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2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot

What changes will make the 2019 Honda Pilot different?

Revised styling; wider availability of key safety features; and new, more fuel-efficient engines – including turbocharged four-cylinder and hybrid options – are in the mix as Honda updates its biggest crossover SUV. Launched for model-year 2009, this third-generation Pilot is due a midcycle freshening consisting of major updates that fall short of a full design.

How far Honda will go to modify the Pilot for 2019 only it knows. Freshened styling is a certainty. How it may adjust features availability and what the powertrain lineup will look like are speculative. But expect a significantly different ’19 Pilot as Honda fights for a larger share of the crowded, competitive midsize-crossover segment.

Debuting for model-year 2004, the original Pilot was one of the first midsize crossovers with three rows of seats for up to seven passengers. It was an instant sales success. The second-generation, launched in 2009, was arguably a step back, with its self-consciously blocky styling and interior materials that fell short of Honda’s usually high standards. The more streamlined, higher-quality third-generation bowed for model-year 2016 and reasserted itself as a benchmark for driving dynamics, passenger comfort, and cargo flexibility.

Sales are healthy, Pilot ranking third among direct rivals, behind the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. Still, three-row midsize crossovers are not as popular as they were 5-10 years ago as shoppers are flock to smaller compact crossovers, such as the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda’s own CR-V.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

To combine the latest styling and features with road manners second to none in the class. Basic engineering and dimensions won’t change, but look for some of the edgier styling touches seen on Honda’s newer CR-V and HR-V subcompact crossovers. And waiting for the ’19 gives you a shot at possible new drivetrain options. One could be a turbocharged four-cylinder as a lower-cost alternative to the current V-6. Another would be a plug-in gas/electric hybrid.

As for features, we’d urge Honda to relax a policy that compels buyers to purchase top-line trim levels to get a full complement of convenience and safety items. (See the “Will it have new features” section below for details). The 2019 Pilot is a lock to cost more than the 2018. But you’ll be getting the styling and equipment that’ll be current until the next full redesign, likely around model-year 2023.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

Yes, to save some money and still get our choice for the top all-around crossover in the class. You’d dodge next-year’s price increase, and position yourself to exploit 2018-model clearance sales as dealers drain inventories ahead of the revamped ’19 Pilot. You may have to compromise on features to hit a price point — or spend more to obtain some you want while also paying for others about which you may be indifferent. Regardless of Honda’s sales strategy, the 2018 Pilot is still very much worthy of your consideration.

Expect the model lineup you see for 2018 carry over to the 2019 Pilot. It begins with the LX trim and ascends through, EX, EX-L, Touring, and flagship Elite models. All are powered by a smooth, strong V-6 engine. The Elite comes standard with all-wheel drive (AWD). On the other models, AWD is a $1,900 option in place of standard front-wheel drive. Any Pilot furnishes first-rate steering feel and grip. Ride quality is similarly excellent with the base 18-inch tires and remains laudable even with the 20-inchers standard on the Touring and Elite.

Will the styling be different?

Count on it. Expect the front end to see the most dramatic update, with its grille and headlights following in the footsteps of the recently redesigned CR-V crossover and Accord sedan. The current Pilot’s tall, three-bar grill will be retired for a shorter one with a thicker metal strip behind the “H” badge. The headlights should become narrower and wrap into the front fenders. Figure on LED daytime running lights becoming standard across the board (they’re unavailable on today’s LX). Elite models would return with full LED front lighting, and the Touring could get the same treatment. The rear fascia would receive a nip/tuck, and figure Honda will include LED lights back there for all models.

Interior updates would be less sweeping, since the current design works remarkably well. Passengers will again enjoy more than ample space in the first two seating rows. Don’t expect Honda to compromise packaging that makes today’s Pilot one of the few midsize crossovers with genuinely adult-adequate room in the third row.

LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring should continue with seating for seven, courtesy of a three-passenger second-row bench. The bench slides forward with reasonable ease to create good access the third row. Today’s EX-L and Touring models have a pushbutton mechanism that unlocks the second row for even easier sliding; we hope this feature makes its way to the LX and EX for 2019. Elite models seat six because they have two r second-row captain’s chairs. Third-row occupants can get back there via an opening between those seats.

One change we hope will be part of Pilot’s 2019 freshening is the addition of a discrete volume knob for the standard infotainment system. The current model uses a temperamental virtual slider on the included touchscreen. Honda made it a point to call the volume dial out when it redesigned the CR-V for 2017, so we have to believe such a change is in the cards for the Pilot. Expect Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto to be standard on all models (it’s unavailable on the 2018 LX).

Any mechanical changes?

Quite possibly. Undoubtedly returning will be the 3.5-liter V-6 standard on all 2018 Pilots. It produces 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. In the LX, EX, and EX-L models, Honda has teamed it with a 6-speed automatic transmission; in Touring and Elite, it gets a more efficient, and more expensive, 9-speed automatic. The automaker could drop the 6-speed for 2019, giving all Pilots the 9-speed. Or it could continue to upgrade the Touring and Elite with the 10-speed automatic, the transmission that teams with this same V-6 in Honda’s Odyssey minivan.

