The verdict is clear: The fourth-generation Honda Pilot has improved greatly and is no longer just a minivan in SUV clothing. Compared to its competitors, the 2023 Pilot now offers a legitimate off-road trim level, smooth V-6 power, competitive towing capacities and a vastly improved multimedia system that is much easier to use. As such, this refreshed SUV is a viable option in a crowded marketplace, though it may not yet be the top pick. With its redesign, Honda is proving that it has learned from the mistakes of its third-generation Pilot (2016-22) to succeed in this segment.
Honda is giving their legendary Pilot an update for 2023, giving it a much squarer, more capable off-road appearance. With the TrailSport trim, you can enjoy a 1-inch suspension lift, an off-road-tuned suspension, knobby all-terrain tires, and an AWD system specifically for the TrailSport. Plus, underbody protection and a switch to one of Honda’s more modern, easy-to-use touchscreen multimedia systems. Providing improved design and functionality, the 2023 Honda Pilot promises to be a true go-anywhere vehicle.
The Pilot’s newly designed light-truck architecture, shared with the Acura MDX, has been engineered to be much stiffer than the predecessor model. Utilizing a revised suspension system, this model is equipped with new front struts and a state-of-the-art rear multi-link suspension, allowing for enhancements in handling and performance. As a result of these advancements, drivers can experience an unprecedented level of control and comfort on the road.
With the Pilot TrailSport, you get an extra inch of ground clearance and an off-road-tuned suspension. You may experience less confidence while driving on pavement. However, the trade-off is a more aggressive all-terrain tire with a slight increase in vibration transferred into the passenger cabin. To get a smoother ride, you can opt for the Pilot Elite, which has 20-inch wheels and tires to reduce irregularities in the pavement. However, these tires are more sensitive to the bumps and imperfections you’d find in an off-road setting. Overall, the Pilot Elite is more comfortable, although the Pilot TrailSport is better equipped for off-roading.
The 3.5-litre V-6 engine in all Pilot trim levels delivers smooth and adequate power for highways, but don’t expect the SUV to feel particularly quick. Honda’s new 10-speed automatic transmission is significantly improved from its predecessor—quick four-gear downshifts touted under hard acceleration. However, you may find it a bit ponderous as gears still shift one by one. This transmission fixes an issue found in previous Pilot models whereby rapid deceleration would occur when lifting off the accelerator, making it difficult to coast. Professional and expert opinions suggest the new transmission technology is the best solution for performance and driver satisfaction.
This year’s Pilot also features a 3.5-litre V-6 engine, but its power is up by five horsepower, and torque is unchanged from last year’s model. It still has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, which is enough for most toy hauls, but it doesn’t need a cooling system added by the dealer. According to Honda estimates, front-wheel-drive models reach 22 mpg combined, while AWD non-TrailSport vehicles average 21 mpg (TrailSport models average 20 mpg combined). It matches the fuel economy of the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride but trails the fuel efficiency of the new Toyota Highlander and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The Honda Pilot is the only SUV without a hybrid powertrain.
It is impressive by the TrailSport’s off-road capabilities, having seen what similar products can do and knowing that Honda’s AWD system is exceptionally capable. Still, its all-terrain tires and underbody protection make it capable of going places owners won’t. With the TrailSport and Elite models, a TrailWatch camera system provides a good view around the Pilot when driving at speeds below 15 mph; a button on the steering column’s right-side stalk activates the camera. While the view isn’t as good as in a Jeep, and I found the dynamic guidelines indicating tire position disappointing, a camera system like this is crucial and extremely helpful. The Pilot’s windshield washer system is related to the front windshield washers – use the front washers to spritz the front camera. In the same way, the rear washer and rear camera also need to be replaced.
Compared to the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, and other off-road SUVs that mostly provide just a rugged appearance, the Subaru TrailSport has an impressive capability, while the typical customer’s use case is not well clarified. We had no problem driving the TrailSport on more difficult terrain. Still, for someone who does off-road driving a lot, a Wrangler, Ford Bronco, or Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro would be a better option because the underbody protection of the TrailSport is not as robust, and large front and rear overhangs and average ground clearance limits what can be navigated with a stock configuration.
Last time we compared three-row SUVs, the third-generation Pilot placed last due largely to its abysmal Display Audio touchscreen multimedia system, which relied on touch-sensitive controls and was slow to operate. The new Honda Pilot isn’t using Honda’s latest or largest touchscreen technology, but it is on par with Honda’s new 9-inch display on the higher trim levels. Although the 12.3-inch touchscreen in the upcoming 2023 Accord didn’t make it to the Pilot, the Pilot is much easier to use and has a physical volume knob and tuning buttons. They are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.