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First Drive Impressions: Honda pushes 2016 Pilot into premium SUV territory

For 2016 Honda pushes 3rd generation Pilot comfort, style and tech-rich safety features into premium SUV territory. Pilot gives the domestic and import competition a run for the money.

One could write volumes as to how 2016 Honda Pilot outshines all comers in the midsize SUV segment. But truth be told, I find no other offering in the midsize SUV class that compares to Pilot.

The lack of apples to apples direct comparison in the segment, makes impartial drive review just a bit tougher. Pilot's autonomous driving feature is just a teaser when it comes to Honda’s most refined 3 row SUV. 2016 Honda Pilot effectively reinvents the mainstream 8 passenger SUV.

We meet 2016 Pilot SUV in Cincinnati

When pulling out onto Kentucky Speedway, home to NASCAR’S Quaker State 400, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Honda on the reveal day of the totally redesigned 2016 Pilot. None the less, the drive out to the track from Cincinnati, Ohio in Honda’s 3rd generation Pilot SUV was a pleasant one.

I’ll be the first to admit that prior to experiencing Pilot first hand, I held more than a fist full of mental reservations as to flying across the U.S. to review yet another light truck based SUV.

After all, a midsize SUV is an SUV, and, unless one has a weekly pressing engagement with a junior soccer league, your kids, kid’s friends and a dog or two to move across town, you most likely have little to no need for an 8 passenger SUV in you life. Right? So I thought.
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A reinvigorated Honda Motor Company presents a midsize SUV like no other

Driving up to the hospitality staging area at Kentucky Speedway, automotive journalist were greeted by Honda Pilot’s competition. There, lined up before us, sat Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan and Toyota, all mid size, all premium, and all approaching $50,000.

On this sunny, breezy spring day, Honda would extend the opportunity to all attending, nationally read and recognized automotive journalist, industry analyst and company automotive engineers, the opportunity to drive Pilot's competition in a side by side comparison.

Honda takes a bold move in the "show me" direction

Honda had taken the same strategy in Huntington Beach, California for the roll out of 2015 CR-V, handily winning that competition. By the end of the afternoon, Pilot would speak for itself in this shootout, and come out squarely on top of the competition in many categories. Offering greater standard features, superior passive and active safety technology, improved fuel economy and class leading aerodynamic body styling, Honda Pilot now takes the lead in a very competitive segment.

But for me, that was truly just the beginning of the story, and perhaps not the greatest surprise on a day that would forever change this reviewer’s perception as to what a midsize SUV can and should be.

Quiet and comfortable, yet as tough as nails

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Now, while that aforementioned wish list is not an easy task to accomplish, for 2016, Honda presents a new and improved Pilot of refined, well balanced interior proportions and refinement, while retaining the historically correct “Truckness” of the original Pilot concept.

Driving 2016 Pilot over the back roads of Ohio into the hill country of Kentucky, my co driver and I were collectively taken by the interior quiet and refined ride of Pilot. Was this truly Honda’s mid-level “mainline” SUV, and how could premium Pilot by marketed at an MSRP that would not impact Acura MDX sales?

Sporting an impressive short turning radius,(we missed a couple of directional signs) responsive acceleration, braking and transitional road surface handling, Pilot presents a very light, yet controlled steering feel; nothing mushy about the suspension tuning. Yet, the stiff truck-like suspension of Honda Pilots of the past is gone, thanks to a totally redesigned construction(cage) platform, suspension and running gear.

Honda Pilot is now my logical choice for extended highway travel. pilot is the Ford LTD Wagon of the new millennium with a tech-uptick or two

Although Honda offers a similar frame, active and passive road noise and engine generated sound reduction technologies throughout the product lineup, we weren't anticipating the new found quiet and ride experienced while piloting Pilot.

