2019 Honda Pilot — Honda’s top-notch family hauler

By Jim Prueter

(December 21, 2018) The current generation of the Honda Pilot began back in 2016. For the 2019 model year, Honda has given its family-friendly midsized SUV a mid-cycle update.  With its flexible room-for-eight seating, easy driving nature, comfortable ride, quiet cabin and a gem of an engine all with a starting price of just $32,445 including destination charges, it’s no surprise the Pilot is in the top four of midsize SUV sales.

The Pilot took its share of criticism over the past few years because its exterior styling looked an awful lot like a minivan. For 2019, Pilot designers freshened the look so that its appearance is more SUV-like; it has a new front grille that closely mimics the new Accord, new silver colored front and rear bumper covers, and the rear backup lights were lifted up off the rear bumper and incorporated into the taillight cluster.

For 2019 the Pilot is offered in five trim levels, with or without Honda’s on-demand all-wheel drive system, a $1,900 option on all but the top-of-the-line Elite, where it is standard.

All Pilots are powered by the standard 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V-6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Except for the top two models – Touring and Elite – which use a reworked nine-speed automatic to be more responsive than the outgoing Pilot, addressing our previous transmission concerns.

Honda engineers also addressed the Pilot’s rough and erratic fuel-saving start/stop system for smoother integration with the vehicle’s air conditioning system and less delay on the restart.

Buyers can select between seating for seven or eight passengers with second-row captain’s chairs available on either the Touring or Elite trim levels. A hands-free tailgate is available for the first time.

Honda has also made its Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistance systems standard on all trim levels. This is comprised of Honda’s collision mitigation braking system with forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist system, and adaptive cruise control. Honda’s blind spot information system, previously available only on the Elite trim, is now standard on EX, EX-L and Touring trims as well. Finally, the rear cross traffic monitor has been expanded from Touring and Elite trims to the EX and EX-L.

The 2019 Pilot earned a
perfect five-star overall crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Out of six Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Pilot earned five Good ratings (the highest rating possible) and one Acceptable rating (the second-highest).

Inside, there’s an a
ll-new audio display system that’s easier to use, and for the first time includes a physical audio volume knob. There are also customizable short cuts and simplified menus. It still isn’t as intuitive as we would like.

A new instrument cluster, ported over from the Odyssey minivan, features a larger screen with a variety of user selectable operational displays. There’s a new updated rear-seat entertainment system that has a larger screen and includes a puppet-themed “How Much Farther?” feature. It functions as a "flight tracker" with a colorful on-screen animated marionette play that counts down time and distance to the destination that has been set into the navigation system. Multiple backgrounds with animation give the app a fun feel that's engaging for children. The new available display audio touchscreen system also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration

Pilot is now available with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and, for the first time, wireless phone charging standard on the Elite trim and as a dealer installed option on other trim levels. One other new feature is Honda’s CabinTalk™ that acts as a Honda Public Address system. It allows the driver to communicate with the passengers riding along even if they’re connected to the entertainment system or devices through wired or wireless headsets and headphones. The Rear Entertainment System is automatically paused and audio is muted (non Blue-ray content can be muted only). Audio and video automatically resumes when the app is closed.

While we found our up-level Pilot Elite to be a very good SUV with much to like, a better Pilot than the one it replaces, and a solid value, it doesn’t lead the midsize family SUV class in every area. We especially didn’t like the frustrating and unintuitive push-and-pull button gear selector located on the front of the center console. We frequently missed gears, thinking we were in drive, hitting the accelerator only to find we were still in reverse. At least Honda has included safeguards against unintentional rollaway, should you accidentally fail to push the park button.

The pull and tumble operation to access the third-row isn’t the easiest to use, and once back there, you’ll discover the room is only acceptable for the kids.

While certainly decent looking, some competitors in this segment have interiors that are more stylish and upscale with contemporary designs and more premium materials.

When it comes to handling, the Pilot falls short of many competitors, with its ungainly handling and a clumsy feel when cornering. We certainly don’t expect it to feel like a sports sedan, however, the drawback of the Pilot’s comfortable ride comes at the expense of its unsettled suspension characteristics.

Overall, the updated Pilot remains a solid choice as a family vehicle and does an excellent job of hauling kids, gear and pets. It’s easy to drive with good visibility and we’re impressed with its standard Honda Sensing suite of driver-assisted features.

Vital Stats
Price: $32,445 - $49,015
Price as Tested: $49,015
Powertrain: 3.5-Liter 280 hp V-6 connected to a 6-speed or 9-speed automatic transmission depending on trim level
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg City – 26-mpg Highway – 22-mpg Combined
Seating: 7 or 8

Where Built: Lincoln, Alabama

Crash Test Results: Overall highest possible five-star from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and five out of six possible tests scored Good (highest possible) and one acceptable (second highest) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Buick Enclave
Ford Explorer
Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Durango
Hyundai Santa Fe
Kia Sorento
Toyota Highlander
Volkswagen Atlas

Fab Features:
Standard Honda Sensing driver assisted features
Quiet, comfortable ride, easy to drive
Excellent reliability and resale values