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It’s Bigger, it’s Better, and it’s no longer Boxy.  For some, the more rugged appearance of the previous Pilot was a nice departure from most crossover SUVs on the road today.  For most, the sleeker styling of the all-new 2016 Honda Pilot is a long-awaited improvement.  And the changes only start there.  Almost everything else is also improved in this re-design, borrowing various enhancements from the Acura MDX that was introduced for 2014.

2016-honda-pilot-suv-side-view

Starting with the inside, it’s more spacious than before and is now among the leaders in the midsize class.  Honda added 3.5 inches to the new Pilot, helping to increase both legroom and cargo space in back.  That’s great for carseats and kids.  Thankfully, Honda didn’t change one of the best things about the Pilot: Four of the 6 rear seats have the LATCH carseat attachment system, while all six have top-tether anchors.  That makes it one of the most flexible SUVs for carseats in back.  Most trim levels seat eight, with only benches available in back, but the Elite trim is only available in a 7-passenger version with an aisle between two second row captain’s chairs.

Other improvements include a cabin that is much more refined and competitive than before, with softer materials all around.  The access to the third row is improved, so even adults can get back there more easily than before.  Cargo space behind the third row is 1.3″ longer than before, and even more spacious when you flip the stowable lid covering the deep storage area below.   If you have a lot of stuff to put behind the third row, the Pilot has more room than almost any midsize competitor.  You’d have to go to a minivan or huge full size SUV to do much better.  And there are lots more charging outlets for all those devices, too!

Safety:

Update: The 2016 Pilot earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS, and a Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with the Honda Sensing Package.  In addition, it earned the top “Good” rating in every individual crash test and a “Superior” front crash protection score.  The NHTSA rated the 2016 Pilot “5-stars” overall, and it earned 5-stars in all individual tests except for the Frontal Barrier Crash Rating for the Female Passenger and the Rollover Rating, both of which were 4-star results.  Very impressive overall.

As for features, there are a full array of airbags and standard safety features, like a multi-angle backup camera and hands-free bluetooth for taking calls on the road.  Only the base LX trim lacks optional advanced safety features. On the EX and EX-L, the Honda Sensing package offers a great array of safety enhancements as an option.  This includes Collision Mitigation Braking that qualifies it for the top IIHS rating, a Road Departure Mitigation system, Forward Collision warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control.  These are standard on the Touring and Elite trims. EX, EX-L and Touring models also have the nice Honda LaneWatch system, which is like a larger passenger side rear-view mirror that appears on the center console screen making it easier to make lane changes and turns to the right. Oddly, the blind spot and cross traffic alert systems are only available on the top Elite trim.

I tested these features as much as possible within the limits of safe driving, and none were intrusive like they can be on some vehicles.  All seemed to work well, though my Touring tester did not have blind spot or cross traffic alerts, a regrettable omission by Honda.  Emergency Handling, braking and performance all seemed typical for the class in my subjective testing.  Visibility seems better than average for the class, with large window openings, mirrors, relatively small pillars, the multi-view backup camera and LaneWatch (except for LX model).

Driving:

2016HondaPilotTouringHigwayFuelEconomyDespite the larger size, driving the Pilot drives about the same as before, though somewhat quicker.  It’s no sports sedan, to be sure, but it handles less like a bus than some of the larger midsize SUVs I’ve tested.  Power is still ample with the increased 280 HP V6 now with 5,000 lbs. towing capability.  More size and power don’t translate to awful fuel economy, as you might expect.  My Touring AWD trim with the 9-speed transmission and automatic stop-start idle system is rated at 19 city and 26 highway, which is very good for a vehicle this size.  I rarely manage to meet EPA estimates in non-hybrid vehicles I evaluate, but I obtained over 30 miles per gallon on a 300 mile interstate trip running the A/C at ~70mph, and almost 24 mpg in my usual suburban Chicago driving circuit.

That is by far the best result I’ve had in my non-scientific testing of midsize SUVs with a conventional V6 AWD powertrain and nearly as good as the Infinity QX60 Hybrid; a little worse around town, but better on the highway.  It 2016HondaPilotCaplessFuelwas also considerably better than the 2015 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD I tested, perhaps due in part to the automatic idle-stop system and 9-speed transmission on my Touring model.  Only the new 7-passenger Toyota Highlander Hybrid did significantly better in my short testing.  When filling up, there is also the convenience of a capless filler system (right), which seems to be making a comeback.

The softened minivan-like styling doesn’t translate to less rugged off-road capability, either.  Though I didn’t have an opportunity to test it, the AWD system is enhanced as well, featuring improved traction management software and a new limited-slip differential on the rear axle.  Unlike many AWD crossover vehicles that use traction control braking systems to limit wheel slip, Honda now uses a more robust electro-mechanical clutch system that allows more torque to be transferred to the rear wheel with better traction, and does it more quickly as well.  Honda offers Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes with AWD. On the road, I found the new Pilot to be similar to the old one with reasonable noise levels and relatively comfortable suspension at low speeds and on the expressway.