Amplitude reactive dampers,(2-stage shocks) reduced dead weight brake and rim assembly, vibration deflecting auto glass and superior seat construction work in unison to produce (arguably) the best drive and ride experience found in today's midsize SUV segment.

You may add to the list of upgrades, a Pilot that is constructed on the most advanced sub frame assembly in the industry; offering greater rigidity, superior passenger cage impact deflection, and a curb weight reduction, -300 lbs less than the previous generation.

2016 Pilot actually road handles more like a compact crossover while retaining the superior ride and interior hauling capacity of a mid or full size SUV

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Note: I experienced no driver fatigue while pushing (hard) 2016 Honda Pilot down the 2 lane country twisties. Torque News-Honda can’t say enough as to Pilot’s exceptionally constructed driver and passenger seating. You may wish to experience it for yourself. Words don’t begin to capture how memory-foam like supportive they are. Our 2016 Pilot was equipped with power adjustable, premium perforated leather, heated captains chairs. Yes, for 2016, you can also get that option for row 2.

How’s the entertainment and personal connectivity

For 2016 Honda Pilot comes equipped with Garmen ™ Navigation and an Android based display audio system. Honda claims seamless i-Phone integration. I didn’t test it! I further discovered a fist full of SiriusXM upgrades, a high quality rear passenger drop down monitor theater system, and high definition sound system.

As to the touch screen configuration, leather covered “Smart Wheel,” burnish metal, piano black dash and center console inlays, multiple charging ports, on-board hard drive, Bluetooth and Smartphone connectivity, and a very functional center console setup, I like that too. There’s no shortage of cup holders or front cabin storage capacity in 2016 Honda Pilot.

Not to take anything away from Chevy, Ford, Nissan and Toyota, but you boys have been “One upped” by Honda Pilot; it’s that good.

2016 Honda Pilot’s up to the task

I further discovered that 2016 Honda Pilot is more off-road and foul weather worthy than past generations; presenting a new and improved (next generation) 4WD variable-torque-distribution all wheel drive system that kicks-in when the system senses loss of traction.

Further noted is a manual locking rear differential for mud-bogging or heavy towing pull-out. Pilot is the real deal! Hill Assist ™ and Grade Logic ™ also come along for the ride; making Honda Pilot a true-truck-based contender in a world of urbanized SUVs.

Engine and transmission upgrades for 2016

Earth Dreams Engine and transmission Technology: V8 like power to weight ratio, cylinder management V6 fuel economy, improved broad-range torque curve, and 9-speed transmission option equals unparalleled 3 row SUV ownership value.

It’s a tough balancing act that Honda excels in

For 2016 Honda Pilot comes to the game with improved engine performance, and increased fuel efficiency. With 30 + horsepower and 9+ ft-lb torque over 2015 models,(280 [email protected] 6000 rpm /260 lb-ft torque @4700 rpm) Honda takes pilot to a higher performance plateau while increasing fuel efficiency( through direct injected V6 i-VTEC, variable cylinder management(VCM engine technology.

Intelligent Traction Management

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For 2016 Honda has integrated a center console mounted ITM button. What this does is give the driver the option of choosing 4 drive modes; Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand. Of course, driving out on a paved NASCAR race track, participants weren't afforded the opportunity to experience the functionality of the drive-mode button.

None the less, I'm confident that it does work as described: In short, for different traction and towing load conditions, the driver can opt for drive modes that can vary transitional torque to rear-differential when called for, select a higher gear(2nd) take-off point, thus allow transitional slippage when required for moving out of deep mud or sand. good stuff!

Combined with Honda’s limited slip FWD or 4WD technology and *(new for 2016) 6 or 9 speed automatic transmissions and (new to Honda) 1-VTM4 transfer case, Honda Pilot leads the segment in out of the box performance while recording the highest EPA MPG rating in the segment.

On a personal note: I found Pilot’s transitional drive systems to be seamless, and noted minor to no difference in dry pavement performance between variants. Both 6 and 9 speed transmissions performed flawlessly, torque transfer to the road was slip-free and tractable in all drive modes.

