It’s déjà vu all over again. Truly, Honda could’ve given me the exact same Pilot Elite to test for the 2017 model year as it did for 2016 and I wouldn’t have known. Could this be a new money saving strategy? Hardly. It’s probably as simple as the person in charge of ordering really liking the gray-blue Steel Sapphire Metallic paint and black leather combination. I can understand, as it looks plenty classy suited up like this.
Then again with so many other colors available, such as darker and bolder Obsidian Blue Pearl, dark green Black Forest Pearl, Dark Cherry Pearl, and all the usual shades from White Diamond Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, and medium gray Modern Steel Metallic, to Crystal Black Pearl, something different would’ve benefited our 2017 photo gallery.
No matter the color the new model’s styling should be more agreeable to most modern-day SUV fans, although it won’t appeal to those wanting a rugged, truck-like design. At least it’s soft, curvaceous styling leads into a refined, premium car-like cabin, right? I won’t use the word austere to describe the Pilot’s interior, but even when Honda tries to bling up this top-line Elite trim line it uses yet more of this inky shade to do so, this time in the form of piano black lacquered plastic. There are no warm wood tones, sophisticated satin-finished metals, or anything near as avant-garde as the Nissan Murano’s radical mother of pearl-like inlays. Clearly, I’m not decrying Honda goes that far to wow (or turn off) would-be buyers, but something a bit more daring might be in order. Additional reasons not to install this overused embellishment, piano black plastic is near impossible to keep free of dust, scratches easily, and looks passé in anything but a Rolls-Royce Ghost. In the Pilot Elite it’s also way too much of a “good” thing, the interior designers could have restrained its application a little.
More is better when it comes to seating, however, and the Pilot comes standard with room for eight, although the second-row captain’s chairs in our tester resulted in the usual count of seven seats from its three rows. The first two rows are as sizable as SUVs get, with the 10-way power-adjustable two up front allowing almost any body type to fit in and get comfortable. They’re three-way heated and cooled in Elite trim too, whereas the second-row seats are heatable, which will no doubt cause arguments as smaller ones are forced into the very back, but such is merely one challenge in raising a family needful of such a large SUV. At least accessing the third row is almost effortless. Just press one of the buttons on the side or rear of the second row buckets and bingo, they’ll automatically slide forward for wide, easy entry to a third row that’s more accommodating than most in this class.
If you want to fold the second-row seats down completely, just pull up on the lever below the cushion. The rearmost seats fold by pulling on a strap that also flips down the headrest automatically, an easy process that doesn’t take much effort to execute. Then again it’s a much simpler and less sophisticated system than offered in the CR-V, which boasts handy levers on the sidewalls to automatically lay the two-row SUV’s rear seats flat, so those moving up from the compact model might not be as enthralled with this more rudimentary process despite the Pilot’s more significant asking price.
Of course, folks will likely move up to the Pilot for its accommodating capacity, the big ute capable of 16.5 cubic feet of available cargo space behind the 60/40 split-folding third row in all but Elite trim, which gets a slight reduction to 16.0 cubic feet. I’m not counting the tiny storage compartment under the load floor either, which is handy for stowing dirty gloves, rags, or alternatively valuables that might be best hidden away, while lowering that third row opens the Pilot’s cargo capacity up to 46.8 cubic feet in lower trims and 46.0 cubic feet for the Elite, while dropping both rear rows results in 83.9 cubic feet of available cargo space in the former and 82.1 cubic feet in the latter. Either way, that’s a lot of available cargo space.