The new stop-start idle system is a great fuel saver that automatically disables the engine under certain conditions when the vehicle is stopped.  At first, this can cause a very slight hesitation when you are ready to go, as it takes almost a second for the engine to start again.  Simply letting off the brake a second early resolves this, and you can also disable the system entirely if you find it to be a nuisance. The transmission in my tester generally was very smooth.   I did note that it sometimes hesitated from a stop slightly, even with the stop-start system disabled.  Also, in some instances, it seemed to prematurely downshift a gear or two while coasting, causing the transmission to slow the vehicle more quickly than I would expect.  99% of the time, it offered a very smooth transfer of power to the wheels.

My biggest complaint is the lack of ventilated leather seats in front on the EX-L and Touring trim.  They get very hot and sweaty.  The lack of hard buttons and knobs on the touch screen interface is a minor annoyance.  The 8″ multimedia screen gets dirty very quickly, and seems to show smudges more than others I’ve used for some reason.  2016-honda-pilot-transmissionI also could not readily determine how to disable frequent alert tones that were presumably area traffic warnings from the NAV system, but sounded even when I wasn’t using it.  By the time I’d switch to the map view, the alert was gone.  I was also not fond of the push-button 9-speed automatic transmission for the Touring and Elite trims (right), but you get used to it quickly enough.  A more standard shifter is present in lower trim levels.

Seating:

The second row is standard with a three seat bench in all but the Elite trim that has two captain’s chairs instead.  The 60-40 bench moves separately forward and back for legroom adjustments.  A new push-button mechanism allows the seats to partially fold and move forward for easier and 3rd row access than before (EX-L and above), with a slightly lower step-in height too.

There are three LATCH seating positions in the 2nd row, with three separate pairs of lower anchors and a top tether for each seat.  The 2nd row is relatively wide overall and the middle seat has reasonable dimensions to allow for 3-across seating with some flexibility.  The headrests are adjustable and removable, though the center one may be too short for taller adults.  The lower anchors are relatively easy to find, but the ones for center and driver side can be easily confused if you don’t pay attention to the labels (dots for middle, tags for outboard).

2016HondaPilot2ndRow

The outboard seats will easily accommodate most carseats with LATCH or seatbelt installations.  The middle seat, while reasonably wide compared to some competitors, does have some challenges. Notably, the lower anchors for the middle crossover with the seatbelt stalk from the driver side.  There is also protruding plastic hardware for the seat recline/folding mechanism.  The combination of these two issues will make it a challenge to install some carseats with LATCH in the center, particularly if there is another carseat or booster rider next to it on the driver’s side seat.  Some of these issues can be resolved by using the seatbelt for installation in the center.  The buckle stalk for the center seatbelt is long, however, and may need to be twisted once or twice with some carseats.

2016HondaPilotDionoRadianTwistFor example, a rear-facing Diono Radian works very well in the center seat using the seatbelt to install, but required two twists of the buckle stalk for a secure installation. Similarly, a Graco Snugride 30 infant seat base fit well with a seatbelt installation, but the protruding recline hardware caused an unusual tilt when installing with LATCH in the middle seat.  This crossover issue is not uncommon in midsize vehicles and can also make it difficult for kids in boosters to buckle themselves, especially on the driver’s side when a carseat is in the middle.

The third row is also updated.  It retains one LATCH position on the passenger side and three total top tether anchors, making it among the best third row seats in that regard.  The lower anchors are slightly more recessed than in the second row but not difficult to find.  The passenger side seat is improved and somewhat wider than before.  This resolves an issue fitting some wider carseats there, especially when using the seatbelt for installation.  Fitting child restraints in either of the two outboard seating positions is generally easy.

The problem with the third row is that the middle seat seems a bit narrower than before, and the anchors for the seatbelt are extremely narrow as well.  Combined with slightly protruding recline hardware, this makes it difficult to fit anyone there comfortably for a long trip, with the possible exception of a thin pre-teen or a child in a narrow backless booster.   Three across carseats will be nearly impossible.  It will also be very difficult to fit some carseats in the middle or to fit a passenger between two carseats, even relatively narrow models like a Clek Oobr booster and Diono Radian (below, left).  Having two older kids along with one narrow carseat or booster in the third row is certainly possible, though (below, right).

2016HondaPilotThirdRowMiddle 2016HondaPilotThirdRowThreeAcross

Third row seat cushion height is still low, meaning no thigh support for taller kids or adults.  My son is 10 years old, weighs 80 pounds and is 4’9″ tall.  He fits fine in various vehicle lap/shoulder seatbelts without a booster, but in the third row of the Pilot, a Graco Affix booster provided much better lap belt fit (below, left).  He was also more comfortable than without a booster (below, center), due to the low seat cushions that kept his knees well above the seat.  Even the large Britax Frontier 90 CT fits well in the wider passenger side seat of the third row and he is right at the limit of the harness system (below, right).

