The 2016 Honda Pilot represents a complete redesign for this popular but previously underwhelming three-row crossover. It's more streamlined in appearance, more carlike to drive and plusher inside, while the features list swells with the latest technology, safety and luxury equipment. After many miles of family duty, a lap of our test loop and a day at the test track, the Pilot has earned its rank as a class leader.
What Is It?
The redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot is noticeable even to those who can't otherwise tell a Honda from a Hyundai. It's almost as if Honda pretended the boxy, trucklike, second-generation Pilot never existed, instead creating a more streamlined and carlike (or at least wagonlike) vehicle. The Pilot is now similar to the rest of the segment that includes the Dodge Durango, the refreshed-for-2016 Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, GM's large crossover triplets (Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia) and the Edmunds "A"-rated Toyota Highlander.
As before, eight-passenger seating is standard, although there is now more passenger space (especially in the third row) and the new, top Elite trim is the first Pilot to offer second-row captain's chairs that increase comfort and third-row accessibility, but reduce seating capacity to seven.
There is a new V6 engine paired to equally new six- or nine-speed automatic transmissions, as well as an optional all-wheel-drive system that borrows some handling-assisting tricks from Acura. Newly available features include a dual-pane sunroof, Honda's latest touchscreen interface, a Garmin-sourced navigation system and the Honda Sensing package of safety technologies available on all but the base LX trim.
What's New Inside?
As with the exterior, a radical design transformation has occurred inside the 2016 Honda Pilot. The previous model's upright block of buttons and hard plastic is gone in favor of more aesthetically pleasing lines and higher-quality materials. Besides looking better, the dash appears lower and less imposing, aiding in the cabin's sense of openness and helping the Pilot feel smaller than its competitors from behind the wheel. Smaller windshield pillars help as well, and indeed, visibility is one of the Pilot's best attributes.
The dash in most trims is also dominated by a large touchscreen similar to the one found in the smaller HR-V crossover. Like the HR-V, it lacks a volume knob for the radio, and the touchpad can be slow to respond to inputs. It also requires a fair bit of menu hopping, but it does allow for swiping and pinching motions like a smartphone.
This interface is a Version 2.0 of sorts that features a new Android operating system, a Garmin-sourced navigation system and improved graphics. It's better in some respects, but still not the most intuitive setup we've used. Note that the base LX gets a traditional knob-and-button radio interface with a large display screen.
Despite its less boxy, utilitarian appearance, the 2016 Pilot is just as useful for storing your stuff. Up front, there is a large forward bin for stashing a plugged-in phone, useful cupholders and a deep bin that's large enough to store at least one tablet or a small purse under its rollaway lid.
There are also high-mounted bins and cupholders in the doors, the latter of which are boxy and a curiously perfect fit for Fiji water bottles. There are similarly shaped cupholders in each side of the third row bordered by two regular cupholders, along with two additional cupholders in each rear door and two more in the second-row's drop-down center armrest. By our count it has 16 cupholders, so frequent bathroom breaks seem likely.
How Spacious Is It?
The 2016 Pilot is 3.5 inches longer than the vehicle it replaces and rides on a 1.8-inch-longer wheelbase. The rear floor is also 1.4 inches lower, resulting in more interior space that is most evident in the reclining third-row seat.
It's still a little low for tall adults to fit comfortably for lengthy road trips (you'd still need a minivan for that), but after sitting back to back in the aft-most quarters of the Highlander, Explorer, Traverse and Nissan Pathfinder, the 2016 Pilot's third-row legroom ultimately feels second only to the big Chevy. The Highlander and Pathfinder are considerably more cramped; the Explorer is comfortable enough, but only capable of seating two, and its legroom shrinks with its standard second-row bench (versus sliding captain's chairs).
Less impressive is entry to the third row. While the second row can slide forward at the press of a single button (EX-L trim and above), the resulting pass-through space is small even though it apparently grew by 2.5 inches. As in the Highlander, the second-row seat stays flat and butts up against the front seats, reducing the foot space needed to climb into the way back. The Pathfinder and Traverse have clever seat-bottom folding mechanisms, while the Explorer's folds and flips forward. All have much wider entryways. The available captain's chairs create a handy second-row pass-through, but are only available on the top Elite trim.
