2016 Honda Pilot Review

A bold new look meets class-leading specs

The Honda Pilot has been transformed.

From a utilitarian box on wheels to a sleek near-luxury SUV the style shift is almost shocking in its departure from the past.

Pairing that dramatic redesign with a long list of upgrades, does this latest model have what it takes to put the Pilot at the helm of the 3-row crossover segment?

Bu-Bye Box

While we should keep you waiting with a line like “you’ll never guess what happens next,” the short answer is: yes.

Over the past few years utility vehicles like the boxy Ford Escape and the square Nissan Pathfinder have traded in their chiseled looks for a more curvy appearance. Now the Pilot is following that trend, and for good reason. Or should we say reasons.

First and foremost is the truck’s perception.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Honda’s market research surrounding the previous generation Pilot indicates that the two main rejection reasons for that model were styling and fuel economy. According to their research, people saw the boxy shape and assumed that it was bad on gas. This was true even when the Pilot had best-in-class fuel economy and continued to haunt it as the truck grew older and gave up that title to more modern rivals.

Of course, if you’re in the opposing camp and you did like the look of the old Pilot you can always blame Obama.

How is this Obama’s fault? Well, it’s called government mandated corporate average fuel economy standards and for Honda to hit its targets, it needs sleek aerodynamic shapes in order to eek our every last mile per gallon. Thankfully, you, the consumer, get to reap the reward.

Gone is the big boxy grille. It also looks longer and lower, because it actually is. The Pilot shaves an inch off the top and adds three inches in length overall, with roughly two inches between the wheels and an inch of extra rear overhang.

But Honda has done so much more to make the new Pilot a fuel economy leader.

Lighter, Faster, More Efficient

2016-Honda-Pilot-cincinnati-1005

For starters they shaved almost 300 lbs from the curb weight. They’ve also added a new V6 that makes 30 HP more than the previous one but gets better fuel economy thanks to direct injection, cylinder deactivation and a start-stop system on higher grades.

There’s a new six-speed transmission replacing the old five-speed unit because, well . . . it’s not 2001. Plus, high-spec models (Touring and Elite) get a new nine-speed unit that’s actually 66 lbs lighter than the six and offers shift times that are 25 percent faster.

Regardless of which trim, the Pilot is right at the front of the pack for fuel economy and will average from 21 to 23 mpg. On the meandering country roads of Kentucky we managed as high as 26 MPG.

On The Road and Off It

2016-Honda-Pilot-driving-1006

Driving the Pilot, you now sit an inch lower while ground clearance is 7.3 inches, which is lower than the Toyota Highlander, but taller than the Pathfinder.

The old Pilot scored poorly when it came to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) so with the new model significant efforts, including added insulation and thicker glass, have been made to improve sound deadening. And it shows.

It also feels noticeably quicker and Honda claims a 0-60 time of around 7 seconds. Faster, it’s more nimble too, due partly to the weight reduction, but there’s also a lot going on underneath you.

Most importantly, there is an all-new all-wheel drive system that is essentially a hand-me-down version of Acura’s Super Handling AWD setup. Called i-VTM4 it, sends 100 percent of the power to the front wheels but can send up to 70 percent to the rear when needed and all of that can be delivered to just one rear tire to push you through a corner.

To help make the most of i-VTM4, Honda borrowed a page from the leaders in the off-road segment and added what it calls an Intelligent Traction Management button on the center console. This lets the driver chose different pre-set models for the terrain. Front-wheel drive models get a choice of Normal or Snow, while all-wheel drive versions let you select from Normal, Mud, Sand and Snow modes.

2016-Honda-Pilot-mud

Unfortunately the smooth, swerving roads of our test drive route are no place to experience the benefits of any of these settings. They are, however, ideal for feeling-out the nine-speed auto and start-stop system.

The latter does mean the Pilot takes about a half-second longer to leave the line, which is a small annoyance.

It may also be to blame for a sudden hiccup in the Pilot’s otherwise smooth demeanor, with the truck lurching away from a stop. Perhaps an exceptionally speedy pause at a stop sign is to blame, with the stop-start system killing the engine just as we reapplied the throttle.

Room for the Family, and Then Some

2016-Honda-Pilot-Interior-folding-seat-02

Getting back to the truck’s size, the increases put it near the front of the pack when it comes to cargo room – a category Honda almost always dominates in. Try as it might, there’s just no competing with the acres of real-estate inside the GM trio (Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave).

