The Pilot is about as capable in the snow as one can expect from a large three-row SUV. For starters, its front-drive architecture automatically gives the ’17 Pilot better traction over slick or snowy surfaces than would a traditional truck-based rear-drive model. That’s because a front-drive configuration places more power over the drive wheels and “pulls,” rather than “pushes” a vehicle. This enables a vehicle to more easily free itself from a snowbound parking space than a comparable rear-drive model, which would likely require a helpful push. Its tall ground clearance (at 7.3 inches) enables it to traverse deeper snow accumulations without scraping the undercarriage, As with most crossover SUVs, all-wheel-drive (AWD) is optional to afford added grip in low-traction situations, and the Pilot’s is able to selectively split the engine’s torque as necessary between the front and rear axles and the left and right rear wheels to maximize foul-weather traction. It also includes a traction management system with selectable modes to maximize grip over snow, sand, and mud. However, AWD is still largely unnecessary unless you live deep within the Snow Belt and/or regularly traverse unpaved roads. While all versions of the Pilot run on all-season tires for enhanced traction on wet roads, the base LX, EX, and EX-L trim levels include 18-inch wheels and tires, while the top Touring and Elite include larger 20-inch rims and rubber. Stick with the base setup for maximum grip under adverse conditions; generally, a smaller tire will perform more effectively in snow or ice than will a larger one.
Among competing three-row crossover SUVs, the ‘17 Pilot gets the edge over models like the Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, and Nissan Pathfinder because of its more-sophisticated AWD system. The Ford Explorer, which likewise offers an AWD system with selectable terrain modes comes close, but doesn’t include the Pilot’s right-left rear-wheel torque vectoring ability. The AWD system in the Nissan Pathfinder allows the driver to lock the powertrain into either full-time 2WD to garner maximum fuel economy on dry or only modestly slippery roads, or full-time AWD for maximum foul-weather prowess, though this leaves a driver to manually engage the system if conditions suddenly go sour when it’s locked into 2WD mode. A bona fide truck-based SUV with low-range 4WD gearing is the most capable in the snow, though three-row models are limited these days to the Toyota 4Runner and Dodge Durango, and full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Nissan Armada.