2016 Honda Pilot: Impressive Fuel Economy on Oregon Road Trip
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on July 19, 2016
Back then, the Pilot was a huge disappointment at the gas pump, averaging a pitiful 21.7 mpg over 1,767 mostly highway miles. Our AWD Pilot's 26-mpg EPA highway rating seemed like a pipe dream, and I could only guess what the engineers had been smoking.
But this trip was nothing like that one — at the gas pump, at least. It was as if I had been driving an entirely different vehicle. This time the Pilot averaged 27.4 mpg over 2,151 miles of driving.
I'll save you the math. That's a difference of 5.7 mpg, which amounts to an improvement of 26 percent. Something like that deserves its own paragraph.
What made the difference? I can't say for sure, but here are some factors to chew on.
I didn't just visit my folks' place on the coast this time. We also went to Bend and stayed in a rental place in nearby Sunriver. As a result, the trip was some 385 miles longer and involved a good deal more time on Interstate 5, which has generally higher speed limits and taller mountain passes than our usual Highway 101 route. What's more, the added mileage included at least two back-and-forth commutes between Sunriver and Bend, as well as a mountain pass where we crossed the Cascades along the north edge of Crater Lake National Park.
My youngest daughter stayed behind this time, but she's at that age where discussions of her weight are off the table. Her suitcase didn't make the trip this time, and we weren't schlepping any Christmas presents. But I did bring along my bike, riding gear and an extra backpack. I can't imagine the rig was any more than 125 pounds lighter than last time. Good for a tenth of an MPG, maybe, but not enough to make a meaningful difference.
Last time our Pilot was fairly new, starting the trip with 3,907 miles and arriving home with 5,367 miles. This time it had another 10,000 miles under its belt. But I'm not hanging my hat here, either. Modern engines don't usually suffer from the break-in blues, and 4,000 miles doesn't strike me as all that green.
California is one of many places that require different winter and summer fuel blends, with the summer formulation tweaked to reduce the potential for photochemical smog formation. But seeing as increased ethanol content is one of the usual recipe changes, I'd have thought this would work against the prospect of improved fuel economy on a summer road trip.
There's no doubt this variable played a part, even though I wasn't exactly hauling butt back in December. This time around, I was generally more conscious of speed and smoothness. I set a target speed range of 68 to 70 mph on freeways, and I ran at that pace largely without using cruise control, which helped avert unnecessary downshifts. I didn't romp on the pedal to get up to speed, I looked ahead and anticipated what others were doing, and I timed my passes of semis and other slow-moving vehicles to avoid decelerating and re-accelerating.
Speed played a role, but the preservation of speed and general smoothness loomed large, too. Still, a 26-percent gain is more than I've experienced from driving-style differences, especially when comparing to a December baseline trip that wasn't anything close to aggressive in the first place. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around the magnitude of the change.
I think it speaks to the sensitivity of the Pilot Touring's 9-speed transmission and its precise optimization for the EPA test cycle. Apparently I managed to get myself in sync with the pipe-smokers on this trip.
Here's how the 2,151 miles of my 27.1-mpg trip break down.
Santa Ana, CA to Turlock, CA: 344 miles, 13 feet of elevation loss, 26.4 mpg
Turlock to Weed, CA: 313 miles, 3,323 feet of elevation gain, 25.7 mpg
Weed to Chemult, OR: 386 miles, 1,339 feet of elevation gain, 27.1 mpg
Chemult to Dunsmuir, CA: 476 miles, 2,474 feet of elevation loss, 27.8 mpg
Dunsmuir to Mettler, CA: 507 miles, 1,749 feet of elevation loss, 28.8 mpg
Mettler to Santa Ana: 124 miles, 115 feet of elevation loss, 27.9 mpg
Finally, here's a shot of the trip computer after the Dunsmuir-Mettler tank. Get a load of that lying MPG meter. It read high on each and every tank, not just this one. An indicated value of 31.7 mpg versus an actual value of 28.8 mpg amounts to a 10-percent overstatement of reality. More on that topic later.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 15,682 miles