For most automakers, a busy year includes a redesigned model or two and perhaps many mid-cycle facelifts. But Honda took a slightly different tack, revitalizing all of its core offerings in one fell swoop.
The latest vehicle to gain attention is the all-new Honda Pilot 2023, the fourth generation of the company’s popular three-row SUV. With seating for up to eight, a cabin filled with cubbies and storage solutions, and the availability of front or all-wheel drive, the new Pilot retains most of what made its predecessors great. But its sculptural style, redesigned architecture and new TrailSport trim level make it stand out from the old model with a tough new image unlike any other Honda SUV, past or present.
Blending Old and New
Honda is honest when it comes to the Pilot’s fascinating history, speaking of style. The anonymous but handsome first-generation model gave way to the chubby second-generation, whose prominent, square contours looked aerodynamically inefficient and slightly cartoonish. But then the company went too far in another direction with the 2016 Pilot, whose design was too round and egg-like. Comparisons to the Odyssey minivan are common (and guaranteed).
The Honda Pilot 2023 tries to rectify all of those mistakes, with a more traditional SUV-shaped design that gets an upright grille and greenhouse, bold fender contours, and the largest hood ever applied to a vehicle sporting that square H badge. There is still a slight slope to the roofline, and vertical bumper vents help channel air around the car to maintain aerodynamic efficiency. But there are a lot of details – namely the surrounding gutter windows and the convex C-pillar – that remind us of the second-generation Pilot.
It’s great to see the company’s biggest SUV also present itself, in terms of design. There is some resemblance to the CR-V at the front, where the narrow headlights are joined by a large corner grille. But for the most part, the Pilot has a look of its own, underlined by a decidedly unintegrated C-pillar that helps the car feel taller, squarer and tougher.
Inside, the Pilot recombines some of its predecessor’s traits with a modernized Honda style. A replacement for the mid-century mesh that breeds from the Civic to the HR-V and CR-V, the Pilot features more traditional HVAC vents, as well as wide storage slots that cover the area above the glovebox. The infotainment system has also been upgraded, sort of. The 7.0-inch screen on the base Sport model is actually an inch smaller than the one on the 2022 Pilot Sport, but every other trim gets a bigger 9.0-inch screen – the old Pilot maxed out at 8.0 inches. Below the screen is Honda’s smug and fun climate control, casting a bright burst of light inside.
Family Friendly Intelligence
The cabin hides some pretty neat features that should make family trips easier. In addition to the passenger storage rack, the center console is larger than before, and there are a total of 14 cupholders (with eight that can hold a 32-ounce water bottle). Heated front seats are standard across the range, with a heated steering wheel on the TrailSport and Elite trims.
The pilot is also wider than before, with more legroom in the second and third rows. The middle seat tilts 10 degrees (up from 6), and tilts forward further for easy access to the rear seat. With all the seats above, the Pilot offers an impressive 22.4 cubic feet of cargo space with a floor that can be reconfigured in the lowest position. Drop all the chairs flat and there are 113.7 cubes left. Both numbers went up in almost all competitions – only the Chevrolet Traverse had more room with the seats raised.
The Pilot Sport, EX, and EX-L come standard with a second row seat for a total of eight seats, while the TrailSport gets a captain’s seat and a seven-seater capacity. However, the Pilot Touring and Elite trims combine the best of both worlds, with a foldable and removable middle seat in the second row that can be adjusted in three different positions.
Upright, it provides triple-cross seating, but it can also fold down to provide two additional cupholders and an armrest for an outboard position. Finally, it can also be removed entirely, providing a pass-through to the third row. And taking a page from the Odyssey minivan book, the extra seats can be stowed away in storage under the back floor when not in use.
However, it has to be said that when the center position is removed, the outboard seats no longer have armrests – the regular captain’s seats on the TrailSport do and are more comfortable for that. And even when the seat is mounted but folded down, the seatback is too low to make a comfortable place to rest your elbows. If it’s our product planning money, we might give buyers the choice between a reconfigurable second row, traditional bucket seats, or regular benches, whichever model they choose.
