The last generation Honda Pilot was a great three-row SUV for the whole family, but it was a bit too minivan like for our tastes. The good news is that Honda has given the Pilot a complete revamp for the 2023 model year and with it comes a more rugged Pilot that is even more family friendly than before.
When the last generation Pilot debuted, three-row SUVs were largely just designed as slightly more rugged alternatives to minivans. Now there’s been a new focus on ruggedness, which has resulted in the introduction of several more off-road focused trim levels from automakers, like Ford, Nissan and Subaru. Honda is also throwing its hat in the game with its new TrailSport models, which debuted with the Passport as a slightly more adventure ready version.
Given the fact that buyers now want their three-row SUVs to look more like a traditional SUV instead of a lifted minivan, it’s no surprise that Honda has completely ditched the rounded look of the last Pilot. In its place we get a new Pilot with more SUV like proportions, aka the longer hood and a more upright nose.
We like the look of the new Pilot, which looks more rugged than its main rival, the Toyota Highlander. Although Toyota recently unveiled the new Grand Highlander, which has blockier styling than the regular Highlander.
To further emphasize the Pilot’s more rugged nature, Honda has introduced the first ever Pilot TrailSport, which makes the family friendly SUV a bit more capable. While the Passport TrailSport looks the part, it’s hardly more ready to hit the trails, since it doesn’t get skid plates or an off-road tuned suspension. Instead the Pilot TrailSport adds more to the equation to make more appealing for those owners that want to hit the trails on the weekend.
The Pilot TrailSport, which is just one of the many trims available, gets skid plates to protect several of the underbody components from getting bashed as you traverse the trails. The lifted suspension has also been tweaked, there are two extra drive modes and the wheels are wrapped in 18-inch all-terrain tires with unique wheels.
No matter which version you choose, the Pilot comes standard with a new dual overhead cam 3.5-liter V6, which replaces the former single overhead version. The V6 now generates an extra five horsepower at 285 hp, although the torque rating remains the same at 262 pound-feet. Although the specs are similar, Honda says that the new engine results in reduced emissions. But the new engine does not bring any improvements in fuel efficiency, even with the fact that it’s mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission.
The most fuel efficient version is rated at 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The all-wheel drive Pilot 19/25/21 mpg and the TrailSport is rated at 18/23/20 mpg.
Around town the Pilot has enough power to get the large SUV moving down the road, but we wish the lower efficiency was the result of more power under the hood. The Pilot drives like most three-row crossovers, which means that it’s not super thrilling to drive. But again, most buyers in this segment aren’t looking for a sporty SUV and instead prefer a more comfort focused SUV. This is proven by the fact that most mainstream SUVs aren’t offered with performance focused versions, like the Ford Explorer ST.
The same goes for the suspension and steering. We wouldn’t really call the Pilot fun to drive, like say the Mazda CX-9. It’s more fun to drive than the Chevy Traverse or VW Atlas, but the overall driving experience is not very memorable. The suspension gets the job done with a comfortable and smooth experience, but if you want a more fun to drive three-row SUV from Honda, you’ll want to check out the Acura MDX.
Inside the Pilot’s interior now looks and feels more modern than before. The overall look is akin to Honda’s other models, like the CR-V. Honda also improved the cabin’s materials and there’s a bit more room in the back, where you can actually fit an adult in the third row seat. If you opt for the eight passenger version, the middle seat in the second row can easily be removed and stowed under the floor behind the third row.
In front of the driver there’s a new available 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster, which looks so much better than the last Pilot’s gauge cluster. Lower trim levels get a smaller 7.0-inch digital screen next to an analog speedometer and although it’s not as modern as the full digital cluster, it again looks better than the last Pilot.
At the center of the dashboard there’s either a 7- or 9-inch touchscreen that runs the infotainment system that looks and feels like what you’ll get in the CR-V or Civic. It’s a major improvement with better graphics and faster reaction times. We only wish that Honda offered its new Google-based system that’s offered in the new Accord. The 9-inch screen looks and feels like it’s already a few years old compared to the systems that you’ll find in some of the Pilot’s rivals.
On the safety front, the 2023 Pilot comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite, which now includes traffic jam assist and traffic-sign recognition.
The 2023 Pilot is available in several trim levels: LX, Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring and Elite. The pricing for the base Pilot LX starts at $37,295, including destination. All-wheel drive is adds $2,000. The most expensive Pilot is the Elite model, which comes standard with all-wheel drive and starts at $53,375. The Pilot TrailSport is priced at $49,695.
At the end of the day, Honda fixed many of the gripes that we had with the last Pilot, mainly its minivan-like styling and barely adequate tech features. But is it enough to keep the Pilot competitive in the increasingly competitive three-row SUV segment? The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade continue to win over buyers with their more luxurious interiors, while Toyota is ready to pull even more buyers into its dealers with two three-row SUVs, the Highlander and Grand Highlander.
The 2023 Honda Pilot easily improves on everything that needed to be updated from the last generation, putting it near the top in the crowded three-row SUV segment. It’s more rugged styling helps it stand out more, it’s now more capable off-road and the improved tech features will help the Pilot go head-to-head to with its rivals.