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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Honda Pilot

1. What’s new for 2016?

Everything but the name. Sleeker styling, more power yet better fuel economy, and overdue safety features mark the first full redesign of this midsize crossover since model-year 2009. Looking much like an inflated version of the automaker’s hot-selling CR-V compact crossover, the ’16 Pilot’s gentle contours replace boxy shapes inside and out. It’s less rugged-looking but more aerodynamic and this third-generation design is between 245- and 291-pounds lighter than the outgoing version. New touches include available LED headlights and 20-inch wheels. Pilot remains among the few midsize crossovers with seating for up to eight. Wheelbase grows 1.8 inches and passenger volume is again competitive, while cargo space gets a needed boost from a 3-inch-stretch in body length.

A 3.5-liter V-6 is again the only engine but it’s a new, more sophisticated design, now available with gas-saving stop-start. Transmissions get a major upgrade, too. The standard automatic now has six speeds instead of five and upper-trim versions get the brand’s first nine-speed automatic. New safety features include the first lane-departure steering-correction system available on any Honda. Sales begin in summer 2015.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Prices are generally competitive with three-row midsize crossovers such as the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Nissan Pathfinder – though Honda seeks to mine upscale buyers with a new flagship priced above every direct rival except hybrid versions of the Highlander.

As for deals, Pilot demand has slipped in recent years under an onslaught of newer crossovers with more features and fresher styling. But the ’16 redesign is sure to reignite interest, likely erasing what few factory incentives were offered and chilling dealers’ willingness to discount. There’s nearly always room for negotiation, but don’t look for much off suggested retail price for a 2016.

Honda doesn’t offer stand-alone options so appealing to the individual preferences of shoppers means a model line with an unusually large number of trim levels. It begins with the LX, starting at $30,875 (all prices include the automaker’s $880 destination fee). That’s a modest $625 increase over the least expensive ’15 Pilot, while the new, top-line Elite version pushes the base price of the most expensive ’16 edition to $47,300, some $5,300 above the 2015 flagship. Still, there are some equipment anomalies that may force you to the next higher trim level to get what you want, or even go without.

The LX comes with such features as 18-inch alloy wheels, pushbutton ignition, a 5-inch dashboard audio screen, multi-angle review camera, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple’s Siri Eyes Free voice linking for compatible iPhones. It seats eight via two front buckets and three-passenger second- and third-row folding benches.

Next is the EX. Among its additions to the LX are remote engine start, fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, keyless entry, and a power driver’s seat with power lumbar. It also comes with tri-zone automatic climate control; illuminated steering-wheel controls for audio, phone and cruise; an 8-inch dashboard screen; a subwoofer; and wireless access to internet sourced music and media, including Pandora.

The EX is priced at $33,310. It’s $34,310 with the new-for’16 Honda Sensing suit of driver assists. This pulls the Pilot abreast of top competitors by equipping it with forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning and automatic steering correction, and adaptive cruise control.

The popular EX-L is the next rung on the model ladder, and here’s where equipment choices present a challenge. Every EX-L replaces the cloth seats of LX and EX with leather upholstery and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a moonroof, a power front passenger seat, headed front seats, and a power tailgate. EX-Ls also put kid-friendly illuminated buttons on the outboard sides of the second-row seat sections; one press releases the seats to tip and slide for access to the third row.

The “basic” EX-L is priced at $36,785. For $37,785, you can add Honda Sensing or an integrated GPS navigation system that employs the 8-inch screen for improved mapping graphics and new capabilities, including 3D renderings of buildings, road signs, and terrain.

But you can’t have an EX-L with both Honda Sensing and navigation. Further, you can get an EX-L with a rear DVD entertainment system with a fold-down 9-inch VGA ceiling screen, an HDMI port, two USB ports, and rear-door window shades. It’s priced at $38,395 – but isn’t available with either Honda Sensing or navigation.

To combine those features in a Pilot you’ll move up to the Touring model. Priced at $41,900, it has all the basic EX-L equipment, plus Honda Sensing, navigation, and the rear-entertainment system, here with Blu-ray technology. It replaces the six-speed automatic transmission of the LX and EX grades with a nine-speed automatic and adds 20-inch alloy wheels. It fits the engine with a fuel-saving system that shuts it off when the vehicle is stopped then automatically restarts it when the brake pedal is released. The audio unit nearly doubles in watts, to 540, and has 10 speakers, including a subwoofer. The driver’s seat gains power memory and the second-row bench gains two high-speed USB charging ports (for five ports total).

