The Honda Pilot has been an essential part of the brand’s lineup right from its introduction in 2002.

The current generation, which first showed up in 2016, is a departure for the model. The Pilot’s gone all swoopy, adopting the curvier, more aerodynamic styling seen on its CR-V and HR-V little brothers. It’s immediately identifiable as a Honda, which no doubt helps it stay a strong seller in the three-row crossover class. A light facelift for 2019 gave it a Clarity-inspired front end complete with standard LED lights.

It doesn’t throw many surprises, but the Honda Pilot is competent in many ways. Its model structure keeps things simple: every Pilot comes with a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 putting out a healthy 280 hp and 262 lb-ft. Crucially, Honda has made sure this powerplant delivers all its grunt on regular gas, not premium, saving buyers cash at the pumps.

Front- and all-wheel drive are both available, with transmission choices coming down to two automatics: a six-speed or a nine-speed. At it’s most fuel-miserly (front-drive, nine-speed), the Pilot posts up 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, for a combined 23 mpg. Wholly class-competitive, if not stellar — it’s surprising Honda hasn’t given the Pilot a hybrid version, at least not yet.

The Pilot’s interior is a hearty and roomy place to be. It’s built with family use in mind, coming in seven- or eight-seat configurations. Storage nooks and crannies abound, and the available CabinTalk system allows those up front to talk with other rows easily. The Honda Sensing suite of safety tech is also standard across the board.

Honda designed and builds the Pilot in America. The Lincoln, Alabama factory takes care of Pilot production, along with the Passport, Ridgeline, and Odyssey.

Honda Pilot fuel economy

2019Honda Pilot Elite 009

A front-wheel drive 2020 Honda Pilot will crack 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway) with the optional nine-speed automatic transmission.

The worst-case scenario isn’t far off that either: opt for all-wheel drive and the six-speed auto, and you’re still looking at 18/26/21 mpg.

All Pilots drink regular 87 octane gasoline.

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Honda Pilot safety rating

2019Honda Pilot Elite 003

The 2019 Honda Pilot earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). With little changes for the 2020 model year, the Pilot should continue its fine safety record.

Standard safety features for the 2020 Honda Pilot include Honda Sensing, a full suite of safety assists. This includes emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Honda Pilot features

Even in base LX spec, the Honda Pilot comes with a wide range of features as standard. Bluetooth, at least two USB ports, push button start, and automatic LED headlights are all standard across the board.

Moving up to the mid-spec EX-L model brings rear-seat entertainment, a powered liftgate, blind spot monitoring, and a higher-spec 8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Touring and Elite trims bumps the rear-seat screens to 10.2 inches, CabinTalk in-car PA system, an upgraded 10-speaker sound system and a hands-free power liftgate.

Honda Pilot pricing

Honda Pilot Dashboard

The base price of the 2020 Honda Pilot LX is $32,645, which includes $1,095 in delivery charges. The lineup advances from there through the EX, EX-L, Touring, Elite, and top-shelf Black Edition, the latter of which rings up at $50,715 (including delivery).

The options list is slim on the Black Edition: outside of $1,996 chrome wheels it’s all dealer-installed accessories.

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Honda Pilot competitors

Three-row crossovers are a big deal in North America. Nearly every full-line automaker offers at least one. Just sticking to Japanese competitors your options include the Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Ascent, and Nissan Pathfinder. All sit around the same price and power, though only the Highlander offers a hybrid version.

Another hybrid comes in the unlikely shape of the new-for-2020 Ford Explorer. The Explorer has another ace up its sleeve as one of the vehicles in the class to offer rear-wheel drive. Other American options include the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave trio.

The new Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade both offer strong value propositions and near-luxury interior feel.

Finally, if you don’t quite need the third row, there’s the Honda Passport. The Pilot’s five-seat little brother is more off-road oriented, but shares much of its mechanicals.

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Honda Pilot review

By Craig Cole

Honda has updated its hot-selling Pilot crossover. Not only is there fresh styling to talk about, but this three-row vehicle also bristles with new technology, additional refinement, and even more standard features.

First-time owners and repeat customers alike are sure to notice the Pilot’s freshened exterior styling. Designers made it more aggressive looking, without going totally overboard. The grille is new, incorporating Honda’s “flying wing” motif with chrome trim extending above the headlight assemblies, which now house standard LED low-beam lamps.

The vehicle’s front bumper has been reworked, sporting larger fog-light openings. There’s also new garnish molding on the lower portion of said bumper that gives the appearance of a skid plate.

Around back, the new Pilot sports a reworked liftgate and updated taillights with amber-hued turn-signals. Like up front, additional brightwork low on the rear bumper gives this family vehicle a slightly more aggressive appearance.

Lower-end models roll on 18-inch wheels, but Touring and Elite versions, the top two models, feature attractive 20s.

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Inside, the styling changes made are more subtle. There’s new trim around the air vents (how exciting!), wider fold-down armrests for the driver and individual riding shotgun as well as three settings for the heated front seats. Touring and Elite models can be equipped with deluxe second-row captain’s chairs, reducing total seating capacity from eight to seven.

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More Technology Than Ever

Many of the new Pilot’s visual enhancements are fairly minor, but things get much more interesting when you focus on technology.

And right out of the gate, Honda Sensing is now standard in every version of this utility vehicle. The brand’s suite of advanced driver-assistance technologies includes things like forward collision warning, road-departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control, features that can really take the stress out of driving. Automatic high-beams and a multi-angle backup camera are also standard across the board. Blind-spot monitoring is included on higher-end models, that is, EX, EX-L, Touring and Elite.

