive optional (though it is standard on TrailSport and Elite models).

Fuel economy figures are not yet available from Honda, though we'd expect them to drop slightly given that the new Pilot is larger and it uses an engine of roughly the same size. Last year's Pilot got an estimated 23 combined mpg with front-wheel drive and 22 or 21 mpg combined with AWD.

What's the new TrailSport trim about?

The Pilot gets an off-road-oriented model with the introduction of the TrailSport trim level. This is the second TrailSport that Honda will offer — it debuted on the Passport first but on that vehicle it served as more of a glorified appearance package that didn't add any real capability.

That's not the case with the Pilot, where the TrailSport gets some mechanical upgrades that should make it easier to, well, pilot when the paved roads end. It starts with a 1-inch suspension lift that creates more ground clearance (Honda hasn't said exactly how much yet) as well as more wheel travel to better help keep the wheels in contact with the ground. Underneath the Pilot are three skid plates to protect the engine, fuel tank, and the rear of the vehicle. Those plates are strong enough to handle the full weight of the Pilot crashing down on a rock, Honda says. The TrailSport's AWD system also gets its own tuning setup, where it allows a wheel that is in the air or has lost traction to still get some torque so that it will instantly hook up once it regains traction.

There are distinctive 18-inch wheels at each corner with the TrailSport logo molded into the wheel itself and those come wrapped in all-terrain tires, the first time that Honda has done that. Finally, there's also a new TrailWatch camera system that shows a front or side view at speeds under 15 mph, so you can see obstacles that fall under the hood line where you can't see them. This feature gives the driver an added layer of confidence off-road. TrailSport badges adorn the outside and the front seat, and the TrailSport is offered in a striking Diffused Sky Blue paint that's exclusive to the trim.

How's the Pilot's 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.

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 actually comes standard on the base Sport 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 Pilot's four other trim levels, 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.

The Pilot's advanced safety features also get an upgrade for 2023. There's an available 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.

How's the Pilot's storage?

The passenger compartment isn't the only place to experience growth in the redesign. Storage space behind the third row has also expanded to 22.4 cubic feet — good enough to take the Pilot to the top of the class. Drop down the second and third rows to open up a massive 113.7 cubic feet of cargo room.

All Pilots come with a pretty sizable storage compartment under the cargo area that is accessed via a removable cover, but Touring and Elite models with the available stowable center seat get an even larger storage bin that can be used with the seat installed or stored somewhere at home. It can fit even a backpack, or anything else you'd like to keep away from prying eyes in the SUV's cabin.

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Grille

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Grille

Edmunds says

Honda has addressed several of the Pilot's weaknesses directly in this redesign, with added passenger room and some pizazz with the exciting TrailSport. We'll have to wait until we can put one through our testing process to see, but early indications are that it could give the Kia Telluride a push for the top spot in this class.