FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Honda Pilot takes a new approach

Honda's all-new Pilot was developed around the theme “modern and refined"

Published: May 20, 2015, 11:00 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:12 PM

2016 Honda Pilot - 2016 Honda Pilot 

CINCINNATI, OHIO – Admitting that its current Pilot SUV had fallen behind the competition, Honda has unveiled a replacement that takes an entirely different approach.

The second generation Pilot, which was introduced in 2009, was developed to be rugged and utilitarian. But since then, the competition has moved relentlessly towards a focus on style and on-road manners and Pilot sales have tanked.

The 2016 Pilot, arriving at Honda stores in late July, was developed around the theme “modern and refined." It is visually and practically a complete about face with wholesale improvements across the board.

Comely new body

Gone is the box-on-wheels look, replaced by a comely new body that is longer, lower, sleeker and more contemporary.  It is the second vehicle based on Honda’s new Global Large Vehicle platform, after the new Acura MDX.

The 2016 Pilot is 90-mm longer overall and rides on a wheelbase greater by 45-mm. But its overall height and hood height are 25-mm lower. The entire vehicle is 130-kg lighter than the current model. 

In addition to a new-to-Honda platform and an all new body, the 2016 Pilot also has a new engine, two new transmissions, new all-wheel-drive system and a significantly altered suspension.

It will be available in LX, EX, EX-L and Touring trim levels. While prices have not been announced this far in advance of the on-sale date, Honda says they will be “competitive” and depending on which step up the trim ladder, the new Pilot will include $3,000 – to -$8,000 in additional standard features compared to the outgoing version.

At various levels of the trim ladder the 2016 Pilot will also come with LED projector headlights with auto high beam, 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof with separate shades for front and rear portion, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and second-row seats.

All models get an electronic owner’s manual and cap-less fuel filler.

Three-row seating

The 2016 Pilot remains an intermediate three-row SUV / CUV with seven- and eight-passenger configurations – second row bench or captain’s chairs.  Access to the third row is much improved thanks to a 45-mm larger opening, 30-mm lower step-in and a slick one-touch folding/sliding second row seat arrangement.

Because of the added length, the cargo area behind the third row seats is usefully big, able to accommodate items as large as a 78-litre cooler.

It is also blessed with a reversible cargo cover that can be used to hide items beneath, or set in the lower position for added cargo depth.

Technology rich

Research among current Pilot owners and those driving competitive vehicles has resulted in a huge leap in the infotainment field. The base audio system for the 2016 Pilot will have a 20-cm display, seven speakers including a sub-woofer and 225-watts of power. The Touring model gets a 10-speaker, 540-watt system.

The new Android-based display supports iPhone integration, a new Garmin navigation system boasts much greater functionality and the satellite radio offers new features.

There are five USB ports, two of them providing 2.5-amp capability. The optional 22-5-cm VGA rear screen entertainment system has Blue Ray capability, wireless earphones and phone jacks. There are HDMI inputs and 12- and 115-volt outlets.

Safety has become a Honda hallmark and the new Pilot builds on this with a suite of standard or available features. All models get “Honda Sensing” which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision, collision mitigation braking system and lane departure warning. The Touring model adds blind spot info and rear cross traffic monitoring

Stiffer and quieter

The new chassis is 25% stiffer, yet lighter than the outgoing model and Honda says the aerodynamics of the sleek new body are “best-in-class.” The weight savings were accomplished through the use of composites (B-pillar & battery base) magnesium (steering mount) and aluminum (bumper beams). 

You don’t have to travel more than a few-hundred metres to recognize and appreciate how incredibly quiet this vehicle is! The almost complete absence of road and wind noise is unique for something that punches such a big hole in the air.

The development team utilized acoustic glass with a sound insulating barrier sandwiched between two semi-tempered sheets of glass for the windshield and thicker glass in the front and rear side windows, there is foam in the door panels and thicker insulation is used throughout.

That initial drive also reveals much more-comfortable suspension tuning with amplitude-reactive shock absorbers at both ends. The ride is car-like in quality and the handling has been improved as well. There is less head toss over abrupt surface changes and both torque steer and vibration through the steering wheel have been reduced by other upgrades. 

Under the skin

Compared to the stylish new look and heightened level of technology the other major improvements are hidden from view – but make a major contribution to the newfound level of refinement.

The 2016 Pilot has more power but uses less fuel thanks, to a new-to-Honda engine. The 3.5-litre V-6 has variable cylinder management, direct injection and 30 more horses under the hood. Torque is also up slightly and peaks sooner. 

All but the Touring model get a new six-speed automatic transmission, instead of the five-speed in the outgoing Pilot. The lower first and taller top gears contribute to better launch off the line and more relaxed and efficient cruising.

The Touring model gets a nine-speed automatic that is 30% lighter and incorporates segment-first idle-stop capability. The transition between stop and start is as good as any I have come across but in these very early pre-production models there was a very slight delay.

While front wheel drive is standard on the base LX Pilot the rest get a sophisticated new AWD system and the first application of torque vectoring for Hondas in North America. Unlike most competitors this one does not require torque reduction.

Response time between a report of lost grip and diverting power to the rear wheels is 46% quicker, the new system is 10-kg lighter and it has 20% more torque capacity.

Aligned with this new AWD system is “intelligent traction management” – with driver-selected normal, snow, mud and sand settings. It automatically adjusts throttle response, amount of power transferred to rear wheels and transmission activity, starting in second gear in the snow, holding low in mud and sand settings and adjusting the action of vehicle stability and traction control systems, allowing some slip in mud and sand settings.

Designed in California, engineered by Honda R&D Americas at the company’s vehicle development center in Raymond, Ohio and produced at the massive Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama, the 2016 Honda Pilot is well placed to regain a prominent position in the mid-size SUV wars.


Model: 2016 Honda Pilot

Price: TBA

Engine: 3.5-litre SOHC V-6, 280 horsepower, 262 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: six or nine-speed automatic, FWD or AWD

Fuel Consumption (city/highway): 12.4/8.8 L/100 km FWD; 13.0/9.3 L/100 km AWD

Length: 4,941 mm

Width: 2,296mm

Wheelbase: 2,820 mm

Weight: 1,975 kg

Competitors: Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander