If I had a big family, I’d probably need to get away from them often. At least, that’s what I hear from friends who have children: Escape isn’t just comfort, it’s compulsory. Sure, there are plenty of things I want to run away from even without children, which is perhaps why Honda asked if I wanted to borrow a 2023 Pilot TrailSport and head for the high desert of Utah and Arizona—alone.
Sure, I could’ve made up something about finding an open road and “finding myself,” but in all honesty, I could use a break from me too. The Pilot TrailSport is one of the newest players in a class of vehicles ironically built for a crowd, to run away from the crowds, joining Jeep, Ford, Subaru, and others in gussying up soft-roaders for medium-trail detail. You won’t spot a Pilot TrailSport in a Monster Jam main event soon, but you’ll definitely see more than a few in the parking lot.
That’s because the Pilot TrailSport doesn’t abandon its roots as a family-fun bus in the first place. It’s still quiet, it’s still capacious, and it still leans toward minivan, despite its chunky all-terrain hiking shoes. A rock-crawler, this ain’t. A mall crawler? Sure. But it’s better than that.
2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Specs
- Base price (as tested): $50,045 ($50,490)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 | 10-speed automatic transmission | All-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 285 @ 6,100 rpm
- Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
- Seating capacity: Up to 8
- Curb weight: 4,685 pounds
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- Cargo volume: Up to 113.7 cubic feet (18.6 cubic feet behind third row)
- Ground clearance: 8.3 inches
- Off-road angles: 19.8° approach | 19.0° departure
- EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city | 23 highway | 20 combined
- Quick take: The crowd-pleasing Honda Pilot gets a crowd-escaping, off-road-adjacent version that’s better than it sounds.
- Score: 8/10
Whether it was the pandemic or my Instagram feed, Honda wised up to the growing number of people looking to the great outdoors as more than just a John Candy movie. The TrailSport sits in the middle of the Pilot lineup, although it’s not the Goldilocks pick. The 2023 Pilot EX-L is the one for family detail and shaves $6,000 from the Pilot Trailsport’s MSRP of $50,045 (less if you opt for all-wheel drive on the Pilot EX-L, which costs $2,100).
The 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport benefits from the broader Pilot lineup’s butched-up looks perhaps more than any other trim does. Truth be told, I confused the Pilot TrailSport with a Passport initially, and I’m paid to know better. [Ed. note: He doesn’t actually get paid here anymore.] That confusion came thanks to a chunkier C-pillar that adds more visual interest along the sides than the Pilot’s ever had before. The front and the back are handsome, if not mildly imposing, but the Pilot’s profile is much improved.
Same goes for the insides, which didn’t need much help anyway. The TrailSport trim doesn’t ruin what makes the Pilot agreeable in the first place, which is air. Its gymnasium-like qualities inside are a boon to families who jostle people with cargo and Snapchat and everything else. There’s up to 113.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough room to sleep two and stare up at the night sky through a panoramic moonroof.
The Pilot uses a new 3.5-liter V6 that sure feels like the old one. It’s saddled with a 10-speed automatic that’s eager to upshift and an all-wheel-drive system that sends up to 70% of available torque rearward. The TrailSport gets a one-inch lift compared to the rest of the Pilot lineup, which is almost an afterthought compared to the A/T rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. If you hadn’t told me the TrailSport was taller, I’m not sure I would’ve known.
Driving the Honda Pilot TrailSport
There’s one unfortunate consequence of adding a lift and tires to a Pilot: it makes a big bus even bigger. The Pilot rolls up on its sidewalls in canyons a lot, so either slow down or pack a couple of empty lunch bags for the ride. In default Econ mode, the TrailSport blends into the background when on the day-to-day job. It’s agreeable, comfortable, and quiet (save for a little roar from the tires that filters into the cabin). It’s comfortable cruising around at 75 mph all day long, although Econ can delay kickdown while passing up a hill for just a little too long.
Normal mode fixes that, provided you can find it among a litany of drive modes that include Sand, Sport, Trail, and Tow. Finding my way, way, way off-piste near Moab, Utah, Trail mode loosened up the traction control and geared the 10-speed down along the trail. Aided by knowing the TrailSport adds more underbody protection via skid plates, I waded into the red rock trails that seemed reasonable for an SUV with only 19 degrees of approach angle. The Pilot didn’t break a sweat.
