Reminiscent of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the third-generation Honda Pilot has transformed from a boxy mid-size Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)into a mature, lighter, sleeker crossover that’s not afraid to get a little dirty.
All new for 2016, the Pilot gets the latest technological bells and whistles, particularly if you opt for mid-to-higher level trim, such as the EX press loaner I was driving. For the exterior that comes in the form of LED DRLs and foglights, it is neatly integrated into the front fascia rather than looking tacked on. The essence of the outgoing model is retained - for instance how the headlights and grille blend into one - but is now much more seamless, resembling other redesigned products in the line-up, including the 10th-gen Honda Civic Sedan.
The best way I can think of describing the interior is to compare it to a rolling living room. Charging the plethora of mobile devices we’re so dependant on these days is easy using one of the four onboard 2.5-amp USB ports or two 12-volt ports. Parents won’t have to hear their kids repeatedly ask “Are we there yet?” since there’s also a 115-volt outlet, HDMI input, headphone jacks and eight-inch capacitive, which is the perfect recipe for hooking up a video game console.
Even though the Pilot appears leaner and more athletic, it’s actually grown in size, by about 90 millimetres lengthwise - while dropping 135 kilograms in weight. That allows the cargo area behind the third row to fit something like a large cooler within its 524 litres of space. Finding places to stash things throughout the vehicle is no problem, and that goes for the cabin area as well. Thankfully, Honda is fond right now of installing huge centre console compartments, big enough to easily store my digital camera.
In the performance department, a new Earth Dreams Technology 3.5-litre V6 motor producing 280 horsepower drives the Pilot, mated to either the six-speed automatic transmission I was using, or a nine-speed auto found on the highest Touring grade. Helping offset the six cylinder’s fuel consumption is built-in cylinder deactivation and engine stop-start systems, working in tandem to keep a relatively low combined city and highway economy number of 11.3 L/100 km.
When you’re in more of a gas wasting than saving mood, this CUV is willing and able to have some fun where the pavement ends and the dirt begins. Although a base front-wheel drive model is available, the EX came with Intelligent-Variable Torque Management all-wheel drive that I decided to test out on a thoroughly slippery surface. At an event held in November, a proper off-road course was constructed, full of hills and valleys and fresh with mud after a rainstorm. Even in the tightest, elevated off-camber corners, I powered through with no discernable loss of traction. Well done, Pilot.
I didn’t get to use any of these features while romping through the woods, but Honda’s newest safety suite, dubbed Honda Sensing, can be had on the second-tier LX trim and above. My vehicle was equipped with the excellent LaneWatch blind spot display, which flashes a live image of the side of your car onto the centre screen when you flick the turn signal, Lane Keeping Assist that ensures you stay between the road markers, and Adaptive Cruise Control to keep a pre-set distance between you and the car in front.
One final fast fact about the Pilot: all three iterations of the crossover have been designed, developed in North America, and it continues to be manufactured in Lincoln, Alabama.
Highlights (as tested):
Motor: 3.5-litre i-VTEC V6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 262 @ 4,700 rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic transmission
Layout: Front engine, all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 11.3 L/100 km mixed city/highway (manufacturer estimate)