2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD Review

The minivan takes many forms


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Nice updates to the exterior, cavernous interior, easy to drive for something so large, very utilitarian, good grunt from the V6.
Negatives: Some cheap interior materials, third row access is tight, gear selector buttons are annoying to use, still looks like a minivan.
Bottom Line: The Pilot is one of the most capable three-row SUVs on the market, and it's nicely balanced with good driving manners, family-friendly features, excellent safety tech, and a responsive naturally-aspirated V6 engine. There's just not much that's especially exciting about its styling.
The big Honda Pilot is almost legendary for its space and utility. Honda tapped into the right market for its 3rd generation, going after big families who need three rows and massive cargo space. Too bad it didn't tick any style boxes with its minivan look. Honda aimed to change that for 2019 with small styling tweaks, as well as improvements to the infotainment system. For 2019, the Pilot gets the Honda Sensing Suite of safety tech, a huge asset. We drove the top trim Elite version for a week to see if this minivan of an SUV could thrill us. Read on for our detailed review.
 

Driving Experience

8.2

 

Though the Pilot won't set any land speed records or nail any autocross courses, it's very good to drive for a three-row SUV. It's not as thrilling as the Mazda CX-9 (but what is in this segment?) and a tad below the VW Atlas, but the Pilot can accelerate, steer, and handle better than most.

Ride Quality: Comfortable without being isolated. Bumps and gaps are easily dispatched by the Pilot's compliant suspension.

Acceleration: The V6 pulls hard, and the 9-speed automatic shifts well (paddle shifters are a nice addition for more control). 0-60 comes in about 7 seconds.

Braking: The brakes provide an average stopping distance, and the pedal is progressive without any mushiness or dead spots.

Steering: Honda vehicles have good steering across the board, and the Pilot is no exception. The steering effort is medium, while the precision is good. Like most electric power-assisted systems, it lacks feel.

Handling: For a tall SUV, the Pilot is pretty impressive in the turns. There's naturally some body roll, but it manages to hang on and respond to steering inputs well.

Technology

7.9

 

Honda has rightly improved on its in-car tech. The new infotainment system is easy to use, and there's a real audio knob instead of a dumb volume slider in the infotainment screen's frame. The addition of CabinTalk that lets the front row communicate with the third row is brilliant, and we wonder why no one else thought of something like this as a replacement for yelling.

Infotainment System: The color infotainment screen is vivid and easy to read. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard making the car's interface controls even easier.

Controls: As much as we like the new volume knob for audio and the easy climate controls and steering wheel controls, we just can't get behind the pushbuttons for the gear selector. We hit reverse on accident more than once when we meant to hit drive. Even a rotary shifter is better than this.

Styling

5.9

 

Though Honda made changes to the exterior of the Pilot to make it look less like minivan. The front and rear fascias were tweaked, but the overall shape remains the same. It's not particularly well styled (the Passport and the CR-V look better), but it's not offensive.

Front: New CR-V-like headlights and grille help it lose the bulky front end look.

Rear: The taillights have been mildly restyled to reduce the thick appearance of the back. Most folks won't notice the difference here as much as in the front.

Profile: There's no question the Pilot is a tall vehicle that's meant less for style and more for utility. There's also way too much chrome for our liking.

Cabin: We wouldn't call the cabin well-styled, but it's at least clean and unobtrusive. Some of the dash plastics look and feel cheap. The Korean brands do it way better in their newer three-row models.

Comfort

7.8

 

The spaciousness is a big bonus here, but the seats in the Pilot could be a tad better, along with the ergonomics and controls. In terms of overall family accommodation, it is nice to have the Captain's chairs with easier access to the third row. Second row bench models make things a bit tighter to the back.

Front Seats: Comfortable and well-cushioned with an excellent seating position and easy reach to controls. They just need a bit more lateral support and adjustability of the seat cushion.

Rear Seats: The Captain's chairs are almost as good as the front seats.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Pilot is quiet at highway speeds and well-constructed with no errant noises we could notice.

Visibility: Big glass all around and great seating position makes visibility in all directions very easy, unlike so many other SUVs.

Climate: The climate system was excellent, but we had trouble feeling much ventilation from the seats.

Safety

8

 

The Pilot is a very safe vehicle as evidence by crash tests and the new suite of safety tech. One big demerit was the automatic emergency braking, which is far too invasive. For instance, we were trying to get around a stopped car, and the system slammed on the brakes hard, freaking us (and everyone else) out in the process.

IIHS Rating: The Pilot nabbed the Top Safety Pick rating, missing the very top score due to "Acceptable" in passenger frontal offset crash scores and headlights.

NHTSA Rating: The Pilot gets top scores (five stars overall) from the federal government but doesn't achieve five stars in the passenger frontal crash and rollover risk areas, getting only four stars for those components.

Standard Tech: The Honda Sensing Suite of safety tech is robust and comes with Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, and Road Departure Mitigation.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

9.2

 

It's one of the Pilot's biggest strengths thanks to brilliant compartments and a huge rear cargo section that folds completely flat (and is seriously wide). Honda knew their target market (big families), and the payoff in the mindfulness of this keeps the Pilot at the top of its game with regard to capacity.

Storage Space: A massive center console compartment with a sliding door holds almost any daily gear items including large tablets. It's deep and keeps things out of sight. The Qi wireless charging deck is also big, the door pockets are spacious, and there's a large center console in the second row between the Captain's chairs.

Cargo Room: The back of the Pilot is huge with 16.5 cubic feet behind the third row and 83.9 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. Though its not as big as the VW Atlas or the new Hyundai Palisade, it will more than enough for a most big errands and trips.

Fuel Economy

8.2

 

The Pilot does quite well for a big SUV in terms of efficiency. The power of the V6 is more than adequate, and there's a lot of weight to pull (4,319 pounds), so were surprised to get the numbers we did given the fact that we drove the Pilot in Sport mode 100% of the time to extract the most response from the engine and transmission.

Observed: 17.9 mpg

Distance Driven: 226 miles

Audio

8

 

Our Elite trim tester came with Honda's premium audio system with 10 speakers, and it's a very good system with excellent clarity. It could use more bass, but the system has zero distortion at high volumes.



Final Thoughts

The Pilot is one of those vehicles that's tremendously capable but not especially exciting. Sure, it's better to drive than most three-row SUVs, but the fact that it looks like a minivan and has a practical but somewhat boring interior means you won't be thrilled about getting in it every day, especially if you have to transport screaming kids. It's family-friendly, easy to drive, safe, and roomy. We like the VW Atlas and the new Hyundai Palisade better, but the Pilot has proven itself to be an eminently capable family vehicle.

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