As far as soft touch surfaces and other premium details go, 2018 CR-V Touring owners will be similarly dismayed, as the Pilot not only comes up a bit short when compared to the lesser Honda’s top trim level, but a number of its peers too. Looking to the latter, the Pilot Elite’s A-pillars aren’t wrapped in fabric like some others, while pliable plastics can only be found on the dash top and upper portion of the instrument panel, as well as the door uppers and inserts, and they’re not as upscale looking or feeling as those used with the CR-V Touring; although I consider the new 2018 CR-V Touring’s interior far and away the best in its class. Much of the Pilot Elite’s door panels, including the upper section wrapping around the door pull, is formed from less appealing hard shell plastic, as are all surfaces below the piano black lacquer trim on the instrument panel, and that includes the sides of the center stack and all of the lower console, plus the glove box lid. This makes it feel a bit more pickup truck-like than some others in the class, but I suppose that’s fitting as it shares a lot of its componentry with the mid-size Ridgeline.
On the positive, while the Pilot’s mostly analog primary instrument cluster gets outshone by the CR-V’s mostly digital TFT display, the larger SUV’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is very nicely done. Instead of older style analog knobs and buttons on one side or both it gets an easy-to-use row of touch-sensitive quick-access controls on the blackened out left portion, including a volume slider. This said the new CR-V added back a rotating volume knob from a similar all-digital design due to negative customer feedback, so maybe we’ll see the volume slider gone for the Pilot’s mid-cycle upgrade. I certainly didn’t have any problem using it, and like the sophisticated look of the purely touch-sensitive interface. Likewise, the display graphics are big and easy to figure out, the colors rich and contrast deep, resulting in a premium-level experience.
The best part is it’s standard Pilot kit, the infotainment system’s list of functions including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a multi-angle backup camera (with dynamic guidelines just above base), SMS text message and email functionality, wireless smartphone connectivity with audio streaming, Wi-Fi, Siri Eyes Free, and control of a 225-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with seven speakers including a sub, speed-sensitive volume control, satellite radio, three USB ports, an aux input, and active noise cancellation. Touring trim adds accurate navigation with nicely detailed mapping, while the audio is upgraded to a superb sounding 540-watt system with 5.1 surround sound, 10 speakers plus a sub, and five USB ports, four of which have 2.5-amp capacity for charging tablets. Lastly, a Blu-ray rear entertainment system with a 9.0-inch ceiling-mounted display, two wireless headphones, an HDMI input, and a 115-volt household-style power outlet gets added for the folks in back.
Now that I’m talking features, some additional top-line Touring items include 20-inch alloys, chromed exterior door handles, roof rails, acoustic front door glass, ambient interior lighting, dynamic cruise control, driver’s side memory including the seats and side mirrors, the latter also power-folding, incorporating reverse tilt-down and filled with LED turn signals, while the Touring list continues with second-row sunshades, front and rear parking sensors, etcetera.
Touring trim also adds a bevy of Honda Sensing safety systems such as forward collision warning, collision mitigating autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. Unfortunately the brand’s superb LaneWatch blindspot display system, which uses a rearward facing camera on the passenger-side mirror to project live video of the blindspot when activating the right turn signal, isn’t standard or available when blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist is chosen, which comes as part of the Elite model I drove, so alas one of the coolest features offered in any vehicle wasn’t included. As you may have guessed, all of this active safety kit earns the 2017 Pilot a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating when properly equipped, whereas the NHTSA honored all Pilot trims with an impressive five stars for safety.
Additionally, the Elite standard features list grows to also include full LED headlamps with auto-leveling and auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, LED front map lights, additional multi-info display features such as customizable settings plus a corner and backup sensor indicator, HD radio, a double-pane panoramic glass sunroof, a heatable steering wheel rim, upgraded perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heatable second-row captain’s chairs, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert,
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a shortlist of features pulled up from lesser trims, the menu boasting auto on/off headlamps, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, heatable side mirrors, LED taillights, an acoustic windshield, heatable power-actuated side mirrors, remote start, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a color TFT multi-information display, a sunglasses holder that doubles as a conversation mirror, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, tri-zone auto climate control with second-row controls, heatable front seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, a powered front passenger seat, one-touch folding second-row seats, a powered tailgate, ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, traction and stability control, hill start assist, trailer stability assist, tire pressure monitoring, and emergency response telematics, and much more.