As for passenger space, 2nd row legroom is ideal though 3rd row space is the most impressive, with actual legroom for 6-foot tall adults. That’s something almost none of this truck’s rivals can claim, again, the exception being the GM three.

For the first time the Pilot comes with available captain’s chairs for the second row and to improve access to the third row there’s a new one-touch fold mechanism for the outboard second-row seats. Press the electronically operated button on the side of the seat (or the top of the seatback if you’re in the third row) and it mechanically tilts and slides forward, leaving a space that’s 2.5 inches wider and 1.2 inches lower than the opening on the old Pilot. Ingress is now far easier, though exiting the Pilot gracefully isn’t something anyone under the age of 14 will ever master.

2016-Honda-Pilot-interior-2003

From behind the wheel, the interior updates are as dramatic as the exterior ones. Gone is the overtly utilitarian cabin of the old model that was styled more like something out of a pickup. It’s been replaced by a modern design and high quality materials.

One of the most noticeable updates are the new buttons on the center console for operating the transmission – a piece lifted almost directly from Acura.

The dash itself is much cleaner, thought it does seem like a lot of the buttons have just been moved onto the steering wheel.

There’s a big eight-inch touchscreen on all but the base model that’s simple and intuitive to use. The only issues arise when performing more meticulous operations. Scrolling through lists of songs, the screen sometimes reacts slower than you’d like. That, and Honda’s volume control slider is just annoying to use. Thankfully there are redundant controls on the wheel.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Honda CR-V Review

So many important additions have been made to the Pilot that the official product document Honda provided stretched for 120 electronic pages. In the interest of brevity (and sanity) we’ll point out just a few of the most notable new features.

A push button ignition is now standard, while keyless access and remote start come on all but the base model. Honda kept the massive center console area that can hold a whole purse and added USB plugs. Lots of them. There are now 5 places to plug in.

A heated steering wheel is also now available, though, unfortunately, like with the Odyssey, you can only get it on the top Elite level model.

That Elite trim level is impressive and includes a panoramic glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats and heated second-row captain’s chairs as well as LED headlights and the first use of 20-inch wheels on a Honda.

Safety First

2016-Honda-Pilot-auto-brake-2005

Safety is always a priority with a family-focused machine and so the Pilot comes equipped with the brand’s new Honda Sensing package. First introduced on the updated 2015 CR-V, it now includes more features and is available on a wider array of trim levels.

Standard on the Touring and Elite models, its available as an option on the EX and EXL and includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning as well as lane keeping assist and road departure warning, both of which work to keep you in your lane using first steering and, if necessary, braking.

Also a part of the package is an auto brake feature that can slow or even stop the car on its own to prevent or reduce the severity of an impact.

Oddly, blind spot monitoring is only available on the top trim, though you might not miss it as all models come standard with Honda’s Lane Watch system that projects what’s in your right-hand blind spot right onto the display screen.

The Verdict: 2016 Honda Pilot Review

2016-Honda-Pilot-2083

In our recent three-row crossover shootout, the old Pilot finished in a dismal sixth place.

It did the basics right but in other areas it was simply outclassed. The 2016 model makes huge strides in the driving experience, interior, safety and technology while still managing to improve on already strong fundamentals like passenger and cargo room as well as fuel economy.

So should you buy one? For so many cars the answer to that question is “it depends.”

But for all the reasons just mentioned, this time it’s a resounding yes.

  • Keith Taylor

    This is interesting to me. I normally dont consider Honda just due to my dislike for design however I will have to consider this in two years when I am up for a new vehicle. Mazda is really going to have to up its game with the new CX9 when it comes out in two years.

  • cooper

    All that money spent on development and Honda still can’t make a vehicle with center air vent shut off’s. Acura has it. But, center vents cannot be turned off individually. Crap design.

  • Shiratori1

    What a troll

  • cooper

    Looks you are the troll worried about other people’s posts. Facts are facts.

  • cooper

    Actually looking at your past posts. You are the definition of a troll.

  • Wow, is that UGLY!

  • adobepro

    Wow, looks like a CRV on steroids…not a good thing. I have the 2013 Pilot and love the design, but this thing looks awful, esp. the tear drop rear window, like the CRV.

  • dk002

    looks too much like a mini van. Can it tow much weight?