Wireless charging is also being offered for the first time in this vehicle; additionally, LED fog lights are available as well.

There’s a new Honda-engineered Display Audio system with a vibrant eight-inch screen. It too is standard on EX and higher trims. With Android as its foundation, this infotainment system features customizable shortcuts and simplified menus so it’s easier to use. Of course, common smartphone gestures like pinch-to-zoom, swiping and tapping are all supported, as is Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto. But perhaps best of all is the inclusion of a volume knob. No longer do you have to fiddle with a cumbersome touch surface just to manipulate the radio volume.

CabinTalk is an interesting technology that’s also offered. Like an in-vehicle PA system, it allows the driver and front-seat passenger to easily converse with people in the back seats so there’s no need to shout.

Top-tier Touring and Elite models also get a hands-free power liftgate and a 10-speaker sound system.

Nuts and Bolts

Things are mostly unchanged under the Pilot’s hood, which is fine since there was little to complain about here. Power is provided by a 3.5-liter single-overhead camshaft V6 engine that’s rated at 280 horses and 262 pound-feet of torque.

It delivers those class-competitive figures while running on regular-grade gasoline, so you needn’t spend more for premium fuel.

Curiously, Honda offers two different transmissions in this crossover. Lower-end models soldier on with a six-speed unit, but Touring and Elite versions feature a nine-ratio automatic. Never renowned for its refinement in any application, this ZF-sourced gearbox has nonetheless been improved, with engineers working to civilize its behavior.

Further enhancing the Pilot’s refinement, the engine stop-start system has been enhanced. It’s quicker to respond and more seamless than ever.

As before, a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system is offered on every model, though it’s standard on range-topping Elite models. And fortunately, it doesn’t cut into fuel efficiency too much. The most economical version of the 2019 Pilot, one with front-wheel drive and the nine-speed gearbox, stickers at 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway, making for a combined score of 23 mpg. The Elite model tested here is slightly less economical, with consumption scores of 19 in urban motoring, 26 on freeway trips and 22 combined.

The Drive

Generally, the Honda Pilot feels smaller than it is. Make no mistake, it’s a large vehicle, clocking in at more than two tons and nearly 197 inches (4,991 mm) in length, but underway it doesn’t seem that bulky. The steering is nicely weighted and sharp enough, its brake pedal is firm and reassuring.

The transmission indeed seems more responsive and refined. Curiously, in normal driving, it starts out in second, which blunts off-the-line giddy-up ever so slightly, though this isn’t a big deal because the gearing is still plenty low. If you’re taking off on a hill, go wide open with the throttle or have the vehicle in sport mode it will start off in first for fastest-possible acceleration.

And no matter the driving situation, you shouldn’t be wanting for power. The Pilot moves with reasonable authority, even while clambering up winding mountain roads. The added low-speed torque provided by a forced-induction engine might be appreciated in certain circumstances, but that would mean sacrificing this naturally aspirated V6’s throaty intake sound. Peg the accelerator and at about 5,000 rpm the Pilot starts to wail as VTEC switches over to the nasty cam lobes for a valiant sprint to redline. It’s unexpectedly raucous for a family vehicle, though the internal-combustion music is much appreciated.

Even though for 2019 nothing’s changed with the Pilot’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, the folks at Honda were keen to demonstrate its capability. To achieve this, they set up a small off-road course, one with plenty of deep ruts, large stones and steep grades to navigate. Surprisingly for a family vehicle, this three-row crossover handled everything with confidence, even when one of its wheels was several feet in the air, the all-wheel-drive system shuffling toque around to make sure it never got stuck.

No, the Pilot’s not a Jeep Wrangler, but it’s a more-than-capable light-duty off-roader. An electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated rear differential routes twist to the back. Up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque can be sent to the rear axle and up to 100 percent of that can be routed to either the left or right wheel, improving both off-road performance and reducing understeer in normal driving.

The Pilot offers four different driving modes including Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand. Each one fine tunes things like the torque split and throttle response to help the vehicle perform its best in varying conditions.

The Verdict: 2019 Honda Pilot Review

The popular Honda Pilot is better than ever for 2019. Drivers are sure to appreciate its newly refined nine-speed transmission, additional safety features and an updated infotainment system. These enhancements are merely icing on the cake, as this vehicle was already a solid offering in its segment.

Base price for this updated three-row crossover is $32,445 (CDN $43,013), but the range-topping Elite-trim model tested here checked out at $49,015 (CDN $55,913), both prices including $995 (CDN $1,922.50) in delivery fees. The new Pilot should be available at dealerships right now.

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Detailed Specs

Engine / 3.5L V6
Horsepower / 280 hp
Torque / 262 lb-ft
Transmission / 6-speed automatic / 9-speed automatic
Drivetrain / Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
Seating Capacity / Seven or eight
Cargo Capacity / 16.5 cubic feet/83.9 cubic feet maximum
Towing Capacity / 3,500 lb (2WD) / 5,000 lb (AWD)

Our Final Verdict

The Honda Pilot is the consummate all-rounder of the segment. It puts few feet wrong: it lists at a competitive price, offers acceptable power paired with low running costs, and provides family-friendly tech. That it now comes with a standard suite of advanced safety assists only sweetens the deal.

One of its major strengths could be seen as a weakness: the lack of different engine options. If you’re looking for more (or less) power, then you’re out of luck. The absence of a hybrid model is also a surprise, but with the CR-V gaining one that could change soon.