We had speculated the company might introduce a front-wheel-drive version of the Elite for 2018.That didn’t happen, something of a surprise, given stronger-than-expected demand for Pilot’s top trim level. It could still happen for 2019.

To further improve fuel economy, and potentially make the ’19 Pilot more affordable, Honda could equip some front-drive variants with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It would likely be a derivative of the 2.0-liter from higher-end Accord models, with horsepower and torque ratings around 240 and 270, respectively. This engine could pair with either a continuously variable transmission or, as in the Accord, a 10-speed automatic.

A version of this turbocharged four could also be part of a plug-in electric hybrid powertrain. So equipped, the ’19 Pilot hybrid could travel for short distances solely on electric power before the gas engine kicks in, at which point the vehicle would behave like a conventional hybrid. Total system output could exceed that of the V-6 drivetrain. Such models might be AWD only, with the gas engine drives the front wheels and a separate electric motor providing motivation to the rears when needed.

Will fuel economy improve?

Yes, if four-cylinder and plug-in hybrid models become reality. They would further strengthen Pilot’s fuel-economy story. With the V-6, EPA ratings are near the top of the competitive set. The 2018 LX, EX, and EX-L with the 6-speed automatic, rated 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 18/26/21 with AWD. With the 9-speed automatic, the front-drive Touring rated 20/27/23 mpg and the AWD Touring and Elite rated 19/26/22. Expect the 2019 Pilot V-6 to have similar ratings.

We would anticipate a turbo four-cylinder Pilot to be front-drive only, and estimate an EPA rating around 22/30/26 mpg. A plug-in version would likely see ratings of 60-70 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and 30-35 mpg city/highway combined.

All versions would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Will it have new features?

Pilot already offers most everything a buyer in this class – or even the luxury class – might desire. Honda has an opportunity for 2019 to fill in some missing pieces, however, by adding features offered on several rivals, including a power-folding third row seat and a hands-free power liftgate. It also should consider re-thinking its strategy on safety- and driver-assist features.

Specifically, Honda Sensing is a suite of driver-assistance technologies that includes radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist with automatic steering correction, and forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking. On the 2018 Pilot, these valuable aids are not offered on the base LX grade and were a $1,000 option on the EX and EX-L (L stands for leather upholstery) models. Further complicating matters, the EX-L is also available with imbedded GPS navigation and a rear Blu-ray entertainment system, but all these are separate “options.” To equip a 2018 Pilot with Honda Sensing, navigation, and rear entertainment, the automaker forced you to purchase either the high-end Touring or flagship Elite grade. Finally, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, a common feature on the competition, was available only on the Pilot Elite, which was priced from $48,445.

We’d urge the company to make Honda Sensing standard on every 2019 Pilot and to not limite blind-spot alert to the priciest model. Should that come to pass, it would also likely mean the demise of Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot camera that’s standard on EX and above.

Otherwise, Pilot’s 2019 standard features list will probably not look much different than it does now. We would expect CarPlay, Android Auto, and LED daytime running lights to become standard across the board, joining current amenities, such as keyless entry with pushbutton ignition and multi-view backup camera.

Most shoppers will likely start at the EX grade, which should continue to have remote engine start and three-zone automatic climate control. Honda could add heated front seats to the mix for 2019. Those would definitely be included on the EX-L, along with leather upholstery and a power front passenger seat. The rear entertainment system and imbedded navigation should continue to be available, but not together.

The Touring should continue to have specific exterior trim, driver-seat memory, GPS mapping, and rear Blu-ray entertainment system. The Elite would add rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated second-row captain’s chairs, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, HD Radio receiver, and rear-obstacle detection.

How will 2019 prices be different?

They’ll certainly increase. By how much depends on what, if anything, Honda does regarding standard equipment and powertrains. Assuming Honda Sensing becomes standard and introduces a cheaper front-wheel-drive four-cylinder variant, figure on a starting MSRP of about $30,000. A similar EX would start at about $33,000. Honda would likely continue to offer the V-6 engine on these models, which would add $2,000-$2,500. Figure on the EX-L and above to be V-6 only. That grade would start at around $38,500, with the Touring checking in at about $43,000.

Add about $2,000 for all-wheel drive on these models. It’s standard on the Elite, which could carry a $49,000 sticker price, making it one of the priciest non-hybrid crossovers from a mainstream brand.

Imbedded navigation and rear entertainment for the EX-L would likely cost $1,000 and $1,600, respectively. Per Honda custom, these features would be priced as separate models, instead of as a discrete line item on the window sticker.

For a plug-in hybrid, we would expect it to come in LX, EX, and Touring trim levels, mirroring their conventional counterparts for standard equipment. They would probably list for about $37,000, $40,000, and $45,000, respectively.

When will it come out?

Expect the 2019 Honda Pilot to debut in near-production-ready “concept” form at the 2018 New York Auto Show, with the vehicle reaching dealers toward the end of the calendar year.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander

What change would make it better?

Making Honda Sensing standard across the board and blind-spot alert available on more than just the Elite is number one on our list. Assuming Honda does this, there isn’t much more we could ask of the 2019 Pilot. Perhaps a revised slider mechanism similar to what General Motors or Nissan offers in its crossovers to make accessing the third row even easier would be nice.

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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]