While the Pilot’s EX and EX-L equipment is especially good, you’ll need to move up to Touring or Elite trim in order to take advantage of its top-line drivetrain. To be clear, Honda’s well-proven direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 is the same through the line. It’s capable of a hearty 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque for reasonably good response off the line and commendable highway passing power, but then again I can only speak for the Touring model, as I haven’t driven the others. Touring and Elite trims get upgraded to Honda’s new nine-speed automatic transmission with pushbutton gear selection and sporty steering wheel paddle shifters, while all trims below get a reliable albeit hardly state-of-the-art six-speed autobox. The engine gets Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system either way, which shuts down three of its six cylinders to save fuel when coasting, while all trims also receive the brand’s Eco Assist system to further reduce consumption, but only the nine-speed benefits from an auto start/stop system that temporarily turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling and instantly restarts it upon take-off.
This technology along with its extra three gears gives the Pilot Touring and Elite an edge in fuel economy, the pricier model capable of an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 23 combined in FWD Touring guise or 19 in the city and 22 combined in Elite trim, which comes standard with AWD (or the same with Touring AWD), compared to 19 and 22 for the six-speed FWD model or 18 and 21 for six-speed AWD trims, while they both consume a claimed 27 and 26 mpg respectively on the highway. Just the same, moving up to $41,820 Touring or $47,220 Elite trims just to save money at the pump wouldn’t make much sense, the jump from the third-rung $36,605 EX-L a heady $5,215 to $10,615, but all of the previously noted features as well as what I can only guess are improvements in driving dynamics make this the optimal Pilot to own.
The nine-speed shifts quickly and smoothly, really making the most of the power available, while it doesn’t waste any time slotting into a higher gear in order to save fuel. Auto start-stop shuts off at stoplights and the like, reducing noise and improving localized air quality, some of which I (or my family and friends) could end up breathing in, so I’m a big proponent and always kept it turned on unless sport mode automatically shut it off, this possible when pressing the electronic gearshift selector’s “D/S” button, the “S” actually standing for sequential mode to benefit those who want to shift manually, but it heightens the Pilot’s sporting nature as well.
This said athleticism doesn’t come naturally to the big Honda SUV. It’s capable of taking sharp corners at relatively high speeds, much thanks to standard Agile Handling Assist that adds brake pressure to the inside wheels during high-speed cornering to limit understeer and therefore improve control, but it still seems to do so unwillingly, never eager about the task at hand. I know I’m personifying a machine and this isn’t “Cars” or either of the Disney animation film’s sequels (although they’d be good choices for the aforementioned rear entertainment system), so let me be clearer by saying the Pilot was designed with a leaning toward comfort over performance and leave it at that. I’m personally very ok with that, being that seven-passenger SUVs should at the very least be comfortable, especially when loaded up as nicely as the Pilot Elite, and honestly I would never bother trying to drive one like a sports car unless I’m doing so for testing purposes. It’s just not their forte, at least this side of the premium sector. I was just happy to leave the Pilot in Active Eco Assist mode while tooling around town and country, fully enjoying its comfortable ride and impressive amenities.
To get you through the winter months or away to the cottage on a rainy spring weekend, Honda provides optional Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD, which once again is standard with the top-line Elite. It boasts dynamic torque vectoring and Intelligent Traction Management with Normal, Snow, Mud, and Sand modes, therefore enhancing traction while moving fast or slow. The Pilot tows fairly well too, with a max trailering weight of 5,000 lbs.
I’ve spoken at length about the 2017 Pilot Elite’s shortcomings in this review, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed its comfortable, quiet, capable versatility. If you need a seven-passenger crossover SUV it’s certainly worthy of investigation, but if you only require seating for five I’d have to recommend the CR-V instead, not only over the Pilot, but over every other compact SUV as well. The new CR-V is a best-in-class act, whereas the Pilot is merely very good in most respects and not quite up to snuff in others. I’d love to see Honda raise this larger SUV’s game, and fully expect it to do so in coming years.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press