All the aforementioned prices are for models with front-wheel drive; add $1,800 for all-wheel drive (AWD), detailed below.

Assuming the Touring’s previous position atop the model line is the Elite. Priced at $47,300, it comes with AWD, the nine-speed automatic, and engine stop/start. It includes all the other Touring features while adding a second, fixed sunroof panel over the second and third seating rows. This leaves room for the ceiling-mounted DVD screen and is the first panoramic-type roof on any Honda. The Elite is also the first and only Pilot with seven-passenger seating. It replaces the second-row bench with two heated captain’s chairs divided by a low center console. Also unique to the Elite are LED headlights, a heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled front seats. Curiously, this is the sole trim with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection, a feature more liberally available in rival lineups and even in a host of less expensive vehicles

3. When will the next big change be?

Probably model-year 2019, with updates to styling and equipment. If Honda hews to its traditional crossover lifecycle, the next full redesign would happen for model-year 2023. But automakers are under pressure to renew products more frequently and thoroughly. So the midcycle freshening may well occur before 2019 and could involve more than the customary cosmetic tweaks. It could extend to powertrain upgrades: making the nine-speed automatic transmission standard across the board, for example. Those same market forces may also lead to release of the all-new fourth-generation sooner than 2023.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Packing all the base-line essentials for around $35,000 with AWD, the EX is a fine value. And stretching your budget slightly to add Honda Sensing is a wise idea. Pilot owners represent an upscale demographic, though, and historically have gravitated to higher-line trims; hence addition of the Elite for ’16.

Durable, wipe-able leather upholstery is a smart idea in any family vehicle, so an EX-L with all its other upgrades deserves strong consideration. However, being forced to choose between the safety of Honda Sensing, the peace-of-mind of on-board navigation, or the diversion of rear-entertainment surly will push lots of buyers up the model ladder

We don’t condone such marketing tactics, but at least the Japanese automaker offers all these features and more in the Touring. Priced on par and even below some rivals with fewer goodies, it’s the Pilot sweet spot. You’ll not want for driver assistance (though no blind-spot monitoring!), GPS convenience, or kid-mollifying Blu-ray. And its powertrain upgrades are genuine, although the 20-inch wheels do more for looks than ride comfort.

Up-sell pressure shadows the Elite, too, but it has some worthwhile attractions, including LED headlamps, heated steering wheel, and the captain’s chairs. At more than $47,000, however, buyers who don’t shun premium-brand nameplates would do well to look at three-row midsize crossovers such as the Infiniti QX60, Volvo XC90, and certainly the Acura RDX from Honda’s own luxury division.

5. What engine do you recommend?

You’re sole choice is the 3.5-liter V-6, re-engineered as part of the automaker’s modern Earth Dreams engine family. It retains the ability to save gas by automatically idling three cylinders at cruising speed but finally gains the added efficiency of direct fuel injection.

It also acquires economy-enhancing stop-start, though that feature, like the nine-speed automatic transmission, is confined to the most expensive Touring and Elite models. Still, the upgrade to the six-speed automatic as standard in the LX, EX, and EX-L lines is a welcome enhancement to acceleration, throttle response, and mileage.

Horsepower on all 2016 models is 280, up from 250, while torque climbs to 262 pound-feet, from 253. Honda puts 0-60-mph at just over 7 seconds, some 2 seconds quicker than before and indeed, acceleration is more than adequate.

The six-speed automatic furnishes smooth, prompt gear changes and while we’re enthusiastic about the nine-speed transmission, we don’t see it as the only reason to recommend you spend extra to acquire it. We do recommend you spring for all-wheel drive. This is not a hard-core off-road vehicle, but AWD gives you an all-surface traction advantage over the standard front-wheel drive and has been recalibrated for ’16 to react quicker and have less effect on fuel economy. It also loses its AWD-lock feature for driver-selectable modes that maximize traction in snow, sand, and mud. Front-drive models starting at the EX level have just a snow setting.

Bottom line: with less weight and a more modern powertrain, any version of this crossover should easily satisfy most anything you’ll demand of it.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Tied for best-in-segment with the Nissan Pathfinder and trailing only the Highlander Hybrid. Pilots with the six-speed transmission rate 22 mpg city-highway combined with front-wheel drive and 21 with AWD. Touring and Elite, with their nine-speed automatic, rate 23 mpg with front-drive and 22 with AWD. Their stop-start system is likely a fuel-saving plus, but doesn’t count toward EPA ratings.

