Honda’s formula for its Pilot was never far off the mark, but somehow the boxy-looking and oh-so-functional SUV failed to find any real traction among buyers of mid-size, three-row SUVs. In the family-hauler shootout the Pilot, which sold 6,113 units in 2014, simply wasn’t in the same league as Kia’s Sorento (13,982 sold) or Ford’s Explorer (12,677 sold), and it lagged well behind the Toyota Highlander (9,749 sold) and Nissan Pathfinder (9,688 sold). You might think that Honda could take some solace in besting the Hyundai Santa Fe XL (4,894 sold) except Hyundai gleefully claimed the top of the mid-size SUV sales heap in Canada with its two-row, five-passenger Santa Fe Sport (27,580 sold).
For 2016 Honda set out to remedy the situation with an ambitious and comprehensive third-generation remake that drew directly from customer input in order to address the outgoing model’s greatest weaknesses.
First and most obvious is the styling. I was always in the minority in that I actually quite liked the boxy styling of the previous-gen Pilot, but it must be admitted that the look was a bit of out-of-place – the Pilot is no off-roading, terrain mauling Land Rover, and it seems the folks shopping in this market would rather park something with more of an air of urban sophistication in their driveways. So Honda has redrawn the Pilot to look like a big grown up CR-V (or like a Hyundai Santa Fe for that matter) and it pulls off the new look entirely successfully, appearing decently handsome and upscale without standing out much or looking garish. The neighbours will approve.
While the folks at Honda were smoothing out the styling they also stretched the Pilot a little – it’s 90 mm longer than the outgoing model and rides on a 45 mm longer wheelbase, with 35 mm more rear cargo area and 25 mm more length in the passenger compartment. Thanks to the increased use of high-strength steel it manages to accomplish this without gaining any weight. Indeed, in equivalent trim it weighs about 110 kg less than the previous-gen Pilot and and has 25 percent more structural rigidity for an improved ride. Perhaps best of all from the driver’s point of view, the newly smoothed styling doesn’t come at the cost of obstructive D-pillars (you can see out the back quite well, actually) and the A-pillars have been significantly slimmed down from the previous version (which had rather thick A-pillars) making it much easier to see pedestrians approaching from the corner of intersections, for example. Bravo Honda!
Bravo also for the Pilot’s safety ratings: It gets good scores across the board in IIHS crash tests (including the challenging new small overlap front crash) and earns a Top Safety Pick+ award thanks to the full suite of available safety features (in the Touring trim these include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, road departure warning, forward collision warning, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert).
Read more: Comparison Test: Mid-size Crossover SUVs
Inside, the new Pilot feels far more upscale and luxurious than the second-generation model, which was swathed in an unfortunate sea of what I charitably called “family-friendly rigid plastic” when I drove a 2013 model. The new Pilot replaces the former’s slab like plastic dash with an up-to-date looking layout that features a padded stitched dash pad and door uppers (front doors only), with piano black and brushed metal-look trim splashed about here and there. Admittedly the piano black might be a little 2010-ish (and it shows up dust and fingerprints like nobody’s business) but the overall look is now far less “Wash it out with a garden hose” and far more “Ah, Jeeves, bring the Pilot around, would you.”