Honda has always been known for its engineering prowess, but only recently has it become apparent to me that the Pilot SUV is one of the biggest demonstrations of a skill that continues to make the company stand apart from the competition.
From motorcycles to lawn mowers to business jets, Honda’s engineering marvels have stacked up over the decades. Recently, the company has essentially focused its corporate marketing on its ability to turn ideation into innovation with its engineering capabilities as the most important common denominator for its many marvelous machines.
And now to the Honda Pilot: More than one rider observed to me, essentially, that while the vehicle looks nice and tidy and Honda-brand minimalist from the outside –— with a reasonable footprint so that it doesn’t look like a tank coming down the road — once you get inside and look around, Pilot seems to go on forever and proves much roomier than expected. That, obviously, is a good trait for a nameplate that has evolved into Honda’s ace in the hole in the growing derby to sell three-row SUVs to millennials.
Of course, this perception is part some sort of optical illusion, because when you get to the third row of seats and behind, the actual room involved is a bit problematic. The third-row roominess is fine, but there’s little cargo space left behind it compared with some of Pilot’s competitors.
One of the most interesting wrinkles with the Pilot TrailSport version is the bright blue color of the model I reviewed. It stands out in the parking lot, garnering long looks and some thumb’s up from passers-by, and that color certainly stands out on the road, which is a very legitimate safety concern — something parents will consider among their many and growing number of choices in this category.
Honda recently introduced TrailSport to appeal also to drivers who want to tackle moderate-level off-roading — what I’ve referred to, with kids in the back seat, as “making a milkshake.” So Honda has outfitted TrailSport with a bit of extra lift for added ground clearance, all-terrain tires, steel skid plates, and a specially calibrated all-wheel drive system.
Pilot is a joy to use for normal three-row-vehicle activities as well, such as taking kids to school and plowing the family through a sudden snowstorm. It shares a mechanical platform with the Honda Odyssey minivan, but Honda’s redesign of Pilot for the new model year provides a lot of visual distance. Pilot is surprisingly spacious, with lots of cubbyholes that take advantage of the available space, and special touches such as a second row of seats that slide forward at the touch of a button to ease ingress and egress by kids from the third row. It’s the kind of sensible ergonomic move that Honda often makes and that, surprisingly, is rather novel to the category.
A revised V6 engine is pretty fuel-efficient, like a good Honda: Depending on its equipment, Pilot offers an EPE estimate of 20 combined for the all-wheel drive TrailSport up to 22 mpg combined for a front-wheel-drive model. Drivability is pretty good, providing down-the-middle dependability you’d expect from Honda engineering, without any outstanding — or concerning — capabilities.
Loading and unloading are very convenient with the rear floor in its highest position, helping with bulky items. And while Pilot does offer plenty of cargo space with that third row down, it’s in the little things where the vehicle excels, making use of the vehicle’s precious square inches. There’s an extra-large console tray and box in the center for front passengers, for instance, and there are all sorts of little spaces for stashing stuff in the front and rear doors.