We like the Earth Dreams V6

Honda’s latest generation V6 produced a pleasing, sporting exhaust tone, with just enough “Sport” to keep the drive interesting. Road vibration and tire noise were negligible as the drive team put 2016 Honda Pilot through its paces. As mentioned earlier, Pilot presents a rather nimble, responsive drive ability, yet exudes high seat position truck-like confidence and road stature.

We found the “Drive by wire” throttle to be instantaneous, and although not what I would consider to be a high power output engine from a racer’s point of view, Pilot never left us wanting for more when it came to acceleration, drive ability and road handling. In fact, Pilot borders on fun to drive!

Trim levels, safety features and surprising 3 row accessibility

For 2016 Honda takes Pilot versatility to the next level by expanding trim levels to 9. offering front wheel drive, or very smart 4-wheel-drive, 1 engine, 2 transmission choices and optional autonomous accident avoidance systems. Honda makes shopping for Pilot relatively simple by presenting a well equipped base model, and succinct well-priced uptick option packaging.

Price point

2016 Honda brings a much improved, V6 engine, 6-speed automatic aerodynamic and fuel efficient base model Pilot 2WD LX to market for MSRP $29,995. This is Honda’s answer to the (near) full size family station wagon of the new millennium. Featuring a standard backup camera with directional lines, front and rear cabin climate control, power windows, seats and one-touch 3rd row seat access, I find the base model Pilot to be an exceptional 8 passenger SUV purchase value.

From there... the sky’s the limit, literally

“Family Function, Premium appeal,” is the buzz phrase that Honda uses to describe the essence that is 2016 Pilot. Honda takes it a step further by labeling Pilot “A class above, offering stylish design and comfort.” I couldn't agree more.

Even the base LX features state of the art automotive design cues lifted from upscale cousin Acura MDX, and takes that a step further with Honda’s first Panoramic Glass Roof. On close examination, Honda Pilot holds up to foreign and domestic SUV offerings sporting much higher MSRPs. Note: MSRP $29,995 to $46,420 (4WD Elite w/RES & Navigation.)

Can’t capture Pilot’s astounding uptick in one article, or at least I can’t! So here’s the short list

2016 Honda Pilot in any trim variant features “Greater, Nicer and More!” Greater horsepower torque and fuel economy. Nicer exterior styling, tire rim designs (18 and 20 inch alloys) wind flow integrated LED headlights and taillights, more interior head, hip, leg and shoulder room, and behind 3rd row hauling and storage facilitation.

The new top of the line Elite trim gives Acura MDX a run for the money. Featuring LED headlights and taillights, 20- inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated 2nd row captain’s chairs, rain sensing windshield wipers HD radio, and Honda’s first Panoramic Glass Roof, (the short list.)

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Participants further experienced the benefit of Honda’s “Sensing” accident avoidance safety suite; where as Pilot, under certain emergency mitigation circumstances will effectively sell drive and self brake.

During my drive experience event at the Kentucky Speedway, I experienced the wonders of “Honda SENSING ™ .” Admittedly, being “Old School,” in the past we reached for the off button when it came to the vehicle taking over our driving duties.

This time Honda set up a demonstration course where attending journalist encountered Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, CMBS, (Vehicles and Pedestrians) Forward Collision Warning, and Lane Departure Warning. Yes, they all work astonishingly well.

Experiencing a 2.5 Ton SUV self braking and coming to a complete stop from 20 mpg ( just short of hitting the car dummy parked in front of us) is exhilarating and more than just a bit eye opening.

The implications as to near future accident avoidance presented through 2016 Pilot is impressive. I haven’t identified a safer 8 passenger SUV on the road today. Pilot is a great value by any measure. As to the “Bottom line?” Honda Pilot just reinvented the mainstream 8 passenger SUV.


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