Engineered To Rock
Honda says the 2023 Pilot is the most powerful and most powerful SUV it has ever built. In short, the Pilot gets the most powerful V6 on an American Honda, even though its output is still 285 horsepower and 262 pound-feet. Ford’s Explorer makes a healthy 300 hp and 310 lb-ft from its turbocharged four-cylinder, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee L offers the Hemi V8 for the true power junkie. However, the new 3.5 liter engine in the Pilot features a simpler head design with fewer moving parts for greater reliability and efficiency, as well as more compact overall dimensions for greater pedestrian safety.
Backing up the engine is Honda’s impressive 10-speed automatic gearbox, replacing the okay nine-speed on the outgoing Pilot. If it operates in the same way as the 10-speed Odyssey, it should be a good companion to the V6, sending power to the front or all four wheels – the Elite and TrailSport get AWD standard.
The ’23 pilot rides a new light truck platform that we predict will eventually reach the upcoming versions of the Ridgeline and Passport. The lighter architecture provides 60 percent more lateral stiffness up front and 30 percent more rear. Track width also increases by 1.1 to 1.2 inches at the front axle and 1.4 to 1.5 inches at the rear – depending on the model. Improved MacPherson strut front suspension is joined by an all-new multilink rear, optimized both for the Pilot’s premier family carrier mission, as well as a summary of the rugged TrailSport design.
Speaking of which, while the current Pilot TrailSport is nothing more than a style pack, the 2023 model packs some legit hardware upgrades to justify the rugged design. A unique spring and strut combination gives the TrailSport an extra inch of ground clearance, and trim-specific front and rear sway bars improve articulation and off-road riding comfort. While other Pilot trims get 20-inch alloy wheels, the TrailSport’s 18s makes more fender space for the higher-profile all-terrain tires – by the way, the first time a Honda-designed car gets A/T.
TrailSport is also getting some new software to help its standard all-wheel drive system maintain forward momentum. On most Pilots, the rear axle gets up to 70 percent of engine power, with 100 percent of engine power channeled to one of the wheels if necessary via a torque vector clutch. The TrailSport messes with that calculus a bit – the rear differential can take up to 75 percent and splits that power 75/25 side to side. But wait, doesn’t that mean wheels that don’t have grip will still get power?
Yes, and Honda had good reasons for this counterintuitive strategy. The automaker says that as the TrailSport crawls forward (both via a gripped rear differential and brake-based front axle vector), once the spinning wheel regains traction, it’s already engaged and can make the best use of grip. The automaker says it helps improve responsiveness when scrambling through snow, rocks and ruts.
Also standard on the TrailSport is the TrailWatch camera system. Utilizing the same 360-degree camera found on other Pilot models, a sturdier trim level keeps video displays active at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour when the multi-terrain selector is set to Trail mode. The camera disengaged at a higher speed, but then reactivated once the Pilot dropped below 12 mph. In short, the Pilot TrailSport promises to be at least as capable as its competitors, the Ford Explorer Timberline and Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek – although the Grand Cherokee L and its available low-range transfer cases will probably still be king of the mountain.
The Honda Pilot 2023 is the latest entrant in the automaker’s “Year of SUV” product push, arriving at dealerships in December. When it gets here, it’ll be up against the recently-facelifted Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, the spacious but old-fashioned Chevrolet Traverse, the tough Ford Explorer, and a host of other entrants in the midsize three-row SUV space. Honda has several advantages, namely its spacious and comfortable interior, the truly sturdy TrailSport offering, and a variety of trims and options to satisfy most owners.
Price will remain the main consideration, and for that detail, we will have to wait. The current pilot starts at a heady $39,375 on purpose, and that’s for the front-drive Sport trim. It seems unlikely that Honda will cut prices for 2023, which would make the new Pilot one of the most expensive vehicles in its class, surpassing the Ford by around $3,000 and the Chevy by nearly $6,000 to begin with. However, Honda’s three-row SUV has always been a popular choice for moms and dads, and we see no reason why the 2023 Pilot’s bolder styling and family-friendly cabin would change that.