  • adobepro

    I kinda agree — for the need of a mini and comparable feature / buy price, I’d rather have a Sienna — this looks like Honda feminized the Pilot, making it look more like the CRV — to much curving. The Range Rover, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer did a much better job on rounding the “box.” I guess if you want the old Pilot design, buy a used one or get an Explorer / 4Runner, which still has a nice box design with subtler curves and is in the price range of the Pilot. And what’s up with Honda and the weird squinty rear window design? It’s awful. It’s like an infection, with almost all their models being affected, now including the Pilot.

  • dk002

    I just bought the wife an Armada. Rugged looking still and tows my boat. Crappy mileage but oh well….

  • Mark

    Looks like every other crappy Mini Van/Station wagon now. What a mistake. Look like I am hanging on to my 2009 Pilot for a very very long time.

  • dappyrenny

    What a disappointed! Looks too much like CRV with all the curves, I still prefer my 2007 pilot

  • ColumWood

    Its 3,500 lbs standard but can tow up to 5,000 lbs with an optional tow package.

  • dashandra monika

    My wife has a 2003. over 200k on the clock. drives the crap out of it (drive it like you stole it). just basic maint and it drives like new. opened up the air box for more air low and a grounding system, actually gets close to 28 highway. looked at upgrading like to the Audi Q7 or the Porsche but she keeps coming back to her beloved Honda.

  • adam

    We’ve got a 2006 and it’s been pretty good. Starting to feel old though now at 130K-ish miles.

    I really like what they’ve done with the second and third rows. Would be easier for kids to have friends tag along–that 3rd row has been an embarassment in our current Pilot; it’s effectively useless for any passengers beyond 5-7 years old.

    That said, the exterior… It’s so… CRV-y. It lost that somewhat-distinctive Pilot look, and I don’t care for it at all. Too much tapering of the windows toward the rear, and just too rounded off in general. That curved, sloping front end… yuck. Other manufacturers have done a much better job than this.

    So I’m not sure I’m sold on it (looks like Pilots have gotten more expensive in recent years, too), but I’m not a looks-first kinda guy, so functionally speaking, I’m still interested, but not impressed overall like I’d hoped to be.

  • Darko

    Half year ago, after being fired from my previous job , I was blessed to find this amazing site online that was a life-saver for me… They hire people to freelance from home. My last payment after working for them for three months was $12000… Best thing about it was that only thing required is basic typing and reliable internet…If this got your attention then learn more about it on following website>

  • ColumWood

    What kind of mileage? It must be brutal.

  • dk002

    14 combined…Tows 9200 pounds though, witch is really the reason I bought it. Didn’t want a pick up.

  • UncleNine

    Let me ask the group a question: I have an ’05 Pilot EXL, original owner, and have really, really loved it. If I do decide to go for this one, is it a bad idea to get an “early edition” in June or July, or should I wait ’til December? Anybody have anything to say on that? Experience, inside dope, anything? Thanks.

  • danwat1234

    “70 percent to the rear when needed and all of that can be delivered to just one rear tire to push you through a corner.” So it has a limited slip differential in the back?

    The article mentioned the start-stop system shutting off the engine when you are about to take off again from stop sign. It should behave like a Western Digital Black 2 dual drive, where it spins down the hard drive (shuts off the engine) after a certain amount of seconds of being idle, but then if the I/O is rather regular (or frequent stops), the time period of idleness in which the computer spins down the drive (shuts off the engine) is lengthened.
    In other words it should have an algorithm to adapt to drive styles and situations so it won’t be shutting off the engine if it is likely you will need it very soon.

    Glad auto start-stop is starting to proliferate the US car market. Does it have a direct injected engine?

  • Ken G

    Buy at your own risk! As long as it comes equipped with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), the Pilot is a loser. VCM is a failed technology that has costed consumers millions and untold lost time dealing with this pathetic engineering gimmick.

  • Rickers

    Please elaborate.

  • Samus

    It’s a Honda, early edition or not, it should be solid.

  • Rudy™

    For my money, I’d wait a year. The first year of the current MDX had a lot of kinks to work out, which seemed to be taken care of for the 2015 model year. As they share a chassis and many components, though, it may not be as problematic. The ’05 Pilot should do just fine for another year.

  • Rudy™

    I disliked the design of the current Pilot so much that I never even considered buying one. Around here, they were such poor sellers that you rarely see them on the road. In fact, you see a lot more of the first generation Pilots. I’m glad its looks are updated, although it kind of blends in with similar designs from other manufacturers now, and yes, does share that resemblance with the other Hondas and especially the CR-V. I am aiming more towards a used 2010 or 2011 MDX here, but I wouldn’t hesitate to get this new Pilot in a few years.