Since the third-generation Honda Pilot’s release in 2016, it was almost unanimously heralded for being one of the best entries in the three-row crossover segment. Families like the Honda Pilot for its ability to haul people and all their gear, and auto critics praise it for the way it drives like a traditional minivan rather than a truck and for its smooth naturally aspirated powertrain.
Competition amongst three-row SUVs has heated up since, with new models launched every year, the latest being the Volkswagen Atlas (reviewed here) and the Subaru Ascent (reviewed here). Both are excellent choices for shoppers looking for a family vehicle. These newer entrants have made the two-year-old Honda Pilot seem like an elder in the group. With the Pilot due for a mid-cycle refresh in 2019, we decided to bring in a 2018 Honda Pilot Touring AWD for a test to determine whether it is still a sensible choice until the new facelifted model arrives.
The Touring sits atop five available trim levels in its lineup. Painted in a Steel Sapphire Metallic colour, our test vehicle looks refreshing versus the normally black, grey, or white SUVs in the local Costco parking lot. Honda has kept a conservative approach when it came to designing the Pilot. Despite its rather traditional boxy shape, it does look handsome with proportional body lines and elegant chrome trim bits. The Touring adds a set of 20” aluminum wheels, panoramic sunroof, and projector-beam LED headlights to differentiate itself as the most luxurious one of the bunch.
All Pilots are powered by a 3.5L direct-injected i-VTECV6 engine with Variable Cylinder Management. The Touring trim replaces a six-speed transmission with a nine-speed automatic with Grade Logic Control and paddle shifters. Power is rated at 280 horsepower at 6,000RPM and torque is rated at 262 lb-ft. at 4,700RPM. Those who are used to cars equipped with modern turbocharged technology will gawk at those peaky power figures and hypothesize that the car is going to feel sluggish with delayed response. In real-world driving, it is exactly the opposite of that.
Power delivery of the Pilot is silky smooth, requiring minimal effort to bring the crossover up to speed in city traffic. I have always loved the smoothness of a naturally aspirated V6 engine, and Honda has a winning one at hand with this one (codenamed J35). As much as the power delivery is enjoyable, the nine-speed automatic gearbox is a bit disappointing, being a bit over the map. It constantly chases the highest gear available, requiring unnecessary kick downs on acceleration. It is exciting to hear that Honda has promised improvements to the nine-speed hardware and software offering more refinement.
Driving the Pilot is an effortless endeavour. The electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers sharp response for a car this size and has real road feel. It drives like it is lower than 1.7-metre height suggests, and it is far more similar to a traditional minivan than a typical three-row SUV. In the parking lot though, it is evident that the car is nearly five metres long, and you will be thankful that the Pilot is equipped with an excellent multi-angle rearview camera as well as front and rear parking sensors.
Fuel economy is rated at 12.4L/100km in the city, 9.3L/100km on the highway, and 11L/100km combined. Our weeklong test consisted of city commutes only, and I observed an average of 13L/100km. This figure is slightly higher than some of its peers in the segment that are powered by turbocharged four-cylinder engines, a worthy premium in my opinion for the linear power band and smooth delivery. It is also added value that the Pilot does not require premium fuel in its 73.8 litre fuel tank.
The interior layout of the Honda Pilot follows the typical Honda simple design and emphasizes Honda’s focus on practicality. There is an oversized centre storage console, plenty of storage trays and pockets inside the cabin, and Honda has graciously littered the interior space with countless cupholders. The interior space feels bright and roomy with the panoramic moonroof and an abundance of head and legroom. Third row legroom is often a shortfall with 3-row SUVs but I find the Pilot to be comfortable enough for adults even for longer journeys. Cargo volume behind the second row is rated at 1,557L, and is rated at 510L with the third row up.
The Pilot Touring comes with a full suite of comfort and convenience features, right on par with the competition. Equipment includes leather seats and both of the front seats are power-adjustable, heated, and ventilated. The second-row captain’s chairs are heated as well and rear passengers will enjoy an entertainment system with nine-inch display, integrated remote control with wireless headsets with personal surround sound. The Touring also distinguishes itself with a 540W premium audio system with 10-speakers including subwoofer and surround sound, rather than a 225W seven-speaker system in other trims.
You can navigate the Pilot’s infotainment system using the colour touchscreen in the dashboard. The graphics are vivid and touch response is precise, however I always prefer an infotainment system that is controlled by rotary dial rather than touch screen to avoid distractions on the road. Honda has listened to customer feedback and they will be bringing back the all-important volume knob in the 2019 Pilot. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is supported and the Touring model comes with navigation for those who do not want to use their mobile phone to find their way around.
The Honda Sensing safety system is standard for the Touring trim. Our test vehicle was equipped with Collision Mitigation Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Road Departure Mitigation systems, as well as side curtain airbags for all three rows.
The 2018 Honda Pilot starts at $40,590, and the Pilot Touring starts at $51,990. It slots itself in between some of its newer competition such as the Subaru Ascent Premier ($49,995) and Volkswagen Atlas Execline ($53,440). Comparing the Pilot to the Ascent and the Atlas, it is still a capable SUV but does start to feel long in the tooth. It will be interesting to see how the refreshed 2019 Honda Pilot measures up with a much-needed update to the transmission, infotainment, and rear entertainment system.