First Drive: 2019 Honda Pilot Has Adventure Aspirations

September 05, 2018 by Carly Schaffner, @carlyschaffner

Honda’s new 2019 Pilot sports a more rugged facelift that sends a Bat Signal to summon fearless moms: I go off road.

The crossover will remain a staple in the school drop-off line, but the automaker also is looking to align its refreshed Pilot with the adventurous lifestyle of today’s modern family.

On a recent drive in Westlake Village, a part of western Los Angeles County dressed in rolling hills and large estates, the Pilot flexed its muscles on a technical off-road course in the middle of a vineyard.

The exercise was meant to spotlight capabilities overlooked in the past by moms hunting for a third row and ample cupholders.

The course started small, with baby bumps and rocks but quickly evolved into a blend of divots, boulders and one incline so severe it was not immediately apparent the Pilot would reach the top without flipping.

However, the Pilot maintained traction. The steep grade was no problem. On ascent, the vehicle’s Hill Hold feature kept it in place without pressure on the brake pedal. The system prevents the Pilot from sliding in the transition from gas to brake.

While crawling over a rock garden it demonstrated impressive suspension travel. Deep grooves lined with 5-foot mounds of packed dirt sent one wheel off the ground. The vehicle soldiered through the obstacle, showcasing a mix of all-wheel drive power and confident axle articulation.

The Pilot tested was the top Elite trim with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is standard on all trim levels. A newly tuned nine-speed automatic transmission is exclusive to the Elite and available on Touring models. The other trims — LX, EX, EX-L — come with a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on the Elite and available on the other trims. All Pilots make 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.

The styling changes for the 2019 Pilot also are meant to represent the crossover’s off-road chops. The front still sports a minivan-like sloped front, but the chiseled hood provides a crisper look than previous versions. The grille incorporates a chrome band that extends outward to the lights. A new metal “skid garnish” accessorizes the bottom of the bumper.

The changes to the Pilot’s rear are more obvious. It’s boxier, attempting to emulate a rugged body-on-frame silhouette. Another metal detail highlights the skid area. There’s special styling for the 18-inch wheels that come with the lower three trims and an aggressive 20-inch design for the Touring and Elite.

The third-generation Pilot’s more “streamlined” styling is a partial result of consumer misconceptions regarding fuel efficiency, according Davis Adams, a Honda spokesman.

  • The new 2019 Honda Pilot Crossover. (All photos: Honda)
Back when big SUVs like the Hummer H2 — sold by General Motors between 2002 and 2009 — were popular, consumers projected gas-guzzling judgements onto the Pilot, especially after gas prices hit record highs during the energy crisis in 2007.

The Pilot debuted its boxier body in 2009, but demand for “fuel-sipping crossovers” guided design changes that manifested in 2016 when the current gen launched with a new shape, Adams said.

But fuel efficiency on the Pilot has remained consistent. The Environmental Protection Agency rates trims with the six-speed at up to 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. Models with the nine-speed can reach 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. Models with AWD have slightly lower ratings.

Standard on AWD trims is the Pilot’s variable torque management system. The technology shined on a mountain road with the throttle pressed lightly heading into a curve. The Pilot pulled itself through the bend with power. It’s a subtle sensation, mostly felt through the steering wheel, but enough to envision why it’d be a helper in rain or snow.

Trims with the nine-speed transmission have different driving modes for snow, sand and mud. The Pilot did the best in sand mode on the off-road course. The new tuning in the transmission will allow the Pilot to start in second gear when in snow mode for a smoother launch (and when in drive under light-to-moderate throttle).

But fear not, the 2019 Pilot still boasts parental must-haves. For 2019, Cabin Talk is available on the EX model and standard on the tech-equipped EX-L, Touring and Elite. It’s an intercom that lets the cockpit communicate with back-seat riders. Similar to how airplane pilots address passengers, CabinTalk pauses the screens and mutes the speakers or headphones connected to the rear entertainment system.

An all-new feature called CabinControl also lets passengers control the audio system, rear entertainment system and rear climate via iPhone or Android. An 8-inch touchscreen upgraded to respond to smartphone-like gestures — tap, swipe, pinch — is available in EX trims and above. Honda added a hard-button volume control based on customer feedback, replacing an unwieldly digital volume control. The infotainment also is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The rear entertainment system — a delight on long road trips with antsy kiddos — has a ceiling-mounted 10.2-inch screen that plays CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Touring and Elite trims get a Wi-Fi hotspot that connects up to seven devices.

A 115-volt power source as well as HDMI and USB ports located on the rear console will support various streaming and gaming devices, and there are wireless headphones to keep noise in check.

Also important on any adventure mobile are leather seats, standard on the EX-L trim and above (L stands for “leather”). Cargo space is adequate — there is 18 cubic feet behind the 60/40 folding third-row bench. Ford Explorer and Volkswagen Atlas have more than 20 cubic feet. Chevrolet Traverse has 23.

Folding the third row creates 56 cubic feet for storage. Explorer only has 44 cubic feet behind the second row; Atlas and Traverse have 56 and 58 cubic feet, respectively.

Pricing for the 2019 Honda Pilot starts from $31,450 including destination fees. This includes Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced safety features now standard across the board. The tech package includes lane centering, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and road departure mitigation, which adjusts steering and braking if the vehicle moves from detected lanes without signaling. Blind-spot monitoring is standard on all trims but the base LX.

The EX-L trim made up over half of Pilot sales last year and is priced from $38,755. Honda’s suggested retail price for the middle-of-the-road trim with navigation and rear entertainment system is $40,755 with destination. It also comes with a moonroof and power tailgate.

Touring adds the nine-speed, a 10-speaker sound system and 4G LTE connectivity for $43,515. The top trim, Elite, which adds wireless smartphone charging, power-folding side mirrors (both new features to Pilot), heated and cooled front seats and rain-sensing wipers, costs $49,015 including destination.

The sole downside to splurging on the Elite is that it only comes with second-row captain’s chairs; there’s no option to squeeze in an eighth passenger. But with standard AWD, 20-inch wheels and enough off-roading for most families, who needs the added weight?

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where American Honda Motor Co. hosted travel and lodging.

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