To keep your head when all about you are los­ing theirs

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE CARS PAGES - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

The pre­tense is gone. The 2016 Honda Pi­lot, par­tic­u­larly the Elite all­wheel-drive ver­sion used for this col­umn, no longer mim­ics a rough-stuff sport-util­ity ve­hi­cle.

In­stead, in what is now its third gen­er­a­tion, it is truer to its orig­i­nal con­cept as a friendly fam­ily hauler — mostly square-bod­ied in its 2016 man­i­fes­ta­tion, out­fit­ted with the latest ad­vanced elec­tronic safety and on­board en­ter­tain­ment equip­ment.

It is lux­ury enough for buy­ers more in search of value, util­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity than they are in need of a pres­ti­gious man­u­fac­turer’s badge to tell the world they are do­ing well.

Pres­tige, in this case, is rel­e­gated to the sub­stan­tially more ex­pen­sive, but like-bod­ied, Acura MDX. At an es­ti­mated $8,700 higher trans­ac­tion price for a sim­i­larly out­fit­ted MDX, you can have it.

Both the Pi­lot Elite and MDX are equipped with 3.5-liter ga­so­line en­gines with mar­ginal dif­fer­ences in horse­power and torque. The Pi­lot Elite de­liv­ers a max­i­mum 280 horse­power and 262 pound-feet of torque. The Acura MDX comes in at 290 horse­power and 267 pound-feet. For nearly $9,000, I can live with those dif­fer­ences.

Here’s the thing: Most peo­ple in the mar­ket for amid­size-to-large SUV aren’t look­ing for earth-scorch­ing per­for­mance or sub-five-sec­ond 0-to-60-mph times. Their pri­mary con­cerns are com­fort, safety, util­ity, de­cent fuel econ­omy, and over­all com­pe­tent and en­joy­able high­way per­for­mance.

The 2016 Pi­lot Elite gives them all that and more. It is an ex­cep­tion­ally well-ap­pointed ve­hi­cle, with leather­trimmed seats and steer­ing wheel and an er­gonom­i­cally sen­si­ble, easy-to-see­and-use in­stru­ment panel fea­tur­ing an eight-inch touch screen.

There is a Blu-Ray rear en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem with a high­def­i­ni­tion screen. There are five USB por­tals to keep pas­sen­gers con­nected with the out­side world, as­sum­ing they find that more ap­peal­ing than bond­ing with other peo­ple in­side the ve­hi­cle. The Pi­lot Elite is a mu­sic lover’s de­light — 540-watt pre­mium au­dio sys­tem with 10 speak­ers and sub­woofer, and an easy Blue­tooth con­nec­tion for stream­ing au­dio to turn smart­phones and other de­vices into por­ta­ble or­ches­tras.

How does it drive? Easily. I would have no trou­ble tak­ing this one across the coun­try, or on my usual round trip be­tween North­ern Vir­ginia and New York. The Pi­lot Elite is darn com­fort­able. And it is won­der­fully quiet, largely thanks to ex­tra ef­forts by Honda engi­neers to iso­late road noise. It is a pleas­ant place to be, es­pe­cially when driv­ing with con­tentious per­son­al­i­ties.

It is amaz­ing how an elec­tronic de­vice plugged into a USB por­tal can defuse ar­gu­ments. I’ve heard all that talk about how mod­ern tech­nol­ogy is erod­ing “fam­ily to­geth­er­ness” dur­ing travel time in cars and trucks. Baloney! I’ll take beep-beep, click-click over a mo­bile ar­gu­ment any­time.

My one com­plaint about the Pi­lot Elite has more to do with our in­creas­ingly sub­par U.S. driv­ing in­fra­struc­ture than it does with the ve­hi­cle it­self. The Pi­lot Elite is wide, nearly 6 feet 7 inches, which should al­low enough ma­neu­ver­able room on most roads in this coun­try. But, alas, too many of them are nar­rowed by on­go­ing re­pair work — ei­ther that, or their width is com­pro­mised by egre­gious dis­re­pair. The wide-bod­ied Pi­lot Elite be­comes a bit of an al­ba­tross in those set­tings.

Still, I’d hap­pily drive this one in most paved places, even in Bal­ti­more, the Dis­trict of Columbia and New York. It han­dles ex­tremely well, more like a sedan than a sport-util­ity or wagon. It rides high. I can see ev­ery­thing.

And there’s this: Many of those things I can’t see, or see im­me­di­ately, are han­dled by tech­nolo­gies such as blind­side mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert and lane-de­par­ture warn­ing. On foggy nights, when fel­low mo­torists are slam­ming on their brakes be­cause they’ve too quickly ap­proached ve­hi­cles ahead of them, the Pi­lot Elite helps out with for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing. I like all those things. They help, es­pe­cially on long drives un­der try­ing cir­cum­stances. Thank you, Honda. Thank you.

The Pi­lot Elite is won­der­fully quiet, largely thanks to ex­tra ef­forts by Honda engi­neers to

iso­late road noise.

HONDA/WIECK

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