The third-generation 2016 Honda Pilot embraces the mainstream family hauler nature the crossover market has evolved into from its original SUV roots. With tons of new features, it's conservative yet stylish with a heavy dose of refinement.  After a day-long stint behind the wheel, it's clear that the Pilot debuts near the top of a very competitive class. 

Resized = Right Sized?

From the ground to the roof rails, the 2016 Honda Pilot is all-new. Where last year's Pilot was boxy, this new one is sleek and modern, looking a lot like a larger Honda CR-V...or a Nissan Pathfinder. Yet as stark as the contrast is outside, it's the interior that truly surprises. Gone is the hard plastic on every surface, replaced with high-end materials, soft-touch surfaces, and satin finishes. It really does look and feel great, to the point that we wonder if it could steal sales from Honda's upscale Acura MDX

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Speaking of the interior, there's a little less of it than last year's model. Second row passengers will find a little less head and legroom, while the three third-row passengers will find themselves a little closer together as well. Cargo space also takes a hit, losing about three cubic feet. Mitigating that somewhat is a new under-floor compartment with a lid that stows inside, effectively adding a few cubic feet. Long-object haulers take note: the Pilot's independently opening rear window glass is gone. Additionally, the new Elite model is the only trim with 7-passenger seating; we hope Honda expands that to 8-passengers soon along with the rest of the lineup. Despite the decrease in size, the Pilot is still one of the roomier SUVs in its class, offering more cargo space behind the third row than the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder (although the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer both offer more). Passenger room is a wash, with nobody really offering a clear-cut overall advantage. 

Engine and Transmissions

The 2016 Honda Pilot offers a 3.5-liter V6 putting out 280-horsepower to either the front or all four wheels. It boasts advanced fuel injection, auto start-stop, and other tricks to improve fuel economy while also adding 30 horsepower over last year's model. On LX, EX, and EX-L models, the engine's power and torque runs through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Touring and Elite models get a new-to-Honda 9-speed automatic.  For the most part shifts are notably smooth on the ZF gearbox, however, downshifts take a bit longer than we'd like, and the first-to-second upshift from is still too noticeable. 

The all-wheel drive system also receives upgrades. Now known as i-VTM4, the system uses a torque-vectoring rear differential to help improve traction in corners, and in low-traction situations like rain and snow. Additionally, all Pilot models except LX now come with an Intelligent Traction Management that lets the driver select normal, snow, mud and sand modes. 

High Tech

The 2016 Honda Pilot brims with new options from nose to tail, with the exception of the price-leader LX model. For example, all new Pilots except the LX come with at least three USB ports, and Touring and Elite models get five, four of which are the higher-voltage type that can recharge an iPad (LX gets one USB port). Honda's Lane Watch side-view camera is standard on EX, EX-L and Touring models. All Pilots get a multi-view backup camera, but the LX lacks the dynamic guidelines. However, we're most impressed by Honda's decision to make its Honda Sensing safety suite available on all models, except (again) the LX. Honda Sensing adds road-departure mitigation and lane departure warning, forward collision warning and braking, and adaptive cruise control for an extra $1,300. The suite is standard on Touring and Elite models, the latter adding blind spot and rear cross-path detection as well. 

The other big news is that Honda has, at long last, thrown in the towel on its much maligned in-house navigation system in favor of one designed and supplied by Garmin. Fully integrated into the Honda system, it's a huge improvement. Rear seat entertainment remains a factory option that includes a high-definition 9-inch display that stores in the ceiling, HDMI and RCA inputs, and a 115-v plug for your Xbox.

The Drive

Even with 280 horsepower and a 9-speed automatic transmission, the Pilot is not the most powerful or the fastest vehicle in its class, but in real-world acceleration it gives up virtually nothing. Thanks to active noise cancellation, acoustic glass, and other sound deadening measures, it's commendably quiet at speed, significantly more so than the previous generation, and among the quietest in the midsize three-row SUV class. I was struck with how immediately familiar the new Pilot felt from behind the wheel. I'm not talking about control placement or things like that, although Honda wisely sticks to what it knows there. Instead, the brakes feel just right; I immediately knew how much steering input was required for a turn, or how much gas pedal I'd need to squirt into a hole in traffic, or how big it was. The Honda Sensing systems all worked well, with adaptive cruise extremely helpful on the highway. 

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The 2016 Honda Pilot is classic Honda in a very important way: It impresses on all levels, managing at least a "very good" in whatever category you care to name. That fundamental goodness, the lack of any Achilles heel, and prices starting at about $33,200 for a nicely-equipped EX model (skip the LX), and the Pilot looks better and better. The real pricing surprise was on the other end though is the loaded Honda Pilot Elite starting at about $47,300. Yes, it's a bit smaller, but still very competitive in class. In fact, it's likely the 2016 Honda Pilot will continue to be one of the segment's most popular SUVs.


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