2016 Honda Pilot: The Big Family Hauler Gets a Huge Makeover [Review]

2016 Honda Pilot

The Honda Pilot is a stalwart SUV that has served Honda well since the Pilot’s debut in 2002 as a 2003 model year. Even though it has been six years since the Honda Pilot was last updated, it has consistently been a popular choice for American families. The 2016 Honda Pilot has been fully redone bumper to bumper, and now has an aerodynamic shape that is both functional and stylish.

Gone is the big boxy grille. It also looks longer and lower, because it actually is. The Pilot is lower to the ground, shaves an inch off the top and adds three inches in length overall, with roughly two inches between the wheels and an inch of extra rear overhang. All of these fancy numbers translate into a lower step-in height, room for up to eight passengers, or cargo space that exceeds 109 cubic feet.

2016 Honda Pilot Elite AWD

Engine Power Torque Transmission MSRP
3.5L V6 280 hp @ 6000 rpm 262 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm 9-speed automatic $47,300

Lighter and more aerodynamic than its predecessor, the 2016 Pilot is a class leader in fuel efficiency. The 280 horsepower 3.5-liter direct-injection V6 is available across all trims, and has been completely reengineered to be more powerful and get better gas mileage. The new engine paired with one of two transmissions – a six-speed automatic (6AT) for LX, EX and EX-L trims, and a nine-speed automatic for Touring and Elite trims – is up 30 horsepower over the previous model.

The Elite trim, which has a nine-speed transmission and all-wheel drive, is EPA-estimated at 19/26/22 (city/hwy/combined) mpg. Used for a 1,450 road trip to from San Jose to Portland and back, the Pilot squeezed out 28 mpg on one tank of gas that had long stretches of highway and steady speeds between 60 and 75 mph. Overall mpg for the entire trip that included exploring the sights around Portland was right inline with the 22 mpg EPA estimate.

2016 Honda Pilot 28 mpg
28 mpg!

The range-topping Elite trim has an impressive list of features that include a panoramic glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats and heated second-row captain’s chairs as well as LED headlights and the first use of 20-inch wheels on a Honda.

Honda completely redesigned the interior of the 2016 Pilot and its extreme makeover looks good. Gone are the cheap plastic parts and in its place are lots of soft touch materials and quality parts that fit right in with the upscale cabin. The cabin is spacious, family friendly and has a multitude of compartments, binnacles, and cupholders to keep everyone happy.

The 7-passenger Pilot Elite is equipped with two second-row captain’s chairs and low-profile center console. All other Pilot trims feature 8-passenger seating with three-person bench seats for the second and third rows. Both rows of seats fold neatly for a flat loading surface when cargo space is needed.

The center console features an 8-inch touchscreen display perfect for showing off smudgy fingerprints. The infotainment system is powered by Android operating system and works most of the time. I did experience some errors during my long hours on the road where the system would not recognize my smartphone whether it was connected via Bluetooth or with a USB cable. Thankfully I was driving where satellite radio reception was not a problem.


2016 Honda Pilot earns 2015 Top Safety Pick+ Rating from IIHS, which proves that it’s built to keep you safer in the event of a crash. Additionally, the Pilot has a full suite of tech designed to keep you from getting into big trouble in the first place. Designated as Honda Sensing, the safety and driver-assist group is built around making the all-new Pilot easy to drive and safer.

Adaptive cruise control adjusts the Pilot’s speed up and down, matching itself with the flow of traffic and keeping a safe predetermined distance in front. The lane-departure assist does more than warn the driver that the Pilot is drifting out of its lane. Alarms will sound after 15 seconds if both hands leave the steering wheel. If the midsize crossover thinks that eminent danger is ahead — which may be in the form of other vehicles, road obstacles and even pedestrians — the forward collision warning sounds off and preloads the brakes before the collision-mitigation system engages. Blind-spot monitor, automatic high-beam switching, and rear cross traffic monitor are all part of the Honda Sensing package and standard equipment in the Touring and Elite trims.

2016 Honda Pilot

Driving Impressions

On the road, the new Honda Pilot is much quieter with better isolation from wind and road noise. There is a tiny bit of wind noise near the large side view mirrors, but only noticeable when the cabin isn’t filled with your favorite music or when the kiddies are napping peacefully in the second or third row seats. The smooth ride is not only good for better all-around comfort, it can also lull the little ones to sleep on long trips.

However, handling is still not a strong point for the 2016 Pilot. With a 7.3-inch ground clearance it sits 0.7 inches lower than the previous model, but body lean is still pronounced and steering response is on the lackluster side. A high center of gravity, soft suspension, and disconnected feel from the road are constant reminders to keep the Pilot near posted legal speed limits.

2016 Honda Pilot

Rough edges that need work are the 9-speed transmission’s shifting behavior and the adaptive cruise control’s inability to accelerate/decelerate speed smoothly. Too often the transmission went hunting for the right gear when elevation changes came up or there were dramatic speed changes. Execution of the adaptive cruise control is anything but smooth – even when adjusting cruise control speed manually. If I wanted a smooth driving experience, full manual control was necessary.

Lease itUsing the TFL Car scale of

Buy it!
Lease it!
Rent it!
…or forget it!

The 2016 Honda Pilot gets a “Lease it!” rating.

The 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers a nice blend of power and efficiency. The interior is admirably laid out, has lots of power ports to plug-in your devices, and looks pretty darn good from the outside. The 2016 model makes a big leap in safety and technology while still managing to improve on the strong fundamentals like passenger and cargo room. My reservations are with the 9-speed automatic transmission that does not lend itself to a smooth driving experience, the weak handling characteristics, and seats that were downright uncomfortable.

Other semi-affordable 3-row mid-size SUVs to consider are the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, and Toyota Highlander. If your budget allows for more, then consider the Chevy Suburban, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX60, and Range Rover LWB.

Watch this TFL Car mega-mashup review that matches the 2016 Honda Pilot against the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Chevrolet Traverse.