Among three-row midsize crossovers with similar power, the Pathfinder rates 23 mpg combined with front-drive and 22 with AWD in all its configurations. The other direct rivals rate 21 mpg and 20 mpg, respectively, except for the Explorer, at 20 with front-drive and 19 with AWD. The Highlander Hybrid comes only with AWD and rates 28 mpg combined; its prices begin around $48,000.

7. How does it handle?

Like a dream, if you dream of a family vehicle with near-minivan utility but without the minivan stigma. Steering feel is too light to uphold the sporty feel for which Hondas are known. But Pilot is quick to change direction at city speeds and tracks confidently on the highway. Hustling down a winding road brings out some body lean, as in virtually every other crossover in this class. But the Pilot takes medium-speed turns with relatively little noseplow and admirable grip. The 20-inch tires give it a marginally sharper manner in corners, but don’t absorb bumps as well as the 18s.

2016 Honda Pilot Elite

2016 Honda Pilot Elite

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Yes, except for the touchscreen-based infotainment system on EX and above models. Similar to the setup we’ve criticized in the new HR-V subcompact crossover, it’s devoid of traditional knobs or buttons. You control most audio and navigation functions by tapping, swiping, and scrolling through icons on the 8-inch dashboard display. Voice recognition and steering-wheel buttons allow commands for most chores, but the screen is still likely to be your main point of interaction with the systems and its reliance solely on touchpoints is a potential driver distraction.

No control is difficult to reach, however, and the all-new dashboard design follows the exterior’s evolution, replacing cubist forms with softer, sweeping themes. On upper-trim models, instruments are displayed digitally. And versions with the nine-speed automatic supplant the console-mounted shift lever with a neat and contemporary row of gear-selection buttons, plus steering-wheel paddle shifters.

The new center console can store a large purse or full-size iPad beneath a sliding seamless cover with a non-slip surface. Depending on model, there are up to five USB ports, four providing 2.5-amp output to charge iPads or smartphones while in use. There’s also an HDMI port for a gaming console, two headphone jacks, a pair of 12-volt outlets and a 115-volt household-type outlet.

9. Is it comfortable?

Like many Hondas, Pilot has traditionally traded a cushy ride for a taut suspension. The result was better control and more athletic road manners than rivals like the Pathfinder and Highlander, but less isolation from bumps and road noise. The ’16 achieves a better ride-handling balance by sacrificing a little of the sporty road manners of its predecessor for a ride that’s pleasantly taut without ever being harsh.

It’s quieter, too, and has a cabin more luxurious than any Pilot’s before it, with more abundant use of soft-touch surfaces where hard plastic previously dominated. First- and second-row seating space is generous. Room in the third row is better than in many midsize crossovers, though the low seat cushion will force anyone over 5-foot-6 or so to sit knees-up. Those new one-touch buttons starting with EX-L models eliminate bulky lever-and-latch mechanisms; we wish every trim level had them. On all models, the third-row entryway is widened 2.5 inches. Cargo room is plentiful, with better-than-average space behind the third-row seat a nice bonus.

10. What about safety?

Crash-test ratings were not available in time for this review but Pilot must score better in collision tests, and Honda promises it will.

The third generation got four of five possible stars overall for occupant protection in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash testing. Rival three-row crossovers earning five stars included the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander. Honda says the ’16 Pilot will join them.

In influential tests by the insurance-industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS),the outgoing Pilot got the highest “good” ratings for frontal- and side-impact and roof-crush protection. But it got the lowest “poor” rating in the “small overlap test” that measures occupant protection when vehicles collide front-corner to front-corner. The ’16 Pilot is designed to ace every IIHS crash test and earn the institute’s highest overall Top Safety Pick+ rating.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Should be a selling point. Reliability can’t be established without several years in the marketplace but the Honda brand ranks well above the industry average in dependability in owner surveys conducted by the influential market research firm J.D. Power. And owners of the 2015 Pilot surveyed gave it above-average marks for dependability.

Honda resale values also are traditionally strong and the automotive-valuation firm ALG rates previous Pilots above average for resale value, retaining 34 percent of their original price after five years. IntelliChoice, which tracks cost of ownership, ranks them among the best in the class for low running costs.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Despite slipping behind in looks and features, the third-generation Pilot reflected Honda’s core values of space-efficiency, solid construction, and cut-above road manners. The ’16 redesign will reward loyal owners with those qualities, now supported by contemporary styling and up-to-date powertrain and safety tech. Among rivals with three seating rows, Pathfinder and Highlander are obvious alternatives, though neither quite matches Pilot’s handling. The Ford Explorer is overdue for a freshening. The muscular Dodge Durango and the impressively redesigned Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe also deserve a look.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]