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2023 Honda Pilot Critique: A Flawless 3-Row Family Amiable SUV

The past age of the Honda Pilot was a remarkable three-row SUV for the entire family, but it had a slightly minivan-esque vibe that wasn’t quite to our liking. The great news is that Honda has completely overhauled the Pilot for the 2023 model year and this brings a more robust Pilot that is even more family-friendly than its predecessor.

When the former generation Pilot was released, three-row SUVs were mainly conceived as marginally more resilient alternatives to minivans. There is now a renewed emphasis on resilience, which has led to the introduction of several more off-road-focused trim levels from automakers, such as Ford, Nissan, and Subaru. Honda is also joining the competition with its new TrailSport models, which premiered with the Passport as a slightly more adventure-ready version.

Given the growing preference for three-row SUVs to have a more traditional SUV appearance rather than a raised minivan look, it’s hardly surprising that Honda has completely abandoned the rounded aesthetic of the previous Pilot. In its place, we receive a new Pilot with more SUV-like proportions, such as the lengthier hood and a more vertical front end.

We appreciate the appearance of the new Pilot, which appears sturdier than its primary competitor, the Toyota Highlander. While Toyota recently revealed the new Grand Highlander, which exhibits boxier styling compared to the regular Highlander.

To further highlight the Pilot’s enhanced toughness, Honda has introduced the first-ever Pilot TrailSport, which imparts a bit more capability to the family-friendly SUV. Although the Passport TrailSport looks the part, it’s hardly more prepared for off-road expeditions, as it lacks skid plates or an off-road-tuned suspension. Instead, the Pilot TrailSport adds more to the package to make it more appealing for owners seeking weekend trail excursions.

The Pilot TrailSport, just one of the many trims available, is equipped with skid plates to safeguard various underbody components from impact while traversing trails. The elevated suspension has also been fine-tuned, there are two additional drive modes, and the wheels are encased in 18-inch all-terrain tires with distinctive rims.

Regardless of the version chosen, the Pilot comes standard with a new dual-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V6, which replaces the former single-overhead version. The V6 now produces an additional five horsepower at 285 hp, although the torque rating remains unchanged at 262 pound-feet. While the specifications are similar, Honda claims that the new engine results in reduced emissions. However, the new engine does not bring any improvements in fuel efficiency, despite being paired with 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 achieves 19/25/21 mpg, while the TrailSport is rated at 18/23/20 mpg.

Around town, the Pilot possesses sufficient power to propel the large SUV along the road, yet we wish the lower efficiency was the outcome of increased power under the hood. The Pilot drives akin to most three-row crossovers, signifying that it’s not remarkably exhilarating to drive. Then again, most buyers in this segment aren’t seeking a sporty SUV and rather prefer a more comfort-focused SUV. This is evidenced by the fact that most mainstream SUVs do not offer performance-focused versions, similar to the Ford Explorer ST.

The same applies to the suspension and steering. We wouldn’t easily describe the Pilot as enjoyable to drive, like the Mazda CX-9 for instance. It’s more enjoyable to drive than the Chevy Traverse or VW Atlas, but the overall driving experience is not particularly memorable. The suspension gets the job done with a comfortable and smooth experience, but if you desire a more entertaining three-row SUV from Honda, you’ll want to explore the Acura MDX.

The interior of the Pilot now exhibits a more contemporary look and feel than before. The overall appearance is reminiscent of Honda’s other models, like the CR-V. Honda has also upgraded the cabin’s materials and there’s a bit more space in the rear, where an adult can now comfortably sit in the third-row seat. If you opt for the eight-passenger version, the middle seat in the second row can be conveniently 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 is a significant improvement over the last Pilot’s gauge cluster. Lower trim levels receive a smaller 7.0-inch digital screen alongside an analog speedometer, and although it’s not as modern as the full digital cluster, it once again surpasses the previous Pilot’s setup.

At the center of the dashboard, there’s either a 7- or 9-inch touchscreen that operates the infotainment system, which resembles what you’d find in the CR-V or Civic. It’s a substantial enhancement with improved graphics and swifter response times. The only drawback is that we wish Honda offered its new Google-based system available in the new Accord. The 9-inch screen seems somewhat dated compared to the systems found in some of the Pilot’s competitors.

On the safety front, the 2023 Pilot comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite, now including traffic jam assist and traffic-sign recognition.

The 2023 Pilot is offered in several trim levels: LX, Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring, and Elite. The base Pilot LX is priced starting at $37,295, including destination. All-wheel drive adds an extra $2,000. The priciest Pilot model is the Elite, which comes standard with all-wheel drive and begins at $53,375. The Pilot TrailSport is priced at $49,695.

Ultimately, Honda has addressed numerous criticisms of the previous Pilot, primarily its minivan-like styling and comparatively inadequate tech features. But is it sufficient to retain the Pilot’s competitiveness in the ever-growing three-row SUV segment? The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade continue to win over buyers with their more luxurious interiors, while Toyota is equipped to draw even more customers with its two three-row SUVs, the Highlander and Grand Highlander.

The 2023 Honda Pilot effectively refines every aspect that needed updating from the previous generation, placing it near the top in the crowded three-row SUV segment. Its sturdier appearance helps it stand out more, it’s now more capable off-road, and the improved tech features will allow the Pilot to directly compete with its rivals.

Image Source: Zoran Karapancev / Shutterstock

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