Our Touring trim's second row offered enough space to accommodate all but the most massive convertible and infant child safety seats without compromising front-row comfort.
As for cargo space, the Pilot's 83.8 cubic feet of maximum space is about even with the Dodge Durango and Toyota Highlander, and a bit bigger than the Explorer and Pathfinder. Only the Traverse and GM's other big crossovers are significantly bigger (though just how much bigger depends on the interior measurement method used by the respective manufacturers).
Cargo space behind the second row is a generous 46 cubic feet, while the area behind the third row is sufficient at 16.5 cubic feet (only the Explorer and its minivan-like deep storage well are appreciably more useful). Plus, removing the floor tray in the Pilot adds 2 extra cubes and allows one to carry a giant 82-quart cooler — which should be handy given those 16 cupholders.
What's New Under the Hood?
The new Pilot is not only as much as 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but it's considerably more powerful, too. Every trim level comes equipped with a new 3.5-liter V6 good for 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Our front-drive tester hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which is several tenths quicker than the similarly powerful Toyota Highlander.
In addition to more capably getting the Pilot up to speed, an advanced cylinder deactivation system allows the engine to operate on three cylinders to save fuel. By utilizing a multitude of factors to determine when to kick in, this "Variable Cylinder Management" system was undetectable during our drive.
Also new for 2016 is a six-speed automatic transmission that is a smooth, capable partner for this engine that makes the Pilot feel an awful lot like the Highlander when accelerating: no bad thing at all. However, the new nine-speed automatic found in our Touring trim tester is also an impressive transmission. It achieves better fuel economy and is also a whopping 66 pounds lighter than the six-speed.
The nine-speed is great during hard acceleration, capably and smoothly swapping between gears. It also has both the programming smarts and the horsepower to pick a gear and stay with it up long hills. Small throttle openings and light loads, however, produce some indecision and the occasional rough shift at low speeds. Shift Hold Control (holds the current gear when braking during aggressive driving) and Cornering G Control (suppresses unwanted upshifts when turning is detected) improve the experience, too. There is also a paddle-shifted Manual mode with rev-matched downshifts, and an automatic stop-start system for fuel savings that was notably unobtrusive.
The commendable engineering efforts continue should you opt for all-wheel drive. Dubbed i-VTM4 (intelligent variable torque management), it goes above and beyond simply directing more torque to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip. Not only can it send up to 70 percent of its power rearward when accelerating or in hard cornering but, using a torque-biasing rear differential, the system is also able to overdrive individual rear wheels. This "torque-vectoring" capability, shared in part with Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, reduces the Pilot's tendency to push wide through corners. Many other cars and SUVs utilize the brakes to help slow the inside wheels during a turn and create a similar feel, but it's not as effective (though it should be noted that the Pilot utilizes it as well for added capability).
Can It Go Off-Road?
Given its advanced all-wheel-drive hardware, Honda opted to add some equally advanced all-terrain software for the 2016 Pilot. The Intelligent Traction Management system features four modes (Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand) that adjust throttle and transmission response, i-VTM4 power distribution and the stability control system to make sure you can get out of low-traction situations.
This type of tech has become commonplace on off-roading brands like Jeep and Land Rover, but the Pilot and 2016 Ford Explorer bring it to more family-oriented transport.
How Does It Drive?
The 2016 Honda Pilot offers a commendably smooth and controlled ride, even when equipped with the Elite trim's large 20-inch wheels (quite an accomplishment). It also feels notably smaller from behind the wheel than its competitors.
Part of this is simply because of visual perception, but the tidier exterior dimensions, precise steering and trick i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system certainly contribute to a vehicle that makes you forget how big it is. We wouldn't go so far as to call a three-row crossover nimble, but for the segment, it's certainly one of the least cumbersome to drive, with a smooth, willing powertrain to boot.
