This SUV is aging gracefully.
Living up to its name, the 2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition is, well, black. Giving this three-row SUV its murdered-out appearance is special Crystal Black Pearl paint, black-finished 20-inch wheels and a blacked-out grille. There’s black headlight and side trim, plus the door handles and fog-light accents are rendered in this pitch-dark hue. Black Edition badges are found on the grille and liftgate, plus the front bucket seats are embroidered with the same text, stitched with black thread through the black leather. You get the point; Honda has gone overboard with black. But even if you prefer more visually vibrant vehicles, there’s still plenty to love about this Pilot.
LikeDecent comfort in all three rowsSupple ride qualityCrisp steering feelSnarling VTEC V6
Don’t LikeTransmission could be more responsiveInterior starting to look datedHomely instrument cluster
It may not be the most exciting model in its class, but Honda’s venerable family hauler is still handsome and cleanly designed. Its front end is friendly and approachable while the rear is a simple, no-nonsense affair. Too bad its wheelbase is toward the smaller-end of the three-row crossover SUV segment. In profile, this makes the Pilot look a bit awkward, like its front and rear overhangs are too long.
A comfy interior that’s showing its age
But what’s inside is far more important and this three-row utility is starting to show its age. No, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Pilot’s cabin — well, aside from its awkward foot pedal-operated parking brake that looks like something pulled from a vehicle built in the 1970s. It’s actually quite nice inside, spacious, well built, comfortable and loaded with technology. It’s just other automakers are going above and beyond these days.
The new Toyota Highlander, for instance, has a stylish interior that’s more upscale than the Pilot’s. The Subaru Ascent’s cabin trimmings have an edge as well, but the models that have really raised the bar for interior quality both hail from South Korea.
The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride feel more premium than anything else in the three-row crossover segment, with attractive designs, thoughtful touches and top-notch materials. Despite its age, the Pilot still has an edge over the new Explorer. This Ford’s interior is disappointingly slapdash, with a somewhat unusual design and plenty of low-rent materials.
A simple overall layout and high-quality materials are hallmarks of the Pilot’s interior.
My test-model Pilot’s leather seating surfaces are quite nice, soft and smooth, plus the plastics used on the dashboard and door panels are squishy to the touch and attractively grained.
As for comfort, the Pilot is suitably coddling. Its front seats are supportive, no complaints there, but the second-row is less than ideal. Those buckets are too flat for long-distance comfort and their lower cushions are tipped forward at an odd angle.
Surprisingly, this vehicle’s third-row seat is more adult friendly than what you get in some rivals. There’s ample headroom in the Pilot’s way-back and even decent amounts of legroom, meaning grownups won’t suffer undue hardship if seated there.
Reducing the gymnastics required to access that third-row seat, this Honda’s second-row buckets tilt and slide forward at the push of a button, providing a relatively wide pathway.
When it’s time to haul freight instead of folks, those backseats fold easily, opening up a generously portioned cargo hold. Behind the third row, you get up to 16.5 cubic feet of space. Fold those backrests down and that figure grows to around 47. Drop the second-row seats and the Pilot tops out at just shy of 84 cubic feet. These figures compare very favorably to most rival models.
Checkin’ the tech
When it comes to technology, there’s plenty in the Pilot, though the Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assist systems is the headliner. Graciously, it is standard across the model range. This bundle includes things like automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control with lane centering. That last item is particularly useful. Not only does it automatically adjust vehicle speed based on traffic conditions, it also helps keep the Pilot locked in the middle of its lane, reducing the amount of input required and helping curb driver stress on long trips. Furthermore, Honda has done a better job implementing this technology than many other automakers. Not only is it quick to respond, it’s extremely smooth, as well.
The Pilot’s infotainment system is colorful and mostly pleasant, with a crisp, 8-inch touchscreen mounted high on the dashboard. The main menu has a range of large, finger-friendly icons that can be easily rearranged. The overall responsiveness of this system is mostly praiseworthy, though a cleaner user interface with a tuning knob might be nice. Of course, HD and Sirius XM radio are included in the Pilot Black Edition, ditto for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a wireless phone charging pad and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.
Among many other features, push-button start and a gigantic center console are standard in every version of the Pilot, though my tester also features three-zone climate control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, plus heated and ventilated front chairs. There’s even a rear-seat entertainment system with a 10.2-inch display and a Blu-Ray player to keep the kiddies occupied on long drives.
