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Honda PilotHonda trains a new Pilot for 2016

By Jim Bray
December 3, 2015

Honda's full sized Pilot has received a major upgrade for 2016, and for the most part it's a fine one. Gone is the boxy Pilot of old, replaced by a handsome and modern SUV that's fully featured and up to date. Heck, it's almost like a lower end Acura MDX - which should surprise no one.

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Honda Canada's sample Pilot was of the Touring trim level, and it was loaded with just about everything you could think of including a middle row LCD entertainment system with an honest-to-goodness Blu-ray player feeding audio and/or video to it from the centre stack up front. Blu-ray may be overkill for a vehicle, since most of the LCD screens I've seen won't exploit it properly - and even if they can they're so small the HD picture may be wasted - but if nothing else it means you can bring along all your video library and the Pilot will play it. Well, excluding VHS and beta. And laserdiscs. And HD DVD. And CED. But you get the point.

The redesigned Pilot was first introduced to Canadians at this year's Canadian International Auto Show in the centre of the universe and it's been getting very good reviews. Honda says the vehicle, which was "reengineered and redesigned in North America," delivers more "family-friendly utility" (hence the BD player and third row of seats), more advanced technology and "more quality attributes than ever before," whatever that means.  

This is the third generation of the Pilot and I must admit I've liked them all, though I agree with other pundits that the old ones were more than a tad cubical on the outside and utilitarian-looking on the inside. The new one looks great - inside and out - and is a fitting follow up to the earlier generations. It isn't perfect, naturally, but my complaints really stem from Honda corporate decisions such as removing the knobs from the audio system - perhaps in response to pundits like me complaining that there were too many knobs before.

Guess they showed us!

As with other three row SUV's, the third row is pretty small, but Honda's engineers have managed to make it pretty easy to get into and out of (if you aren't middle aged, short and fat, anyway) thanks to a second row of captain's chairs (lower trim levels get a bench) that move forward quickly and easily. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time back there in Steerage, but smaller kids probably won't mind, especially if you drug them.

The third row of seats folds right down flat when you don't need them, creating a relatively cavernous storage and hauling area that would be great for carrying a big screen TV (depending on its size, of course), groceries or hockey bags.

New features include LED projector headlights with automatic high beams, a nifty feature. You can also get LED daytime running lights and taillights, 20 inch wheels and a lovely panoramic sunroof. The new Pilot also features nice, soft touch surfaces inside and things such as LED map lighting. The Touring model adds such niceties as leather, heated and cooled front seats (and heated second row seats), a heated steering wheel, multi-view rear camera, tri-zone automatic climate control and plenty more.

Motivating the 2016 Pilot is a new 3.5-litre, direct-injected i-VTEC V6 engine with Variable Cylinder Management (which deactivates cylinders when you're cruising, for better fuel economy). You can also order Idle Stop technology, which shuts off the engine when you're stopped, firing it up again quickly - and a tad jerkily - when you lift your hoof off the brake.

Depending on the Pilot trim level you choose, the engine will be mated to one of two new transmissions, including a "Pilot-first" six speed automatic. Honda Canada's sample Pilot had the other transmission, however, a "Honda-first" nine speed automatic that works fine but was a tad jerky off the line. The transmission eschews the conventional console-mounted lever in favour of the strange row of buttons on the console, as Acura is doing now. It works fine and is easy to get onto, despite its unusual appearance. You also get paddle shifters on the Touring version.

Pilots are available as either front or all-wheel drive; the sample had AWD, which Honda says is an all-new system that delivers "even more confident, efficient and dynamic all-weather performance." Roads were dry and clear when I had the Pilot, which figures, so I couldn't judge that aspect of it, but it drives just fine under those conditions.

Honda has put the Pilot onto a fitness regimen as well, shaving nearly 135 kilos from the previous Pilot's bulk. This, combined with the new engines and other efficiencies have led to what Honda says is "class-leading dynamic performance and improved fuel efficiency along with a new level of cabin quietness."

As befits modern vehicles, the Pilot also boasts extensive connectivity. And as is common with recent Hondas, unfortunately, I had trouble pairing my cell phone to it. The procedure is straightforward, but for some reason Hondas don't seem to find my phone the first time and I have to go through a secondary pairing procedure afterward. That second pairing process works fine, but it shouldn't be necessary.

Other connectivity choices include an abundance of USB ports, an auxiliary jack and even an HDMI port.

The eight inch touchscreen works well and its interface isn't too bad, but the voice recognition leaves a lot to be desired - and the only way for a  front seat passenger to adjust the audio system's volume is via the screen, which is a major pain when the vehicle is in motion.  Fortunately, the driver can partake of the redundant controls on the steering wheel.

The centre console offers a nice, big storage compartment that can hold a purse or a tablet, and when you close the cover on top of it you get a nice, flat storage area.

Nannies abound, not surprisingly, including the damn "BRAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" warning that illuminates on the instrument panel when the Honda thinks you aren't reacting to something ahead of you quickly enough. It's really annoying when you actually are paying attention (but disagree with the Honda's rather wussy assessment of the situation) because it draws your attention off the road and onto the instrument panel. How's that for safety?

The rest of the "Honda Sensing" suite of automotive bubble wrap for occupants also includes stuff like LaneWatch display, Blind Spot Indicators, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Monitor (I actually like this one, but as with other such things it's wrapped a little tightly for my taste), Adaptive Cruise Control and "a Honda-first" Road Departure Mitigation system. Yep, just try going off road in this thing and see what happens! Just kidding…

Naturally, you also get stuff like four-channel anti-lock brakes, stability/traction control, about a zillion air bags and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. Honda has managed to keep the Pilot's A pillars relatively thin, even stuffed with airbags as they are, which is a nice change; these days, many vehicles' pillars are so thick you nearly need to peek around them to see where you're going.

All of this comes at a price, of course. The Pilot, according to Honda Canada's website, starts at $35,490 but according to the documentation Honda provided with the Touring sample, its assault on your chequebook totals $50,490, which is getting into luxury SUV territory - not that the Pilot is any slouch when it comes to offering niceties.

All things considered, Honda has done a nice job with this new Pilot. It's built well, offers all the amenities one could want (and some you might not!) and will probably serve its owners well for many years.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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