I agree, the Pilot TrailSport’s nowhere near the Ford Bronco Raptor or Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for off-road domination, but the Pilot is closer to reality. I didn’t blink when the two-track disappeared and turned into sun-soaked red rock and underbrush. That’s kind of the point.
The Highs and Lows
With great Honda Pilots come great responsibilities: namely, it’s the de facto pick for going anywhere, all the time. I tallied up an astonishing 2,000 miles on the Pilot TrailSport and wouldn’t blink at 2,000 more. It’s that comfy and easy.
Similarly, it’s rooted in a car that’s built for families and can’t (or perhaps, won’t) escape its minivan roots. With seating for up to eight inside, it’s intuitive and convenient; there’s hardly a seating position unserved with a USB port. (There are six inside with a 110-volt power plug in the center console, too.)
The downside of driving it everywhere is dealing with its fuel economy, which isn’t as good as it should be for an all-new model. The EPA pins the TrailSport at 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, 20 combined, which is the lowest in the Pilot range compared to 21 mpg and 22 mpg combined for the other versions. Across my long jaunt, I managed just 21.2 mpg combined according to the onboard trip computer, and most of my stretches were on the highway. Fuel economy was never going to be the TrailSport’s selling point, but that’s a big ask when the Toyota Highlander Hybrid costs about the same. (The Toyota is a smidge smaller and skips the off-road hardware, I’ll admit.)
Call it a nitpick, but I’ll add one more: Opting for Trail mode brings up the forward-facing camera view, which is nice but also unnecessary. The Pilot’s gifted with already-good sightlines ahead, so I’d rather use Apple CarPlay and my off-road app than the forward-facing cameras.
Honda Pilot TrailSport Features, Options, and Competition
The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport leaves the factory well-equipped with everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t. Or at least, that’s what Honda will tell you. Aside from available exterior colors (which all cost $455 more, except black or white), what you see is what you get. And what you get is mostly good. All-wheel drive, 18-inch wheels, active safety features including lane control, a heated steering wheel, a nine-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, synthetic leather, and a towing hitch are all included for $50,045 to start. Other luxury items like cooled seats, upgraded audio from Bose, or embedded navigation aren’t available, so don’t ask. (The last one is a head-scratcher to me.) [Ed. note: Is it, though? -CT]
Competitors like the Kia Telluride and Jeep Grand Cherokee L land somewhere close, although the Grand Cherokee L is now as rich as you like. A similarly equipped Kia Telluride SX X-Pro lands right at $51,450, on top of the TrailSport and feels like comparable value. Jeep left “value” behind a long time ago with top-shelf versions of the GC ringing the bell at a knee-buckling $70,000.
If it were my money, I’d opt for the Diffused Sky Pearl TrailSport that’s a smoky blue like a hazy sunset, and never look back.
The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport asks a small penalty for its bigger tires and taller stance, although base models without the running gear don’t do great to begin with. The EPA rates the TrailSport at 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined, which is on par with the Kia Telluride and Subaru Ascent. Most often, the TrailSport lives around town, which means fuel economy returns at 20 mpg or lower. On mostly highway driving, for more than 2,000 miles, I only managed 21.2 mpg. Bummer.
The Pilot TrailSport’s sin is one it doesn’t commit alone: many competitors don’t offer hybrids in three-row crossovers yet. The Toyota Highlander does, and it returns much better fuel economy when it’s equipped. Although it’s hard to fault Honda for something few other automakers do yet, it feels like we’re close to seeing more electrified competitors among family vehicles and the TrailSport won’t be mid-pack for much longer.
Value and Verdict
At $50,045 the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is roughly $2,000 more than the average price paid for a new car in the U.S. Using that metric, the TrailSport is one hell of a deal. It’s a lot of car, with a lot of room, and a smidge more capability than the average crossover. Its value is a no-brainer, I’d yell it to anyone who can hear me in any high-desert canyon.
For more capability, you’d have to shell out a lot more and I’m just not convinced that’s worth it for most people. Speaking of people, I suppose they can come along for the ride out of town. Just sit in the back and keep it down, will ya?
Got a tip? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org