2023 Honda Pilot Review: A Great Road-Trip Mate for 8
With immense interior space, family-friendly features, and a truly usable third row, the Pilot makes a case for the large SUV.
As a single 25-year-old with no children, I am quite possibly the farthest thing from the 2023 Honda Pilot’s target demographic. To get the real story of the Pilot, I requisitioned help from my family, throwing them in the back for a week so I wouldn’t feel like the world’s youngest empty nester. The first thing to know about the Pilot is that it’s all-new for 2023, with a new engine, transmission, body, suspension platform, and interior. It is gargantuan but austere in its execution and has almost limitless interior space wrapped in the newest generation of Honda design. It looks decent and feels decent, but certainly isn’t an object of desire. It’s pure usefulness.
Peeling back the layers of the Pilot, I figured out what it really is. It’s the new American land yacht. It’s big, spacious, comfortable, and ready for anything a road trip throws at it.
|2023 Honda Pilot Specs|
|Base Price (as tested)||$37,645 ($53,375)|
|Powertrain||3.5-liter V6 | 10-speed automatic | all-wheel drive|
|Horsepower||285 @ 6,100 rpm|
|Torque||262 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|Curb Weight||4,660 pounds|
|Cargo Volume||21.8 cubic feet behind third row | 59.5 cubic feet behind second row | 111.8 cubic feet behind first row|
|EPA Fuel Economy||19 mpg city | 25 highway | 21 combined|
|Quick take||Big, reasonably comfy, efficient family transportation.|
The Pilot is something of an institution for the three-row family SUV market. This newest generation has grown up quite a lot and is a far cry from the first generation from 2002. It’s even bigger than before, has a more square face, and has Honda’s new-look corporate interior that significantly classes the space up. Now, the Elite trim has a full-LCD gauge cluster that replaces the old partial-LCD, a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and the updated Honda Sensing advanced driver’s assistance suite is standard across the whole range.
All pilots are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 making 285 horsepower and paired to a 10-speed automatic gearbox, but buyers can choose between front- or all-wheel drive. For the nerds, Honda added twin-cam heads to the previous V6 as well as another gear to the transmission. Underneath the Pilot is the same construction that made the original so notable in 2002: a unibody with extremely car-like construction. This is one of the tricks the Pilot pulls to offer a more comfortable, quieter ride than a body-on-frame truck-style SUV.
Honda likes to boast about the cleaner, more chiseled exterior, but the real highlight to me is the interior. It’s modern, clean, functional, and easy to use while being almost comically cavernous. The inside of the Pilot is massive, with room to spare. The reclinable second row easily accommodates three adults in decent comfort with plenty of legroom, while the reclinable third row is one of the most usable ones I’ve encountered. There’s enough space back there for two adults to survive over an honest-to-god road trip and feels like the rear seats of a typical hatchback. The middle seat of the second row is easily removable and stowable below the trunk floor in the Elite, making the space even more flexible.
From the driver’s seat, you get a tall and commanding view of the road. The best part of it all is the utter simplicity and quality of everything you interact with—there are buttons and knobs for every major function in the cabin. It doesn’t have much wow factor, but there's plenty of long-term substance that will keep the cabin non-irritating for a long time. One of the few gimmicks is a feature called CabinTalk that allows you to yell at folks in the third row using the onboard microphones and stereo. All of the tech works well and never feels overwhelming, which is a rare achievement.
This top Elite model gets some tech that other trims don’t like a head-up display, perforated synthetic leather with black accents, rain-sensing wipers, and the full-LCD gauge cluster. It shares the reasonably bangin’ 12-speaker Bose stereo with the Touring, and heated steering wheel from the TrailSport, as well as the trail camera system.
Driving the Honda Pilot
Clambering up into the Pilot’s throne inspired me to have the most relaxing week of driving possible. More importantly, I wanted to share as much of that driving with other people as I could to test what it will actually be used for. For every trip I took, I borrowed at least two people to join me to judge all-around comfort and had one trip with a full eight-person house.
The amount of space that is on offer to just kick back and drive underhand is astounding. There was endless head, knee, and legroom for my frame and the seats were reasonably soft and supportive. Even if I stretched out for a long drive, rear passenger room was barely compromised. For my rear passengers, there were no comfort issues on a two-hour round-trip drive, even for the one adult I forced into the third row for testing purposes. There’s plenty of storage too, with 14 cupholders and huge door pockets that will fit even the widest of insulated water bottles.
Road noise and overall cabin volume were decently controlled but not impressively quiet. My tester had some slight wind noise coming from the A-pillars at highway speeds, while the frequencies of rough roads did travel into my ears with a dull white noise. It is capable of being quiet on a normal interstate, but I did wish that road noise was more isolated overall.
