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2016 Honda Pilot Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Honda Pilot front quarter view
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Introduction

Honda was early to the three-row crossover party with the 2003 Pilot. Unfortunately, the 2009 redesign, with its chunky exterior, plasticky interior, and trucky dynamics, removed the model from "best pick" lists. Those weren't good years for Hondas in general, as the company lost sight of the things that made its earlier cars game-changers. Lately, though, Honda has been regaining the scent, and for 2016 has redesigned the Pilot again. With this redesign, does the Pilot return to the head of the pack?

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot front quarter view

Sleeker than the chunky second-generation Pilot, but also less distinctive. more Pilot photos

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot interior

Unusually expansive footwells. More room in the front seat than in any direct competitor.

Tested: 2016 Honda Pilot

4dr SUV 280-horsepower 3.5L V6 9-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2014 Toyota Highlander

4dr SUV 270-horsepower 3.5L V6 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2016 Honda Pilot?

  Compared to the Highlander
Front seat room
Front seat room: Better Better Worse

The first impression after getting into the new Honda Pilot: "Wow, there's a lot of room in here." The interior is unusually broad, with more shoulder room than in any other crossover--three more inches than the Toyota Highlander. Headroom is also plentiful, with enough space up front for a tophat (unless you're a center in the NBA). Plus the footwells are so broad you can just about dance in them. Beyond the tape measure, the Pilot's interior has been designed to make the most of every inch, so it feels even roomier than it is. A capacious console resides between the widely spaced front seats.

Front seat comfort is better than in small Hondas, with a broad cushion, adjustable lumbar, and a headrest that doesn't jut overly far forward.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Better Better Worse

Recent styling trends have been reducing the windows on many vehicles to bunker-like slits. Not this one. The new Honda Pilot has large windows, a relatively low instrument panel, and relatively thin pillars. The pillars are far thicker in a Ford Explorer, and the instrument panel is overly deep in the Nissan Pathfinder. The Pilot's side view mirrors are large, and are supplelemented by a passenger-side blind spot camera on the EX, EX-L, and Touring and by a blind spot warning system on the tested top-of-the-line Elite.


Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot rear quarter view

Base of side windows sweeps upward at the rear, but overall plenty of glass.

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot instrument panel

Operate the nine-speed transmission (Touring and Elite only) via non-intuitive push-buttons.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much better Better Worse

According to their spec sheets, the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder have more rear legroom than the new Honda Pilot. In practice, though, the Pilot's rear legroom feels at least as generous as theirs--I suspect some creative measuring--and well ahead of what you'll find in a Toyota Highlander.

The Pilot's second-row seat isn't as high off the floor as the Ford Explorer's, but is more comfortably positioned than the low benches in the GM crossovers and the Pathfinder. The Elite trim level includes captains chairs, so it can only seat up to seven people. With a second-row split bench, other Pilots can seat eight people.

The Pilot's largest seating advantage is its third row. Unlike in most crossovers, the cabin remains broad in the "way back," so there's enough shoulder room for three passengers. The Highlander's third-row bench, though also designed for three passengers, is somewhat narrower and lacking in legroom. Only the GM crossovers roughly match the new Pilot in third-row space as well as passenger capacity.

The Pilot's seats are positioned so that the view forward from each is open, further enhancing perceived roominess.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

Aided by cylinder deactivation while cruising, the 2015 Honda Pilot's fuel economy figures were about average in the class: 18 MPG city, 25 MPG highway with front-wheel drive (FWD) and 17/24 with all-wheel drive (AWD). For 2016, a reduction in curb weight, an updated engine, and a sixth transmission ratio bump the ratings to 19/27 with FWD and 18/26 with AWD. The Touring and Elite trims include a nine-speed automatic that adds another MPG to the city ratings, tying the best-in-class Nissan Pathfinder.

The Toyota Highlander doesn't even do as well with its base four-cylinder engine (20/25) and lags with its V6 (19/25 with FWD, 18/24 with AWD). In hybrid form the Highlander only has much of an edge in city driving (27/28). The Ford Explorer is competitive with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine (19/28 with FWD, 18/26 with AWD), but with a V6 falls well short of the Pilot's fuel efficiency. As do the GM crossovers.

