Comfortable, flexible interior
Recalcitrant 9-speed automatic
Hybrid drivetrain unavailable
Odyssey a better large family choice
Sharing a platform with the Odyssey minivan, the Pilot, Honda's largest SUV, entered the market in late 2002 as a 2003 model. Five years later following a mild facelift in 2006, the 2009 second-gen model went on sale. It, too, received a minor update for the 2012 model year. The third generation went on sale in May of 2015 as a 2016 model, and takes its turn with a facelift for the 2019 model year.
Improving on a conservative design that continues to age well, the 2019 Honda Pilot receives a new front fascia, wheels and revised taillights. Up front, the signature LED daytime running lights are unchanged, but the grill now features two wide horizontal chrome bars instead of three narrower ones. The headlamp housings are much narrower, enclosing LED low-beams, with LED high-beams standard on Touring and Elite models. The lower fascia has also been modified with a narrower lower air intake, narrower parking lights, and re-positioned fog lights.
In back, the backup lamps have been moved from a lower valance that now features a faux brushed metal skid plate, and integrated into the taillights.
Design aesthetics aside, what crossover buyers really look for is versatility. Sharing its bones with the Odyssey, you'd expect the Pilot to possess that virtue, and it does, with room for up to 8 passengers (7 on our captain's chairs-equipped tester) and all their trappings. Elite models offer an EPA passenger volume that measures 153.1 cu ft. Cargo space behind the adult-friendly third row, based on the SAE J1100 measurement standard, is 16.0 cu ft. If that’s insufficient, both halves of the rear seat fold flush with the rear load floor exposing 46.0 cubic feet. Still not enough? Flipping the middle captain's chairs forward exposes a flat load floor and 82.0 total cu ft of cargo room.
A closer examination reveals comfortable, supportive seats offering plenty of head, leg and hip room in all three rows, with excellent sight lines out the front, sides, and in back courtesy of large glass areas. Smart touches include a center console arm rest at just the right height for most drivers, along with numerous bins and cubbies for storing items. Major controls are clear and easy to read, while most of the console and center-stack buttons and controls are intuitive, logically placed, and within easy of the driver (with a big huzzah for the long-awaited appearance of an on/off/volume knob for the infotainment system).
The leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts and telescopes with plenty of adjustment, and features controls for heat, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, information system settings, phone, infotainment, and Bluetooth. Access to the third row, via buttons on second row seat cushions and backs, is a breeze, even with a child seat installed.
Nits are few and reflect the lack of adjustable lumbar or height for the front passenger and interior materials that, despite being class-competitive, in upper trims fall short of competing models - in both fit and finish - from Hyundai and Mazda. Finally, despite the versatility, large families would still be better served with an Odyssey minivan.
The 2019 Pilot comes in 6 trim levels with 11 mono-spec configurations.
With all-wheel-drive an option on all but the Elite (where it's standard), Pilot models start with the base LX that offers the usual power features, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights, daytime running lights, and brake and reverse lights, rear privacy glass, keyless push-button start, air conditioning, 5-inch color LCD screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with Honda’s HandsFreeLink voice recognition, and a 215-watt audio system.
Unavailable on the LX and optional on EX and EX-L models last year, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, haptic road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane keep assist are now standard across all trim levels. Blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert become standard on all but the LX.
The EX adds dynamic guidelines to the rear view camera as well as LED fog lights, keyless smart entry and auto locking, fog lights, body-colored roofline spoiler, door handles and side mirrors, 3-zone automatic climate control, illuminated driver and front passenger vanity mirrors, conversation mirror with sunglass holder, a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar, one-touch second row seats, and an 8-inch touchscreen with CabinControl in-vehicle intercom, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capability, HD and satellite radio, and intelligent traction management for both two- and four-wheel-drive models.
EX-L models also receive a power tailgate, acoustic glass windshield, moonroof, leather seating, a 4-way power passenger front seat, a driver's two-position seat and side mirror memory function, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, second row sunshades, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Homelink.
The EX-L Navi/RES adds a DVD rear entertainment system with a 10.2-inch screen, Blu-Ray player, and built-in streaming apps, and satellite-linked navigation with voice recognition and Honda HD digital traffic.
Touring models up the ante further, with larger 20-inch alloy wheels, full LED headlights, chrome door handles, roof rails, front and rear parking sensors, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down, a Pilot-first hands-free power tailgate, LED ambient interior lighting, illuminated cup holders, a 590-watt audio system, and a mobile hotspot.
Examples like our Elite tester add to that list with standard all-wheel-drive, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming, power-folding outside mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, perforated leather seats that are cooled in front, LED front row map lights, a heated steering wheel, and wireless phone charging.
Under the hood
The Pilot is available with one engine and a pair of transmissions. The engine is an all-aluminum V6 with cylinder deactivation tech that produces 280 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. But lacking a hybrid, fuel economy numbers across the lineup are only average.
In LX, EX, and both EX-L models, the 6-speed automatic achieves an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city, 27 on the highway, and 22 combined on FWD models, and an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city, 26 highway, and 21 combined with AWD.
Touring and Elite models, equipped with a more contemporary 9-speed programmed for second gear starts under light load and idle stop-and-go technology, deliver only slightly better numbers: an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 27 highway, and 23 combined for the front-wheel-drive Touring, and an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined with AWD.
Every AWD model features Honda’s Variable Torque Management System. In extreme low-traction situations – say, stopped in mud, ice or loose grave - drivers can lock the rear differential for additional traction, and keep it locked at up to 18 miles per hour.
On the road
The Pilot offers a smooth, comfortable, well-controlled ride -even on 20-inch wheels - over the bumpy, pockmarked roads not under construction that southeastern Michigan serves up this time of year. Acceleration is strong, and the engine offers near-luxury levels of smoothness and refinement. Body lean for such a large beastie is minimal, the brakes offer nice stopping power, and the steering is quick, responsive, and nicely weighted.
The acoustic glass keeps wind and road noise at bay, while neither the suspension nor the chassis transmits much in the way of road or tire noise into the cabin.
But while Honda has massaged the 9-speed transmission, work still needs to be done. It starts with the odd 4-pad push-button interface– 3 different shapes and 2 angles –that's both kludgy and awkward. The second gear start in most situations – new this year – cures most of the low-end woes, but the occasional hunt for the correct cog at higher speeds still mars what should be a premium feel.
2019 Honda Pilot prices, including a $1095 destination charge, begin at $32,545 for a front-wheel-drive LX and top out at $49,115 for the AWD-only Elite model – which also matched the price of our Steel Sapphire metallic tester.
The Bottom Line
The updated 2019 Honda Pilot brings a lot to the table that, aside from subtle upgrades, includes a wide range of standard safety features and an improved infotainment system, while offering buyers an interior that's both voluminous and versatile. So despite a transmission that could use a bit more refinement, an interior that, although nice, is hardly luxurious in top trims, and the lack of a hybrid version, it remains one of the top vehicles to consider in its class.