A bit more discomfort comes from the conventional suspension of the Pilot. While the ride is well-controlled with a long, loping grace over most surfaces, harsher cracks and bumps in the road do crash into the cabin slightly. With the combination of a rough road and jarring bumps, it does become noticeably loud in the cabin. It’s not extremely loud by any means but could stand to feel a bit more like $53,000. Overall comfort is high, but this is where it feels farthest from a luxury product and much closer to its $37,000 base price. An impressive aside was the parking lot maneuverability of the thing. Its shockingly small compact car-sized turning circle and light low-speed steering make parking the Pilot a cinch.
Much of the powertrain is carried over from the previous Pilot and clearly engineered to fade into the background. Shifts from the 10-speed automatic were smooth and never got confused, and there wasn’t much gear hunting to speak of even with double-digit ratios. Power is decent enough for relatively easy overtaking and acceleration, and the engine is quiet and smooth even near redline.
Weirdly enough, the Pilot does handle well. Mostly by virtue of its low-rolling-resistance tires, it’s fun enough to take through turns and inspires confidence with light but precise steering. As a hulking mass of an SUV, its weight danced around a lot and made it interesting. But you will surely make your passengers sick.
Settling back into highways and wide-open roads is where the Pilot shines brightest. The latest version of Honda Sensing worked well in most situations, with the adaptive cruise control being a particular highlight. Lane keep assistance was good but the lane centering sometimes oscillated when trying to find the center of the lane. With the Elite’s LCD gauge cluster, though, it was easy to see what the car’s brain was doing and gave me a lot of confidence in using the systems. It also did stops and starts on its own.
As far as rear passengers, I got glowing reviews from the back of the Pilot. My family was comfortable, stretching luxuriously, and enjoying putting up the rear window shades and taking a nap. I took my folks to go look at the California wildflower superbloom and it was just about the perfect vehicle for it, with the ride off-road being particularly good. If nothing else, it was a great way to carry six people around in comfort.
The Highs and Lows
As a huge, three-row people-carrying SUV, the Pilot is amazing. It fits a lot of people, all of their things for short trips and most of their things for long trips, has a stunning 1.75:1 cupholder-to-seat ratio, and is genuinely comfortable for every single passenger. Not all three-row SUVs can boast this, and the Pilot well and truly has it covered to the level of a minivan. Bravo, Honda.
While the Pilot has gotten substantially nicer over the years, so has its competition. While it’s overall very good, there could be a bit more road noise insulation for louder surfaces. The simplicity of its cabin is also a virtue and a definite pro for most, though the buyers looking for wow factor and more tech will be disappointed.
Honda Pilot Features, Options, and Competition
This large three-row SUV segment is red hot. The Pilot is up against the truly great Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, Mazda’s new CX-90, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander (Grand and otherwise), Ford Explorer, Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Chevy Traverse, Dodge Durango, and Jeep Grand Cherokee L. All of these SUVs land near $37,000 to start and top out in the mid-$50,000 range. The Pilot lands near the top of the pile, even though the competition is very stiff.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to Pilot trim levels. Starting with the base LX, the range moves up in $3,000-$4,000 increments through the Sport, EX-L, Touring, TrailSport, and Elite. Each model trickles in features with the middle EX-L offering the most value with leather, wireless Apple CarPlay, a power tailgate, and parking sensors for $43,645 (or $45,745 with all-wheel drive).
Base Pilot LXs come with keyless entry and keyless start, Honda Sensing, and a seven-inch touchscreen. Sport adds a leather steering wheel, larger wheels, blind spot monitoring, and roof rails. TrailSport includes a 360-degree camera system, skid plates, and off-road suspension. Touring adds in a panoramic sunroof, Bose stereo, stowable middle second-row seat, and satellite navigation. The top-trim Elite does all of that plus a head-up display, heated second row seats, heated and cooled front seats, and the aforementioned 10.2-inch LCD gauge cluster.
The Pilot is precisely average in the segment in terms of fuel economy. Most vehicles in this class land right where the Pilot is, while the turbocharged Highlander and CX-90 score a bit higher. Those looking for ultimate efficiency with three rows will likely find what they're looking for with the Hybrid versions of Toyota's entries.
Observed fuel economy over 350 miles in the Pilot was 22 mpg over a majority of highway driving with 30 miles of city driving.
Value and Verdict
The 2023 Honda Pilot is a strong punch in the three-row SUV wars. It’s huge, comfortable, capable, and easy to use. It’s everything you want from a Honda SUV with no gimmicks and just plain old practicality. It wows with true substance, not flashy features.
Honda’s biggest SUV is right on par in terms of cost and fuel economy with the rest of the segment, but offers an exceptional amount of interior space and versatility compared to its competitors. Real world economy is right on par with its decent EPA estimates, and it’s extremely easy to drive every day without fuss.
The Pilot makes a compelling case for itself in a competitive segment. It’s truly good and fulfills the needs of nearly all three-row SUV buyers without trying to reinvent the wheel. The Pilot just makes it a little more round.
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