A compact and midsize sedan sales leader among Latinos, Honda also competes handily in the sport utility (SUV) segment. For 2016, its biggest SUV, the Pilot, gets new looks and improved functionality, thanks, in part, to lots of buttons. Latino Traffic Report recently spent a week driving the top-of-the-line model, the Pilot Elite.
Manufactured exclusively by Honda Manufacturing in Lincoln, Alabama, this is the third generation of Honda’s popular SUV, considered a game changer when it was first introduced in 2003 for offering three rows of seating and being built on a car- rather than truck-like platform.
For 2016, it bears many improvements, starting with the shift knob, which is gone, replaced instead with a push-button PRNDL or shift-by-wire gear selector.
Drivers engage Park, Drive, Neutral, and Sport functions by pushing a button while Reverse requires them to lift up on the tab. To avoid being engaged accidentally by a wandering pet or toddler, the brake pedal must be depressed to activate them.
The button-operated Intelligent Traction Management System offers different operating modes to improve performance. For the all-wheel-drive version, drivers can choose among Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes while the front-wheel-drive (FWD) model offers a choice between Normal and Snow.
SUVs in this segment with this kind of ride, handling, and versatility were built to appeal to families. For starters, it’s a people carrier with seating for up to eight passengers. A small but impressive innovation, the push button release to access and exit from the third row of seats, will save many fingernails.
With five available trim levels, the all-new Elite trim replaces the second row bench with captain’s chairs for easier pass-through to the back row. It also includes several new luxury features like a glass panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.
This SUV can carry cargo as well as people. More than three inches of added overall vehicle length expand the cargo length on the Pilot by 1.3 inches.
A direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine powers the midsize SUV. It can be matched to a choice of two available new advanced transmissions, a six-speed or a nine-speed. Technology like Variable Cylinder Management, a 300-pound reduction in vehicle weight on upper trim levels, and improved aerodynamics help the Pilot achieve the most fuel-efficiency offered in the midsize SUV segment—an EPA estimated 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with the FWD matched to the nine-speed transmission. Equipped with the all-new intelligent variable torque management all-wheel-drive system, the test model had a city/highway estimated fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 22.5 mpg.
The standard entertainment system begins with a five-inch (diagonal) display screen and conventional knobs and buttons to control the various functions on an AM/FM radio audio system and a USB port for other compatible devices. The system can play Pandora content from a compatible device via the USB port, or wirelessly, via Bluetooth.
The knobs disappeared on the test model entertainment system, replaced by an eight-inch capacitive touchscreen Display Audio connectivity interface. While it looked really slick, I found the constant need for tapping to tune the radio a bit distracting and the radio presets were limited to only twelve. I need at least 18 for XM satellite radio alone.
Pricing for the all-new 2016 Pilot starts at $31,045. The as-tested price came to $47,300.
Sí: The Pilot’s new look is appealing as well as new innovations like the push button release for the second-row seat.
No: The entertainment system is a bit clunky and distracting without knobs.