Honda’s new Pi­lot makes road trip en­ter­tain­ing and en­joy­able

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Haney Louka

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.

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