SUV Review: 2020 Honda Pilot
|driving.ca 03 Jun 2020 at 12:37|
I mean, sometimes it does. There are a few vehicles on the market riding on decade-old platforms that really don’t make a strong case for themselves, but as much as the three-row SUV segment looks very different today than it did a couple of years ago — including the entirely new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride , or the recently redesigned Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander — the Honda Pilot is over here quietly being a reasonable, practical, and fairly fuel-efficient choice, at least as far as gas-only options are concerned.
While the third-generation Pilot heads into its fourth year in 2020, last year’s refresh went a long way in updating the Pilot’s features to keep it feeling contemporary. Still, two factors remain that may give cross-shopping buyers pause: it looks and rides like a five-year-old SUV, and it struggles to match some of its newer competition on value.
If you like your SUVs with standard all-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 engine, then the Pilot has you covered: this latter is a steady performer making a competitive 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. With the help of variable cylinder management and a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s exclusive to the top trims, this engine produces some impressive fuel efficiency numbers, especially in highway driving.
Natural Resources Canada rates the Pilot Touring at 12.4 L/100 kilometres in the city, 9.3 on the highway, and 11 combined. My heavy right foot doesn’t always align with NRCan’s figures, but this time it did: my week-long average of 11.7 in mixed-use driving is among the best figures I’ve recorded in a gas-only three-row SUV in 2020.
That said, the Pilot does show its age through its handling. Several newer vehicles in the segment have perfected a lighter, more level and car-like feel, while the Pilot feels heavier than its 1,964-kilogram curb weight suggests, and exhibits some bounce on rough roads and body roll in curves. It’s not so pronounced as to be unacceptable at all; it’s just that vehicles like the Palisade, Telluride, and Explorer are doing better.
One thing I appreciate about the Pilot is that, relative to some of those aforementioned new arrivals, its looks are less experimental and more traditional. The exterior design and proportions are pleasant, if not especially memorable.
The interior on this eight-passenger Touring trim comes across as very dark, with its black-on-black materials and lack of panoramic moonroof in the rear. The EX-L Navi trim comes with a grey leather that might help brighten things up, but you also lose that nine-speed automatic and a whole host of features. The seven-passenger Touring does include a panoramic moonroof without giving up the roof-mounted rear-seat infotainment system, but the eight-passenger variant just happens to be stuck in the middle with the benefit of neither.
Functionally, though, the Pilot’s interior is quiet with good all-around visibility and well-considered features throughout. I’m a fan of the cupholders mounted into the outboard armrests in the second and third rows; these tend to be easier for kids to reach and use than the ones in middle armrests or in door pockets. There are three on each side in the third row, which also comes with plenty of legroom. But there are no USB ports back there, a very useful feature that’s starting to appear in other three-row SUVs. The second row makes up for that, though, with a 115- volt plug and two charging USB ports to go with the heated outboard seats.
One area where Honda tends to excel is in cargo space, and that’s true of the Pilot as well. It has 524 litres behind the third row, 1,583 litres behind the second row, and 3,092 behind the first row, and it’s all made more usable with seats that fold fully flat to make the best use of that space.
There are some usability gripes to be had, though. For example, while we’ve discussed here at Driving that at times, I find that the straps on these are very prone to bouncing down between rows, which left me climbing into the hatch more than once to retrieve them. I also find the electronic gear selector, particularly the trigger action on reverse, to be even less user-friendly and not at all intuitive.
Honda’s infotainment system continues to evolve, and it’s in a good place right now. The home screen is composed of an icon layout that look similar to a smartphone, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard equipment. I prefer hard buttons for things like radio station tuning, but on the other hand, the digital buttons used here are laid out to be closer to the driver and therefore more ergonomically sound. Plus, this might be old news by now, but Honda returned the volume knob to the Pilot last year — thank goodness. Just be aware that if you’re listening to satellite radio and lose signal, the radio doesn’t self-mute and it makes an awful popping sound as though the glass on your vehicle is imploding.
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On the upside, the list of standard features is decent: 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, heated front seats and exterior mirrors, automatic high beams, and the Honda Sensing safety suite that includes forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking (though I confess that I sometimes find the flashing ‘BRAKE’ graphic more distracting than helpful) as well as lane keep assist, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. On the downside, a base MSRP of more than $40,000 — $41,290, to be precise, or $43,236 including delivery fees — is higher than average for the segment.
Zooming in on this eight-passenger tester, the feature list gets closer to competitive for the price point of $53,290, or $55,236 including fees: ventilated front seats with driver’s side memory, heated second-row outboard seats, 20-inch wheels, blind spot warning, auto-leveling front headlights, a hands-free power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, Honda’s CabinTalk voice projection feature, a wireless charger, and a rear-facing ceiling-mounted entertainment system, among others. That said, I’d opt to pay $400 more for the seven-seater’s captain’s chairs and added panoramic moonroof, unless I really needed that extra seat.
The only factor that’s truly working against the Honda Pilot is how low some of its competitors have managed to get on price while offering newer designs and similar features. But if you stumble across a great deal and aren’t fussed over appearances, the Pilot’s fuel efficiency and practicality make it a stout choice.