This is not my favorite infotainment system, but it works well enough.
VTEC power to the people
Honda is arguably most famous for its engines, from high-winding four-bangers to single-cylinder industrial examples used in portable generators and lawn mowers. I mean, “motor” is right in the company’s official name. True to form, the Pilot’s powertrain is a lovely piece of work.
All versions of this family hauler feature a 3.5-liter V6. With single overhead camshafts, i-VTEC variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, it pumps out a healthy 280 horsepower with a class-competitive 262 pound-feet of torque. Helping reduce fuel consumption, it also features cylinder deactivation as well as both noise cancellation and active engine mounts to quell undesirable sounds and vibration when it’s running on fewer than a half-dozen cylinders.
Curiously, Honda offers two transmissions in the Pilot. Higher-volume trims including the LX and EX family variants soldier on with a six-speed automatic, but Touring, Elite and Black Edition models feature a highfalutin’ nine-ratio cog-swapper. A familiar ZF-sourced unit, I’ve actually experienced this transmission in three different applications recently. In addition to Honda, both Chrysler and Land Rover use this transmission. Unexpectedly, I found it shifted the smoothest and was most responsive in the Pacifica I recently reviewed, though the performance, while still OK, was least desirable in the Discovery Sport I also tested a few weeks ago. The Pilot falls somewhere in between, trending more toward the minivan than that SUV. This transmission feels a little slow to go into gear when you select one, and downshifts can be a bit lethargic as well. At least it’s reasonably smooth.
On the flip side, the Pilot’s got plenty of mojo, scooting when you nail the accelerator. In typical Honda fashion, the engine sounds better than competitors’ offerings, emitting a healthy snarl, particularly as the tachometer needle sweeps past the five-grand mark and VTEC switches over to more aggressive camshaft profiles. Driven in a more reasonable manner, that V6 remains hushed and is nearly free of vibration.
Enhancing traction in a wide range of conditions, all-wheel drive is standard on Pilot Black Edition models. It comes with four selectable modes including Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand, so you can tailor the vehicle’s response to various driving situations.
You can call this the corral because it’s where the horses live.
Resist the temptation to wind that V6 engine out and the Pilot is estimated to return 26 miles per gallon on the highway. Around town you can expect 22 mpg. Combined, it’s rated at 19 mpg.
Of course, if you plan on towing with your Pilot, those figures go right out the window. All-wheel-drive versions of this SUV can drag up to 5,000 pounds, a class-competitive figure. Front-drive models can only handle 3,500 pounds.
Protecting owners from unexpected issues, the 2020 Honda Pilot comes with a 3-year/36,000-mile limited warranty. In the US, Puerto Rico and Canada, 24-hour emergency roadside assistance is included during that period. As for the powertrain, it’s guaranteed for 5 years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Despite rolling on generously portioned 20-inch wheels, the Pilot’s ride is surprisingly limber. Impacts are nicely absorbed, with little harshness from the road felt by passengers. Suspension tuning is on the softer side, as evinced by a bit of float when driving over large bumps or heaves in the road.
Given its unexpectedly supple ride, you’d probably think the Pilot’s handling would be sloppy and ponderous, but this isn’t the case. Its steering is light and quite crisp, with unusual accuracy for a vehicle in this segment.
Matching its ride quality, this Honda’s interior is well insulated against wind and tire noise. Even at freeway speeds, the cabin remains nice and quiet.
There’s a lot to like about the Honda Pilot.
Back in black
The Black Edition model is the pinnacle of the Pilot range and it’s priced accordingly. My tester rang up at $50,840, including $1,120 in destination and handling fees. That’s comparable to top-end versions of the Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas and Kia Telluride, though a Ford Explorer Platinum is significantly pricier. Of course, if that’s too rich for your blood, you can always grab a Pilot LX, Honda’s entry-level model. Including delivery charges, it starts at right around $33,000.
There’s no shortage of three-row crossovers available today. Despite its advancing years, in the face of withering competition, the Honda Pilot remains an excellent option. Yes, its interior could be a bit snazzier and I wish that nine-speed transmission were a little more attentive, but it drives well and is both roomy and surprisingly comfortable in all three rows. What more could you ask for in a large crossover?