Given that the comparatively athletic Mazda CX-9 is getting on in years and suffers from subpar crash scores, the new Pilot could be the new, best choice for those transitioning from a smaller, nimbler car into a big mom-and-dad-mobile. We definitely couldn't say that about the previous Pilot.
How Good Is Its Fuel Economy?
The EPA rates the front-drive, nine-speed-equipped Pilot like our tester at 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway). We recorded 24.2 mpg over 1,150 mostly highway miles. It produced 25.2 mpg on our standard test loop, where the all-wheel-drive Highlander managed 23 mpg.
Opting for all-wheel drive drops combined mpg for six-speed Pilots to 21 mpg (18 city/26 highway). All-wheel-drive Elite and Touring trims with the nine-speed automatic are estimated to return 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway).
What New Features Are Noteworthy?
Some new-for-2016 available features, like the panoramic sunroof, second-row captain's chairs and multitude of safety technologies are simply items offered by competitors that help the Pilot keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. However, there are some distinctive features worth noting.
"Next-generation" XM Satellite Radio: It constantly records each song currently playing in your satellite radio present channels, so when you change channels mid-song, it allows you to go back and start from the beginning. It also has the ability to mix and match songs from your preset channels, creating a personalized channel of sorts similar in basic concept to Pandora Internet radio (which can also be controlled and streamed by the Pilot's touchscreen interface).
Remote ignition: Being able to turn the car on by pressing a button on the key fob is common. However, as with some Chrysler Group models, the Pilot's system goes a step further by detecting interior temperature and setting the climate system accordingly (including the heated and cooled seats if so equipped). Cold winter mornings and sticky summer afternoons will never be the same again.
USB ports: There are as many as five USB ports in the 2016 Honda Pilot, four of which have enough power to charge something akin to a tablet. No longer will there be family fights for electricity.
What About Safety?
The Pilot earned a five-star overall crash test rating from the federal government and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both scores are the highest available.
To help prevent a crash in the first place, though, all but the base Pilot LX trim will be available with the Honda Sensing package of high-tech collision warning and avoidance systems. These items have previously been available only on the highest Honda trim levels.
Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control (matches the speed of the car in front of you, reducing the need for driver action), forward collision warning and mitigation (warns of pedestrians and stopped cars and can apply the brakes to avoid an accident or reduce its severity), and lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems (alerts the driver if they drift from their lane and can steer back if needed). We found the Pilot's lane-keeping intrusive in long high-speed corners, where it's constantly second-guessing driver inputs.
The Elite trim's version of Honda Sensing also includes a rear cross-traffic monitor and a blind spot warning system. The latter replaces the Honda LaneWatch blind-spot camera standard on the EX, EX-L and Touring trims.
How Much Does It Cost?
Our front-drive Touring trim stickered at $41,900. Pricing for the Pilot starts at $30,875 for a front-wheel-drive base LX, with an EX starting at $33,310 and the EX-L starting at $36,785.
Adding all-wheel drive to any trim costs $1,800, while adding Honda Sensing to the EX and EX-L is an extra $1,000. It's standard on Touring trims. The all-wheel-drive-only Elite starts at $46,420 and there are no options.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The large Chevrolet Traverse (as well as its Buick and GMC siblings) suffers from antiquated interior controls and is comparatively slow and cumbersome. But it offers best-in-class interior space and a comfortable, controlled highway ride.
On the opposite end of the size spectrum, the smaller Kia Sorento is a good choice if the third row will only be occasionally needed by children. It offers attractive style, a refined cabin, commendable driving manners and lots of value for your money.
The Pilot joins Toyota's Highlander in receiving our "A" rating. The two are similar in size, price and features. Though it's not quite as spacious, the Highlander is well-rounded, well-made and pleasant to drive.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want a family vehicle that offers the latest safety features, solid fuel economy and plenty of space in all three rows.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Like its competitors, the Pilot is a big vehicle. If you don't really need room for eight (or seven, for that matter) there are smaller crossovers that offer similar features along with better efficiency and maneuverability.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.