The Pilot three-row crossover is an important vehicle for the Honda brand, as it has sold over 100,000 units annually for more than 10 years in a row. First launched in model year 2002, the Pilot’s design language became progressively more aerodynamic, which some critics interpreted as soft.
Honda’s design team set out to change that perception when they started development for the next-generation Pilot about five years ago. Among the updates were increased exterior length, a widened track, a longer hood, a squared-off hood and a strong horizontal beltline along the sides. All of those cues convey a more rugged appeal, and Honda hopes that these attributes set the Pilot apart in the competitive SUV segment.
Powertrain and trim levels
Underneath the hood of every new Pilot is a 285-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. New this year is a 10-speed automatic transmission that replaces the outgoing model’s 9-speed. Every trim receives paddle shifters for on-the-fly gear manipulation, and fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg combined.
The Pilot comes in five different trims: Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring and Elite, with price tags ranging between $35,950 and $52,030. That gives a broad range of choices, depending on a consumer’s budget and driving needs.
I was among about 50 journalists who were invited to the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, in January to be part of the media launch for this all-new fourth-generation Honda Pilot. We were given access to the Elite and the TrailSport.
The Elite slots as the high-end model, complete with niceties like a Bose 12-speaker audio system, a 10.2-inch customizable digital display, illuminated USB charging ports and an opening panoramic roof. All Pilots come with an easy-to-use touch screen (available on other Honda models), with hard keys and knobs for important functions like volume control, as opposed to digital menus.
The 2023 Honda Pilot’s interior versatility is where it shines, offering comfortable seating for seven or eight passengers. The third row has been adjusted to allow for a more natural seating position when compared to other vehicles in the segment. The second row is modular, and on some trim levels it comes with a removable center seat. This makes for three possible configurations: captain’s chairs with a center aisle, a center armrest with cup holders or a three-abreast row of seats. Best of all, the middle seat can fold and stow into the rear cargo area.
Speaking of cargo, the Pilot offers a handy parcel shelf on the passenger dash for smaller handheld items, a storage compartment that fits a laptop computer and a forward section of the center console that can fit two large phones sitting flat side-by-side (one of which can be charging wirelessly). The Pilot has a staggering 14 cup holders.
The Pilot that left me most impressed was the $48,350 TrailSport. Following are the features allocated with this trim.
- Stabilizer bars front and rear
- Tow hitch (5,000-pound towing capacity)
- Heightened ground clearance (an inch)
- Embossed wheels with inset spokes
- Dual underbody steel skid plates
- TrailWatch camera system
- Hill descent control system
- All-terrain tires
- Full-size spare tire
- Front and rear recovery points
Some of this equipment seems likely on a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota FJ Cruiser. To see these features on a three-row crossover is impressive. Sending power to all four wheels is Honda’s i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system, which detects wheel spin and transfers power wherever needed.
The word that comes to mind when I think of my two-day experience with the Pilot in Sedona is versatile. Whether on-road or off, the vehicle is confidence inspiring and capable. Despite being a high-profile vehicle, handling was predictable. I took a 48-mile loop through Cornville and Page Springs on a combination of two-lane highways and twisty backroads. In each environment, I found the power delivery to be ample and refinement top-notch.
Next, our 3.3-mile off-road trek up Broken Arrow Trail opened my eyes to the Pilot TrailSport’s off-road credentials. Seated next to me in the front row was Jed Aston, one of the development engineers who has put his heart and soul into this vehicle over the past five years at Honda’s Ohio-based facilities. In order to truly appreciate the suspension articulation at work, I got out of the vehicle a couple of times and had him drive so I could watch.
The Pilot delivers point and shoot dynamics. Some of the rock faces we climbed were steep and slippery, but the all-terrain tires worked seamlessly with the i-VTM4 torque-vectoring to get traction where it needed to go. In a narrow wooded stretch, we used the TrailWatch camera system to see how far our front corners were from trees. There were a few occasions when I grazed one of the underbody skid plates. “That’s what they’re for,” Aston said.
The capstone of our drive was Chicken’s Point lookout, where we soaked in the 360-degree panoramic sunset overlooking the vistas of the Coconino National Forest. The return leg afforded us a chance to use the Pilot’s hill descent control system, which automatically triggers the brakes and accelerator as needed to maintain a set low speed on grades at 7% or more. I was able to take my foot off the pedals and let the vehicle work its magic. Honda has made off-roading into a sport that just about anyone can participate in.
The new Pilot is a standout in its class and continues to uphold the traditions of value, capability and feature content that have made it such a popular vehicle over the past 20 years. Check out the listings of used Honda Pilots on KSL Cars. Chances are, there’s one out there with your name on it.