Even as its main rivals Toyota and Nissan were making their mark in the world’s off-road map with the Land Cruiser and the Patrol respectively, Honda never seemed to have wanted to get into the full-size off-roader race. Instead, it was content with having the not-so-rugged Pilot as its flagship SUV. But that decision appeared to have been half-hearted as the Pilot, despite its off-road capabilities being nowhere close to that of the aforesaid legendary duo, sported a similar big, boxy design to those two. It seems that phase of vacillation is over with the all-new Pilot, which does not pretend to be something it isn’t.
The 2016 version of the Pilot is true to its soft-roader underpinnings with a fresh, rounded new silhouette, which is softer and more elegant than before. With its lower stance and the completely redesigned exterior, the Pilot now looks more like an overgrown CR-V. And thankfully, unlike the previous version, Honda has paid close attention to the Pilot’s interior, which is now significantly more refined and contemporary. Gone are the tacky hard plastics and the dated, boxy dashboard design, with a clean, flowing, soft-touch console taking its place.
Despite its jaded looks, the previous Pilot had a pretty spacious and versatile cabin, and the new model doesn’t skimp on that either. The three rows of seats can easily accommodate eight passengers; however, our test car, which is the top-spec Touring trim, has captain’s chairs in the second row, making it a seven-seater. With a lower ride height than before, stepping in and out of the Pilot is easier. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable and getting into a comfortable driving position is a breeze.
The captain’s chairs in the second row recline to make long journeys fatigue-free and allow kids an easy pass-through to the third row, which can also be accessed the conventional way – by folding the middle-row seats. While the back seats are best left for kids, they are not uncomfortable for average-sized adults travelling on shorter trips, as they provide remarkably more legroom and headroom than usually found in such seats.
Cargo space is also pretty impressive, with a removable floor panel in the boot freeing up a deeper luggage holding area even when all three rows of seats are up. And there’s a glut of cupholders and bins in the cabin, making the Pilot one of the most practical large crossovers on the market today. The infotainment interface, controlled via an eight-inch touchscreen, has also been updated to bring it in line with the ones seen in the current Accord and the CRV.
The Pilot is powered by Honda’s time-tested 3.5-litre V6 that makes 280 horsepower and 355Nm of torque. While this engine is mated to a new nine-speed automatic gearbox in top-of-the-range Touring models in other markets, Honda has chosen to stick with a six-speed auto ’box across all trim levels. Although we haven’t tested one equipped with the nine-speed yet, the six-speed transmission feels good enough to manage power delivery from the smooth V6 to the wheels.
Being an urban crossover SUV, front-wheel drive is standard in the Pilot, but our test car is equipped with the optional all-wheel-drive system that shifts power between front and back, as well as between the left and right wheels for improved handling and traction. In fact, for a vehicle this size the Pilot is surprisingly agile and keeps its composure around corners with minimal body roll transferred to the cabin. The ride quality is one of the best in class. At highway speeds, the cabin is impressively quiet, with virtually no road or air noise seeping in.
Honda has also equipped the Pilot with almost all of the convenience features that we’ve come to expect in large soft-roaders, such as automatic headlights, fog lights, LED running lights, keyless entry and ignition, three-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power adjustable driver seat, smartphone integration features, and USB ports.
Apart from a stiffer structure enforced with high-strength steel, the Pilot also boasts a number of safety features including antilock brakes, traction and stability control, airbags all around, and a rear-view camera. The Honda Lane Watch blind-spot camera positioned under the passenger-side wing mirror is standard on all models, making changing lanes easier.
The 2016 Honda Pilot is a remarkably more sophisticated vehicle than the one it replaces, and it is better in every conceivable way. Add to this Honda’s reputation for reliability and relatively high residual values, and it’s one of the best large crossovers on the market today.