“When you’re just too hot for the Odyssey, but can’t quite afford the Range Rover, the Pilot steps in with top-notch reliability, cutting-edge technology, and sleek styling to make you the coolest parent in the hood”
SUV, CUV, full-size, mid-size, small-size, regardless of the class, segment or price-bracket, the competition is hot and ruthless. What does it take to stand out —is it styling, driving dynamics, or simply fuel-economy and bang for the buck? More importantly, is there a single vehicle out there that checks all the boxes? After spending nearly two months driving the hottest family haulers on the market, it was time to drive one of the VIP’s of the segment —the all-new 2016 Honda Pilot.
It feels just like yesterday that Missi and I were in Chicago for the unveiling of the 2016 Pilot… wait, who am I kidding? Time has painfully dragged by since February, as I’ve counted the days it’s taken the Pilot to get from the auto show floor to my driveway (about 183 days). The Honda Pilot is a big seller, actually, a really big seller, and even though the previous model was everything but attractive, its sales as of May 2015 were up 15% from the previous year. As its typical with most Hondas, a large chunk of that were repeat buyers. I know what you’re thinking, boring sales figures, huh? No —you see, people don’t repeatedly spend 30 to 45-grand on crappy cars that don’t work, so sales figures are key.
Ready to Pilot
The Pilot was dropped-off early in the morning while Missi was out dropping our oldest off at school, so in typical fashion I parked the Pilot and went back in the house to finish some work duties before I began tinkering with it. It’s a hard thing to do, but it has to be done. A few minutes later Missi walked in the door and said —”Woah, that is really nice”. She then grabbed the keys to it and headed back out the door. Uhh… OK.
Last week we got stuck, I mean, we had the pleasure of babysitting a little girl that belongs to one of Missi’s friends, I won’t mention the little girl’s age because I don’t know it and because guys aren’t typically concerned for that type of information, all I know is that she is much younger than our four-year old Josephine… based on how she talks, walks and does other baby things? Anyway, this happened to be a good thing, because it meant I had to strap two car seats in the second row, and our oldest had to use the third-row. Score!
I’d like to say the Pilot is all about the rear passengers, but it isn’t, I’d also like to say the rear accommodations are as luxurious as others in the segment —but I can’t. What I can say is that I’m happy to see a family hauler that is not all about the backseat, and don’t get me wrong, I understand that is the main goal of a vehicle like the Pilot, but there has to be something in it for Mom and Dad up front.
The Driving Experience
Piloting around the city is best done with ECON mode turned on, as this comfort and fuel-sipping mode will make acceleration smooth as butter and use auto stop-start to earn you a few extra mpg’s along the way. The electrically-assisted steering wheel is smooth, responsive and has a great turning radius, which combined with the rearview camera it makes parking the Pilot an easy task for everyone —even Missi. Unfortunately, both of us found the brakes hard to decipher, as they seemed to sometimes bite too early and other times bite too late, either way, it occasionally caused an uncomfortable jolt. I found the suspension to be a little too stiff around pothole-infested streets, but it’s a much different story on decently paved roads or highways, as the Pilot just loves to engage ninth gear and just cruise for miles on end.
Speaking of the transmission, our all-wheel drive Elite model was equipped with the Acura-derived 9-speed automatic transmission, which is operated via a rather cool pushbutton module resemblant of a Boeing 747 or a spaceship of some sort. Put your foot on the brake, hit the push-button start followed by the D on the button module to get going, but it’s backing up that takes a little getting used to, as the R button is positioned in a way that you have to sort of “push-back” on it, it’s a little weird.
The second row captain-chair and third-row bench setup is a must for parents that refuse to deal with the hassle of accessing the third-row, so basically everyone. Push one of the two nifty buttons on the captain chair to make it scoot forward in order to gain easy access to the back, and once you reach your seat simply pull the chair back and you’re all set. Cargo room is massive with the third-row folded down, and you can even fit an 82-qt. cooler with the seats folded up. Because we all need an 82-qt. cooler.
Our test Pilot was outfitted with the optional single-screen Blue-Ray player which we found a bit confusing to operate, as the headphones and dash controls worked intermittently. Scrap the expensive factory set-up and buy a couple of tablets instead, your kids will thank you for it and get more out of them anyways. Besides that minor hiccup, the rear accommodations on the Pilot get the job done —right.
Technology and Safety
I always like to say that these two go hand in hand, and it couldn’t be anymore true in the 2016 Pilot. More importantly, it’s Honda’s new suite of collision-avoidance technology that truly sets it apart from the rest, as not only will the Adaptive Cruise Control take your feet of the pedals on your next family road trip, but the Lane Keeping Assist System and Lane Departure Warning will make sure you reach your destination safely and relaxed by using its camera and sensors to steer itself and stay on the desired lane. Look Mom, no hands!
Because all these systems can be difficult to comprehend, we’ve put together a video with most of this technology in action.
Driver aid systems included in the Honda Sensing Package:
- Collision Mitigation Braking System: Recognizes an unavoidable frontal collision and autonomously brings the Pilot to a stop.
- Adaptive Cruise Control: Helps you maintain a constant speed by adapting to other vehicles around you.
- Lane Keeping Assist System: Automatically adjusts your steering wheel when it senses you are drifting across lane markers, therefore helping reduce driver fatigue.
- Forward Collision Warning: Audibly and visually alerts you if the Pilot senses a forward collision.
- Lane Departure System: A small camera identifies if you are leaving the road and gently tugs on the steering wheel to gain your attention.
All throughout this article I’ve held myself back from comparing the Pilot to other vehicles and directly naming some of its competitors. But I feel like I have to do so in order to drive my main message home.
It feels as the Pilot has aged well through the years, as it’s now wiser and most certainly the best Pilot to date. That being said, it’s not perfect and it doesn’t truly stand out in any category other than driver-aid technology. It’s not as comfortable and family oriented as the Toyota Highlander, but it’s much more engaging and fun to drive. It’s not as rowdy and seductive as the Kia Sorento, but it’s much more spacious and convenient. And lastly, it’s a better buy than the Nissan Murano thanks to its third-row seat and larger cargo capacity.
The Franken-Pilot it is. It seems Honda has gone to the drawing board with bits from the already-successful previous models, and even some from the competition, and managed to engineer a Pilot that delivers in most, if not all areas. Ironically, by building an SUV that excels at nothing, they’ve built what is arguably the best SUV on the market.
- Clean and attractive styling
- Easy to access third-row
- Relatively easy to understand technology
- Delivered 18-mpg city and 28-mpg highway (No premium fuel required)
- Plenty of cargo room with and without third-row stowed
The not so Great:
- Rear sunroof pane does not pop or slide open
- Suspension feels extra-stiff at low speeds
- Rear entertainment system not worth the cash
- Tactile volume control on the center screen should be killed with fire
- No Honda-Vac, seriously?