Honda’s new Pilot makes road trip entertaining and enjoyable
I’VE recently had a few heated discussions regarding the styling of Honda’s redesigned Pilot. Those who found the old model too square welcome its slippery new profile. actually liked the old Pilot because it stood out from the crowd — it was just boxy enough to be instantly recognizable. Now, though, it sports a slippery new shape that looks similar to a mixture of a few other three-row crossovers currently on the market. As a result, the trademark Pilot look is no longer. What matters, though, is what Honda has done to improve the Pilot as it is poised to become the brand’s bestselling three-row vehicle. It hasn’t happened yet though: Honda sold 8,230 Pilots in Canada compared to 11,272 Odysseys. More telling is the change in volumes from the previous year; Pilot is up 34.6 per cent while Odyssey is down two per cent.
When I first got my hands on the Pilot in early December, I immediately thought it would be the perfect ride for an upcoming trip to Fargo, N.D. At 350 kilometres each way, it is an easy drive, but would still allow us to expose the Pilot to conditions that differ from those when we drive around town.
But first things first: what made me think this would be the ideal road trip vehicle is Honda stuffed every conceivable option into our tester. So even though the Pilot starts at $35,490, our Touring tester rang the register at $50,490 before freight and taxes. There are several features of this Touring model that contribute to its suitability as a longdistance hauler.
The Touring, for example, has automatic high-beams so the night can stay bright without annoying other motorists. The navigation system (also available on the EX-L Navi) is always a plus when on the road, but Honda’s system lags when it comes to stress-free voice commands to access its various functions. Heated second-row captain’s chairs and a built-in DVD/Blu-ray entertainment system made sure the kids were good and spoiled during the trip. (That entertainment system, by the way, includes HDMI input and 540 watts of surround sound.) A 115V outlet and A/V inputs mean there’s no way anyone can get bored riding in the back.
There are also items included in the Touring that don’t necessarily help on a road trip.
This is the only model that includes Honda’s new, ninespeed transmission and paddle shifters to go with the 280-horsepower V-6 that powers all models. It also gets an auto start/stop feature that shuts the engine off when the vehicle is at rest. According to fuel consumption numbers, Touring city consumption drops to 12.4 L/100 km from 13.0 L thanks to these features, but highway consumption is unaffected at 9.3 L.
We averaged about 12.0 L/100 km over the course of our trip, about 85 per cent of which was on the highway. Seems a bit much, but one must consider the use of the factory remote start (standard across the board) in winter and the 75-m.p.h. limit on Interstate 29 south of the border.
Adaptive cruise control, available on all except the base LX model, did a fine job of keeping the Pilot’s distance from slower vehicles ahead on I-29, but surprisingly the system had trouble holding a constant speed when no one else was around. I don’t know if the radar system was confusing things, or if having so many gears in the transmission resulted in a bit of surging on slight grades, but it’s disconcerting when something that has worked well for decades starts to suffer when new tech is introduced.
Road and wind noise on the highway are kept at bay, something that hasn’t traditionally been a Honda strong suit, and something that helps the powerful audio system sound full and crisp at elevated highway speeds. What continues to be a strong suit, though, is the ride and handling balance Honda’s engineers have struck here, keeping things comfortable without injecting too much float into the experience.
Having four on board (plus luggage) meant we didn’t use the third row, but rather folded the seats down to gain cargo space. It was a cinch to fold the seats and it left a large, flat loading floor for our stuff. The power liftgate is acceptably speedy but some competitors (Hyundai and Ford come to mind) have hands-free ways to get that liftgate open without fumbling with the fob.
The seat-mounted armrests were appreciated on the long drive as they stayed out of the way of the centre console, making way for a huge storage area with a sliding cover. That means easy access to your stuff without having to flip up the armrest to access it. Open storage ahead of the shift buttons with USB and 12V outlets nearby just make sense.
My only real beef, common across the Honda lineup, is activating the touch screen.
Unlike other brands, you must accept the legal liability of using the screen each and every time you get in. If you don’t, the screen reverts to a starry night sleep mode that can only be awakened by pushing the brightness or back buttons to the left of the screen. It’s a frustrating thing to figure out the first time and I didn’t grow any fonder of it as the days wore on. If Honda insists on making its drivers tap the OK button each time, the least they can do is allow the display to wake up with a single tap of the screen.
Overall, the Pilot met or exceeded my expectations as an ideal highway cruiser for a family getaway. Combine its fine highway manners with features — some standard, some not — that make the time spent on the road more enjoyable, and it’s a difficult package to beat.
The cabin is exceptionally quiet, spacious and well-designed. The touch screen (below) works well, but requires the user to accept legal liability each time the
vehicle is started — a step that grows tiresome.