Not only are they popular choice on the press fleets this time of year, they’re a popular choice for just about every family in Canada. Thanks to all-wheel-drive prowess and extra room, families are flocking to the SUV market in droves. It was prudent to revisit one of our favorites here at DoubleClutch.ca, so I set myself up with a decked-out 2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition to see if it still stands as one of our top choices.
The current Pilot has a few years on it now, with this latest generation having been introduced for the 2016 model year. Now four years on, it remains largely unchanged. For 2020, the Pilot does get slightly restyled front and rear ends, remaining one of the most cohesive looking designs in the segment. The proportions, fluid lines, and conservative style mean the Pilot looks a bit more refined than some of its competition. The Black Edition takes the loaded Touring trim and adds a bit of trendy style with 20-inch gloss black wheels and blacked-out trim. Finished in Crystal Black Pearl (the Black Edition is also available in Platinum White Pearl) the treatment suits the lines well.
Dimensionally the Pilot is large, even when parked in the driveway next to our own Cadillac Escalade. The benefits of the beastly dimensions are apparent inside with cavernous head and leg room for second row passengers, and a third row that is not only easy to access, but comfortable for children and smaller adults. The third row does significantly cut into the cargo area though, as expected, so don’t expect plan to haul much cargo with the third row in use. Happily though, folding any of the rear seats flat is as easy as pulling a lever or pull cord.
The interior of the Pilot is one of the big reasons I’ve liked this generation so much over the years. Every inch has been thought out to optimize storage and convenience; the front door panels offer two levels of storage pockets, the centre console is massive and features a huge storage bin with a recessed lid – it’s one of the best consoles in the business. My only criticism is the push button gear selector – it works fine, but takes up jut as much console space as a traditional shifter; if anything, a good old fashioned column shifter would free up more space and be even more practical.
Interior materials are not what I’d consider luxurious by any means, but the black plastics and soft touch rubbers feel sturdy, well put together and hard-wearing. The Black Edition comes with soft perforated leather heated and cooled seats with red contrasting stitching, and a matching heated leather wrapped steering wheel. The HondaLink eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system has been recently updated and is clean, crisp and easy to use, with the exception of the fact that it doesn’t have a tuner knob. Of course, the system is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the 11-speaker 600W stereo sounds good as well.
Under the hood of every Pilot you’ll find Honda’s “J35” 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection. Output is 280 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and torque is rated at 262 lb-ft. at 4,700RPM. These are decent numbers and enough for the Pilot to feel peppy at city speeds. The V6 also features Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that seamlessly shuts down three of the cylinders when not needed to save fuel. On the highway or under hard acceleration the V6 does run out of breath quickly. Where the engine does show its worth is power delivery that’s buttery smooth and refined, just the way a family SUV should be, not to mention the fact that this engine has been around in various forms for decades and should prove itself very reliable.
The V6 is mated to either a six-speed automatic on lower trims, or the more modern ZF nine-speed automatic in Touring trims (as well as in our Black Edition tester). Power flows to all four wheels through the Pilot’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system, with Intelligent Traction Management, which allows you to select your terrain to optimize the handling for specific conditions.
The Pilot averaged 10.6L/100km over a week of rush hour commuting, which is very respectable for a seven-seater SUV with an all-wheel-drive system and a punchy V6. Also, unlike its close cousin, the Acura MDX (reviewed here), the Pilot is happy drinking regular 87-octane fuel.
The driving experience of the Pilot is one of its strong points; the steering is responsive and offers decent feedback. The V6 is refined and smooth, as is the nine-speed transmission, which makes for very comfortable and easy driving. The cabin is very quiet as well, with the exception of noise from what is my biggest complaint with the Pilot – the suspension. The ride quality is choppy and unrefined, and the suspension itself seems to generate a bit of noise over bumps that intrudes into the otherwise quiet cabin. If Honda were able to sort out this suspension without sacrificing the sharp dynamics, this would easily be the best driver in the segment.
When it comes to pricing, the Pilot isn’t exactly a bargain. A stripped down LX model, which does get the Honda Sensing suite of electronic safety aids and a remote starter, starts at $43,236. The Black Edition at $55,190 is based on the Touring. The Touring adds just about any gadget you could ask for in a family hauler, including an in-vehicle intercom and the 10.2” Blu-Ray player rear entertainment system. While the pricing on the lower trim levels is in line with competitors like the Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander, the price for a Touring is notably more than loaded up versions, and even slightly above fully loaded examples of the new Hyundai Palisade (reviewed here) and Kia Telluride – which do come off as more luxurious.
Regardless of the pricing strategy and the suspension, I still really like the Honda Pilot. It does everything a family needs and wants in a big hauler well, and that V6 is so smooth that I am willing to forgive the ride quality. I guess that answers the initial question; despite the heated competition, the 2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition still stands as a favorite in this segment.