Honda has a long-established reputation for going its own way, but with the 2016 Pilot the company is swerving back toward the mainstream. Unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show, the third generation of Honda's midsize crossover SUV will sport slick, contemporary styling when it rolls into showrooms this summer. It's an attractive and welcome departure from the boxy design of the current Pilot, a truckish look adopted by Honda stylists when the rest of the major midsize SUV players were smoothing out the edges. 

New goes well beneath the stylish skin of the 2016 Honda Pilot. For example, there's a new unibody platform, which Honda says will be more rigid than the current version. The architecture continues to be shared with the Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup, and Honda attributes the improved structure to an increased percentage of high strength steel.

Also: The Class of 2015 -- New Vehicles Ready to Roll

Stiffer and lighter

Percentages-high strength steel content, structural rigidity increase-were not detailed. But Honda did claim that the combination of high strength steel, aluminum, and other lightweight materials reduce the 2016 Pilot's mass by as much as 300 pounds. This comes despite a 3.5-inch stretch in overall length, to 194.9 inches. (Current Pilot curb weights top out at just over 4500 pounds, depending on equipment.)

New also applies to the powertrain. New all-wheel drive system (like the current edition, the 2016 Pilot is basically front-wheel drive). New transmissions: a 6-speed automatic replaces the current 5-speed in the standard Pilot, and higher trim levels will get Honda's new 9-speed automatic, replete with paddle shifters. There's also a 20-inch wheel option, a first for the Pilot.

The power source is also new to the Pilot, a 3.5-liter V6 with direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation, and stop-start, which replaces the current port-injected 3.5-liter V6. Displacement doesn't change, but the new V6 (adapted from the Accord sedan) will deliver more horsepower than the current engine, which is rated for 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. Although Honda hasn't announced final output of the Pilot's engine, but that unit in Accord tune it delivers 278 horsepower and 252 lb-ft. No specifics about fuel economy, either, but Honda anticipates improvement over the current Pilot's EPA ratings: 18 mpg city, 25 highway front-wheel drive, 17/24  mpg in all-wheel drive.

The Inner Pilot

The mission of the interior design team was to take the 2016 Pilot's appointments and appearance upscale from the current version. In addition to more soft touch surfaces, the cabin is chock-a-block with new high-end features. For example, five USB ports, four capable of recharging iPads and/or smartphones, as well as audio player jacks, an HDMI port for video games, two 12-volt outlets, and a 115-volt power point.

There's a new 8-inch touchscreen available, home for a new satellite nav system with graphics that render images in 3D. And of course there's enhanced connectivity, via the HondaLink infotainment system.

New non-digital amenities include a heated steering wheel; perforated leather front seats, heated and ventilated; heated leather second row seats; a panoramic power moonroof; second-row captain's chairs; LED map lights; and a 9-inch DVD entertainment system behind the front seats. All save the DVD system are new to the Pilot, and all are options.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Top safety rating anticipated

The current Pilot earned top safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and Honda expects the 2016 Pilot will duplicate that achievement, with enhanced crashworthiness and a host of driver assistance features, including a new road departure mitigation system.

Predictably, Honda had no comment on pricing for the new model. The 2015 Honda Pilot price ladder starts at $30,750 for the basic front-drive LX, and tops out at $42,500 for the top-of-the-line Touring model. 

Check out our Midsize SUV Buyers Guide for a look at what's new and what's next.


 

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