The cherry on top is the use of old school VTEC, where the engine kicks into high cam.
We have found the purpose for the 2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition. Hear us out – you are at a point in life that your family is growing; your beloved hot hatch is struggling to keep up with your family needs. The inner enthusiast does not want a basic appliance and yearn for advanced engineering in their vehicle. The family wants more room for bikes and gear on road trips. Kids don’t want to be within arm’s length from each other for long trips. The wife can’t stand the noisy kids in the back with their constant bickering. Your in laws are complaining you never take them along with your road trip.
The harsh reality of family life usually means sacrificing your soul; your beloved pocket rocket that’s been with your since university. Life forces you to embrace the characterless minivan. But wait; the Honda Pilot is a three row seven passenger mid-size SUV first introduced back in 2002. For 2021 we are now into the mid cycle refreshed third generation. The Pilot has been growing with each generational update to better accommodate family needs and blurring the lines between minivan and mid-size SUV.
The image of an SUV faintly resembles a rugged outdoor all conquering off roader, helping soothe the anguish of buying into a minivan. As crazy as it sounds, this is what the market trend confirms with the number of large SUV you see on the road and supermarket lots. Before I mislead anyone into thinking the 2021 Honda Pilot is some sort of sand dune hopping all-wheel drive Baja monster or Honda’s trail rated truck, it is not. It is still a calm and subdued family hauler which is extremely comfortable for the long haul.
The suspension is soft with supple dampening allowing drivers to coast through the roughest pavement without upsetting the ride. Body control is excellent, your occupants won’t be complaining about motion sickness. Lightweight steering makes parking lot maneuvers a cinch. Despite numb steering, there is still enough weight and response to allow cruising in confidence.
Pilots also come with Honda’s i-VTM4, an Intelligent Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system. This system is mechanically the same as Acura’s renowned SH-AWD with a more pedestrian tune. i-VTM4 is programmed purely for traction, safety and inspiring confidence in all conditions. The system can do a maximum torque split of 50% front and 50% rear. However the trick part which sets this system apart is the ability to split 100% of the power sent to the rear between the left and right wheels.
This is achieved by using computer actuated clutch packs in the rear differential to distribute torque. This system transforms the Pilot dynamically. The sensations of the rear outer wheel being driven to help rotate the Pilot through turns can be clearly felt. This is not done only in extreme speeds or conditions but all the time. Along with excellent ground clearance of 185mm and incredible grip, getting the Pilot stuck is next to impossible. It is mind boggling why Honda does not even advertise their superb system on their website as a feature of the Pilot.
The engine is another feature adding to the Pilot’s character. The tried and true 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection and i-VTEC is tuned to perfection at this point. It is buttery smooth and refined with sufficient grunt down low to get this big hunk of metal moving without resorting to forced induction. The engine produces 280 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 262 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700RPM.
The cherry on top is the use of old school VTEC, where the engine kicks into high cam at around 5,500RPM. The engine note changes from a subdue grunt to into a fierce growl. This is the type of engineering which makes a family hauler that much more appealing to those who are still young at heart. The transmission is a nine-speed automatic that does a great job keeping operations smooth and crisp, but it’s not going to snap anyone’s head off with lightning shifts.
A lot of tech has also been implemented to keep fuel consumption acceptable for a big vehicle. This includes an idle stop-start system, Eco assist, and variable cylinder management. The Pilot is rated at 12.4L/100km city and 9.3L/100km highway for a combined 11L/100km. During our week of testing, we averaged 12.3L/100km with a good mix of city and highway driving. The results are pretty good considering the amount of snow and cold weather during our test.
Onto the practical bits that make the Pilot a minivan alternative, the interior is cavernous with tons of space for all three rows. Even adults can get comfortable in the third row, albeit not recommended for longer road trips. Getting in and out of the third row does not require you to be a contortionist either, with easy access. The captain’s chairs in the second row can slide and recline for the perfect position and are heated. Overall legroom is down just a touch compared to the Odyssey, but it’s enough for most.
The one area in which a crossover can’t match a minivan is cargo. Behind the third row there is only 510-liters of capacity, and with the third row folded this grows to 1,583-liters. The Odyssey’s numbers are nearly double at 929-liters behind the third row and 2,452 behind the second row. To get in on the stylish crossover SUV, some sacrifices are required.
What the Pilot gives up in interior space it makes up for in interior ergonomics. Honda has always been a master in space management. The Pilot is littered with cup holders and storage cubbies. The box between the driver and passenger seats is one of my favourite features. The cover of the box sits flush with the console and has a sliding cover with a large flat surface to use. The spot is perfect for holding your takeout and beverage trays. The doors are given a two tier storage arrangement for storage galore.
The infotainment is mediocre with a simple and intuitive system, however there is noticeable lag between menus. The screen on the infotainment could be bigger considering there is so much real estate on the dash, though Android Auto and Apple CarPlay make connectivity easy. The mobile integration is also a saving grace for the native Honda system due to a frustrating tendency for music to repeatedly cut out when streaming through Bluetooth. The rear entertainment is a godsend, streaming through HDMI and Blu-Ray. A CabinTalk feature allows you to still get your kids’ attention by projecting your voice into their headphones.
Interior material usage is quite good for the segment, with injection molded soft touch plastic as the material of choice. Key touch points such as armrests and steering wheel are leather wrapped with red stitching specific to the Black Edition. All the seating is leather wrapped with red stitching accents that break up the dark interior a bit. Overall cabin is of decent quality, but if you are looking for budget luxury like the Hyundai Palisade, the Pilot may not check all the boxes for you.
Talking about stylish SUVs, the 2021 Honda Pilot is one of the better looking crossovers on the market. The Black Edition dresses the Pilot with piano black trim all around. The blacked out wheels are subtle and makes the Pilot look that much sportier. The black grill and LED headlights give the Pilot an aggressive fascia. The body has clean simple lines and good proportions, too.
The three-row crossover segment is stacked with competition. Shoppers will most likely cross shop the Pilot with the Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas. The Pilot has the highest starting price at $44,576 with our range topping Black Edition costing a whopping $58,476 as-tested. The Volkswagen Atlas starts at $40,095 and tops out at $57,910. The Toyota Highlander starts at $40,450 and tops out at $56,450. The VW offers the most cargo space of the three, while the Highlander offers a unique hybrid option. The Pilot has the best engine and all-wheel-drive system in the segment.
The crossover is a great alternative to the minivan which a lot of buyers previously made the default choice as a family hauler. The 2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition is an excellent family vehicle while giving up on some cargo adds a lot of mechanical capabilities. Kudos to Honda for giving the Pilot some character, helping it standout in a sea of beige crossovers.