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2016 Honda Pilot Second Drive Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/8/2015 Edward Loh

Like a quarter million of you (at this point), I read Scott Evans' First Drive review of the 2016 Honda Pilot with a great deal of interest. We automotive journalists tend to be a skeptical lot, so my first reaction to phrases such as "walk-off home run" was, "Hmmm. Really … we'll see …"

I got my chance to find out for myself at an event in New York to which Honda invited a handful of journalists to sample three flavors of the all-new Pilot. There were no updates or additional information released about the vehicle, so if you want just the facts, and lots of them, please refer to Evans' much more detailed write-up. What follows are just my impressions from a quick ride and drive up and back to Yonkers on the famous West Side Highway, Henry Hudson Parkway, and New York State Route 9A.

We had just had Honda's HR-V in at the L.A. office for a comparison test, and I took it on a 150-mile road trip with a couple of colleagues. I also recently drove our long-term Sport/Utility of the Year, the 2015 Honda CR-V, so even though I can't remember the last time I was in a Pilot, I feel pretty current on Honda's SUV offerings.

2016 Honda Pilot Second Drive Review

2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot The family resemblance is apparent from the get-go. "Big CR-V" is an accurate and not unkind way to describe the new Pilot. It's big and good-looking on approach from the front. Before it was revealed at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, I was told to expect a much more handsome and "curvalicious" model. Honda designers have delivered, though to be fair, they had nowhere to go but up since the boxy, pig-nosed last generation. About the only questionable angle on the Pilot is the rear, where a bit of the minivan roots (Pilot shares its platform and powertrains with Accord and thus Odyssey) are showing. Looks a bit dumpy to me, but I do appreciate the increased interior volume.

Honda is famous for smart packaging — see the Honda Fit's flip and fold Magic Seat and CR-V's forward-tumbling second-row seats that create a flat load floor — and the Pilot doesn't disappoint. The magic lies behind the third row; during the product presentation, Honda showed an animation of four Rollaboard carry-on bags being placed vertically in the space back there. Upon closer inspection, this appears possible, as space is ample and cleverly designed. A carpeted panel behind the third row snaps in and out of place, revealing a deeper storage area below. This panel can be dropped and stored in this well and is rubber-coated on the reverse side in case items going on top are dirty. With the panel snapped in the higher position and the third row seat backs folded forward, a large, flat area is created behind the second row. Ingress and egress to the third row of seats is easy thanks to a new electro-mechanical push-button system, and the seating area is spacious; I'm just under 6 feet tall and had enough leg- and headroom for an extended ride in the back seat. Thigh support was lacking, but that is to be expected in SUVs because of their higher floors.

2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot In general, seat comfort was excellent. I sat in every row of two different Pilots: a lightly optioned front-wheel-drive Touring model with a cloth interior and a fully loaded, leather-lined Touring Elite in a lovely shade of dark, dark green (nearly black). The front seats impressed me most; they have a pillow-top feeling when you first get in — like a premium mattress.

The dash layout and controls are all very familiar — not just from the HR-V and CR-V, but there are touches of Accord and even Acura everywhere you look. The tray of buttons for the new nine-speed transmission is one of the features that debuted on Acura vehicles, and it's immediately intuitive to operate. I do wonder why Honda designers chose to put the buttons low on the console, along the driver's thigh; there is no physical, mechanical connection to the transmission, so technically they could have been placed anywhere. I'd prefer them higher on the dash, in the sightline, so you don't have to look down when switching to Park or Reverse, or between Drive/Sport.

2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot 2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot And yes, there is a Sport mode in the Pilot that is worth exploring. Honda says the new Pilot is up to 300 pounds lighter than the previous generation and has 30 more horsepower. With 280 horsepower on tap from its 3.5-liter, direction-injection V-6 and a nine-speed transmission that provides a much wider gear spread than the previous generations' five-speed, this a much faster, more responsive Pilot. Honda claims 7 seconds to 60 and I see no reason to doubt that. I didn't need to paddle-shift through the gears to accelerate onto the short onramps of the Hudson Parkway; the Pilot has more than enough pop to make merging simply a matter of dropping your right foot.

The powertrain is responsive and hums with a soothing resonance at wide-open throttle. Honda makes some nice engines and this one is a peach. As Evans noted in his write-up, "Whoa torque steer" is in effect in the front-drive version, under hard acceleration with the wheels slightly turned.

2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot My upstate jaunt was brief, but enough to confirm that the Pilot has a solid, serene ride. Honda occasionally turns a deaf ear to wind noise in some products, but that's not true here. I could have conversations with my driving partner at near whisper level while cruising at 65 mph. Tire slap on the expansion gaps of West Side and Hudson highways was nicely muted even though the Pilot rides on a company-first 20-inch wheel and tire package. Handling was — well, you don't find much in the way of good driving roads 40 minutes outside of Manhattan, so that will have to be explored at a later date.

My time in the 2016 Pilot largely confirms Evans' findings. By fixing what was broken with the last-generation Pilot and adding clever touches such as that spacious third-row seat package (the new industry benchmark) and nine-speed transmission, Honda has created the latest, most serious player in the three-row SUV segment.


A nice capper to my New York minutes in the 2016 Pilot was that after the event, I hailed an UberX to get me back to my hotel. What vehicle should come meet me at the curb 5 minutes later? A dark gray second-generation Honda Pilot piloted by a gentleman named Mauro.

My first impressions from the middle row of seats was of plastic darkness. This was an early model (with that pig nose), likely 2010 or so, and likely an LX base model. Inside was yards of dark gray cloth and plastic; heavy tint and the lack of any sunroof made it feel pretty claustrophobic — especially since I had just come from that top-step 2016 Elite with two sunroofs and light and heady black and tan interior. Second-row roominess and ride comfort were pretty good, actually, but there was noticeably less suppleness and more flintiness over Manhattan's ridiculously rutted and potholed streets.

But I'll stop here, because it isn't really fair to compare the all-new 2016 Honda Pilot against its predecessor that's done hard miles as an New York City Uber, right? Fuhgeddaboutit.

2016 Honda Pilot© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Honda Pilot
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