In my suburban driving the Pilot's trip computer typically reported low 20s but as high as 27.7. This is similar to the Pathfinder and a few MPG better than the Highlander. On a 70-MPH hgihway the trip computer reported an average of 26 MPG.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Honda has become much more aggressive in pricing its vehicles lately, and the new Pilot continues this trend. The 2015 Pilot Touring cost $1,200 less than the 2016 Pilot Touring, but the latter includes over $4,000 in additional content. A Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum costs $1,430 less than the $47,300 Pilot Elite, but the latter includes over $3,000 in additional content (partly because you cannot get a rear seat entertainment system in the top-trim Toyota). Lower trim levels also tend to undercut the respective Toyota. The Nissan Pathfinder is priced lower the the Pilot, but adjust for feature differences and the tables turn. When both are moderately equipped, the Pilot costs about $1,000 less. Remember when Korean cars cost far less than Toyotas and Hondas? Those days are gone. A Honda Pilot Elite lists for $805 more than a Kia Sorento SX-L with Technology Package, but includes about $2,400 in additional content. Plus the Honda is considerably larger (seven inches longer, four inches wider, and 3.5 inches taller). The Ford and GMC crossovers are larger than the Pilot, but when similarly equipped cost thousands more.

At this point I was planning to point out that you could get an even roomier, more functional vehicle for less money if you'd only consider a minivan, but a Honda Odyssey Touring lists for $1,160 more than a Pilot Touring before adjusting for the latter's additional features, and about $3,200 more afterwards. (I did not compare the top trims because the Pilot Elite has AWD standard.)

As suggested by the above feature-adjustments in its favor, the new Pilot can be very well equipped. On all save the lowest trim level you can get a safety package that includes a full array of collision avoidance systems. Competitors either do not offer these features or only offer them on their upper trim levels. If you want these safety features but don't want to have to buy a fully loaded vehicle to get them, get the Honda.


Why Not the 2016 Honda Pilot?

  Compared to the Highlander
Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: About the same Better Worse

The new Honda Pilot's weakest aspect is its controls and instrumentation. The infotainment interface is a touchscreen that too often requires an excessive number of taps to get from one function to another. The nine-speed automatic on the Touring and Elite has a push-button shifter that requires far too much conscious thought even after a week with the vehicle. (Some Acuras have the same shifter.) A last issue is more of a personal annoyance: the digital speedometer, located at the top center of the cluster, looks like a secondary instrument. Not hard to use, but odd.

The Toyota Highlander's controls suffer from a different issue: some of them can't be reached without leaning forward out of the seat.


Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

The Honda Pilot's handling is stable and safe, but not at all sporting. If you want flatter cornering and more agile handling, Honda apparently wants you to spend the additional ten grand for the related but less roomy Acura MDX. This said, the Toyota and Nissan handle no better, though the former has a more rugged, somewhat trucky feel that some people will prefer. The Kia Sorento feels more polished and somewhat sportier, but it's also a half-size smaller.


Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot front view

The Elite model includes LED headlights.

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot second-row seat

The second row slides and reclines. Green button activates an electric release.

Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

The Honda Pilot generally rides fairly well, but at times feels underdamped and a touch bouncy. Another round of suspension tweaks wouldn't be a bad idea. I preferred the less easily disturbed (if intentionally truckier) ride of the Toyota Highlander. Also, while the new Pilot is quieter than previous generations, the Toyota maintains an edge in this area.


Other features of the 2016 Honda Pilot

  Compared to the Highlander
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: About the same Better Worse

The new Honda Pilot appears much sleeker than the boxy 2009-2015 model. But, while handsome, it's not distinctive. From the side, which do you see more of, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class or the Chevrolet Traverse? The latter's sheet metal is in its eighth year.


Interior styling
Interior styling: About the same Better Worse

Inside, the new Honda Pilot avoids the cheapness of the 2009-2015, but even in Elite trim still doesn't appear upscale or luxurious. Instead, especially in light gray it has the visual character of a transportation appliance.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

With a bump from 250 to 280 horsepower and less weight for these horses to motivate for 2016, the Honda Pilot is plenty quick for a family hauler. Among direct competitors, only the Ford Explorer is offered with a significantly stronger engine.

Like most three-row crossovers lately, the Pilot is rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much better Better Worse

The Honda Pilot can hold more cargo than any direct competitor except the large GM crossovers, which benefit from an additional half-foot of length. Most large crossovers--even those from GM--don't have enough space behind their third-row seats for a family's luggage. But you can remove a floor panel to open up an eight-inch-deep well in the Honda. Among competitors, only the Ford Explorer has a similar well behind the third row. This well could easily be the difference between needing and not needing a rooftop cargo box.

None of these crossovers approach minivans like the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, or Kia Sedona in terms of cargo space. If you want plenty of space for 6-8 people and their stuff, you really need a minivan like the Honda Odyssey (or one of the largest SUVs).


Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Worse Better Worse

Since it's so new, the 2016 Honda Pilot's reliability is not yet known. But the related Acura MDX has been glitchy, and car owners have been complaining about the nine-speed automatic employed in the Touring and Elite in a number of different cars.

In contrast, the Toyota Highlander has a proven record, making it a safer bet.


Conclusion

Roomy, fuel efficient, and attractively priced, the 2016 Honda Pilot is likely the best fit for many three-row crossover buyers. The Toyota Highlander might be less likely to require repairs, and it has a more rugged feel (for people who want their "truck" to feel somewhat like a truck), but it's neither nearly as roomy nor quite as efficient.

Want a crossover that handles with a lot of power or that handles like a sports car? The latter isn't happening, but those who (for reasons that escape me) desire a powerful crossover should check out the Ford Explorer Sport (or spend big bucks for a Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG). Better yet, get a practical crossover AND a sports car.

Of course, the Honda Odyssey has considerably more space for people and cargo. But it's a minivan, and thus thoroughly uncool. For people who really need a minivan but who won't buy one, the new Honda Pilot will rightly prove a popular choice.

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot engine

Not a pretty engine, but good power and fuel economy.

Pilot Reviews: Honda Pilot cargo area well

The cargo area behind the third row can hold much more if you remove the floor to open up a well.

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2016 Honda Pilot pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Honda Pilot. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from willied

11:36 am November 10, 2015

You do mention the 2.0T Explorer having similar fuel economy according to the EPA, but people have been getting real world averages around 19-21 MPG (on Fuelly.com). I think Ford probably gamed the EPA test a bit on that one. Also, talking about the height of the rear seats...I didn't even think about that being a problemuntil I sat in a CX-9. I prefer a flat floor like the CX-9's, but the seat cushions are too low. I don't like how the currentExplorer has a sort of well where your feet go since it makes getting in and out harder, but the seat cushions are at least at the right height. In my '06 Explorer the floor is flat, but the seat cushions are also at a decent height - why can't they just do it that way? I've also noticed that Toyota's seats are usually too low in their trucks and SUVs though this may have changed since I haven't been any recent ones. Anyway, I always enjoy reading these. Keep up the good work. -Willie

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Response from mkaresh

12:02 pm November 10, 2015

It is curious how much the EPA figures drop when AWD is added to the Explorer with the 2.3T.

Rear seat height has long been a pet peeve of mine. One challenge is mounting the seat high yet somehow have it fold low and flat. To have both requires a more complicated and more expensive mechanism. Plus I think families with small kids prefer low seats, so the kids can get into them easier.

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Response from willied

1:44 pm November 10, 2015

I forgot they moved up from the 2.0T to the 2.3T. It says 19/28 on Ford's website for the FWD and 18/26 for AWD. They also revised the 3.5L N/A model's highway figureto 24 instead of the previous 25. -Willie

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Response from mkaresh

2:26 pm November 10, 2015

Thanks. I guess they've revised the estimates since I last looked. The difference between FWD and AWD is more plausible now.

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Response from willied

3:22 pm November 10, 2015

No prob!Also,looking at that ugly intake manifold closer...are all ofthe spark plugshidden underneath it? I guess it's not really that big of an issue since 3 of the Explorer's spark plugs are hidden by the intake manifold anyway. I just changed them in my mom's Explorer with about 135,000 miles on it. -Willie

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Response from mkaresh

3:38 pm November 10, 2015

Response from willied

7:32 pm November 10, 2015

Ahh, I see. It's kind of bad when you can't see any ofthe coils with the hood up. But I would hope you could easily take that silly trim piece off. -Willie

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Response from sb222

8:00 pm November 11, 2015

Nice review. I'm trying to remember the Explorer Sport. It is that or the new Edge that has the 2.7 out of the F-150? That should haul - very well.

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Response from willied

10:03 am November 12, 2015

The Explorer gets the 2.3L Ecoboost, the 3.5L N/A, and the 3.5L Ecoboost in the Sport, but the Edge does indeed get the 2.7L. That should make for a pretty quick Edge. -Willie

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Response from RFryer

12:42 pm August 30, 2016

I was very dissappointed to see that Honda elliminated the rear liftgate glass on the 2016 Pilot. The Highlander still has this useful feature for really stuffing the rear full w/o having everything fall out, or when the liftgate can't be fully opened due to a boat or luggage box on top. It's also useful for long pieces of lumber.Honda also elliminated the many different storage cubbies in the front to provide a cleaner look but at a cost.

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