2016HondaPilotThirdRowBooster 2016HondaPilotThirdRowSeatbelt 2016HondaPilotFrontierCTThirdRow

2016HondaPilotOutletsFamilies with lots of devices will be happy to find up to five USB jacks in Touring and Elite trims, four of which offer increased charging capability and two are easy to access for the second row.   EX and EX-L trim models get only the three USB jacks up front.  EX trim models and above get three 12V charging outlets in addition. Models with an entertainment system also get one 120V AC outlet for the second row.   That’s great on the high-end trims and good on EX/EX-L, but the lack of USB charging outlets for 2nd and 3rd rows in LX, EX and EX-L trims seems to be already obsolete for a brand new family vehicle.

Cargo:

2016HondaPilotCargoThere is no lack for storage in the new Pilot.  All rows fold nearly flat in full or in sections, offering a great deal of flexibility.  The space behind the third row is rivaled only by the Chevrolet Traverse (and siblings) in this category, while the deep storage under that space is nearly as generous as the Ford Flex. Door and console storage is also excellent, as are the additional side storage compartments in back.

Carseat Gallery:

Clek Oobr, Graco Snugride 30 Classic Connect and Britax Boulevard CT (left) fit three-across in the 2nd row.  Using LATCH for the booster leaves little room even for a child’s hands to buckle themselves in a driver’s side booster, though.  The Diono Radian works very well in the center, leaving a bit more room for buckling in a Graco Affix backless booster (below, center).  The Graco 4Ever and Maxi-Cosi Rodifix install easily with LATCH in the outboard seats (below, right).

2016HondaPilot2ndRowThreeAcross2 2016HondaPilot2ndRowThreeAcross 2016HondaPilotRigidLATCH

Top 10 Likes:

  • Honda Sensing advanced safety features available on EX/EX-L trim ($1000 option)
  • Bluetooth hands-free and backup camera standard on all trims
  • 4 LATCH, 6 total top-tether anchors, 3-across carseats possible in 2nd row
  • EX Trim 2WD w/Honda Sensing gets 19/27MPG at $33,430 MSRP
  • 2016HondaPilot3rdRowGood 3rd row legroom and cargo space behind 3rd row
  • Easier access to third row on either side than previous Pilot
  • 3rd row passenger side seat wider than before
  • Better than average visibility for its class
  • EX and EX-L trim gets three USB charging ports and three 12V outlets. (Touring/Elite get 5 USB, three 12V and one 120V AC)
  • Improved cabin is quieter, handling is acceptable for its size.

Top 10 Dislikes:

  • No crash test results available yet (Honda expects IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and 5-star overall NHTSA ratings)
  • Blind Spot/Cross Traffic system only on Elite trim
  • 3rd row middle seat is very limited
  • 2nd row middle seat is reasonably wide, but has some crossover issues with driver side seat
  • 2016HondaPilotSmudgyScreenNo ventilated leather seat option on Touring or EX-L trims
  • Transmission can hesitate from a stop sometimes
  • No USB ports for third row
  • Sleeker minivan-like styling may not appeal to everyone
  • 3rd row legroom improved, but still has seats low to the floor; best suited for kids in boosters and pre-teens
  • Quirks: Nav system often rotates and chimes randomly while driving, push button shifter feels odd on 9-speed automatic in Touring/Elite trim, smudgy screen with no hard buttons.

Conclusion:

The 2016 Honda Pilot is improved in almost every way.  If you’re looking for a 3-row SUV that is very flexible for seating kids and carseats, the new Pilot is among the top contenders.  Like the previous Pilot, it has 4 LATCH positions and 6 total top tethers, something few competitors match even in the largest SUVs.  Improved passenger space and fuel economy make it even better than before for those long family vacations and for hauling up to 7 kids around town.  There are a lot of competitive midsize SUVs on the market today, and the new Honda Pilot should be among the top choices for any family with young children.

Though likely not the top selling model, I find the EX trim level to a great choice for both safety and value when equipped with the Honda Sensing package.  With the 2WD model, you get impressive fuel economy and it starts well under $34,000 with advanced safety features not found in most midsize SUVs at this price point.  One omission is the one-touch second row seat folding feature found only in EX-L and higher trims.  That said, the Touring AWD model I tested has a lot to offer as well and at just under $43,000, it has almost everything you’d want as a standard feature.  Though the new Pilot is still no substitute for the family hauling capability of the Honda Odyssey minivan, it’s getting close!

 

Thank you to Honda USA for providing the 2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD used for this review.  All opinions are my own and no other compensation was provided.