Review: 2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD

There are several choices for families who lust for a third-row SUV, a vehicle capable of carting around 7 or 8 people and their stuff.

The Honda Pilot has battled in this segment for many years, and battled well. But there have been small, niggling issues that have kept it from rock star status in the past.

For 2019 Honda has addressed some of these, and the result is another solid entry in the category.

The Basics

This is an eye-catching mid-size SUV, and by adding some small styling touches Honda jazzed it up even further.

The front grille gives the Pilot more of a rugged look, which I guess is important to some. (I read an article last year that said previous Pilots looked too much like a minivan. That’s fightin’ talk.)

Other changes include a remake of the tail light assembly, along with an improvement in the 9-speed transmission, eliminating some of the sluggishness.

The Pilot is available in five trim sizes, starting with the base LX and working its way up to the Elite. All of them come standard with front-wheel drive but all-wheel drive is an available option. On the top-of-the-line Elite AWD is standard.

Every trim level also features the same engine, a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 280 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with lower trim levels, while the reworked 9-speed is available in the top two trims.

You’ll also have options when it comes to traditional bench seats for the second row versus the very cool captain’s chairs. Personally, I love those captain’s chairs and I’d gently steer you that direction.

The Interior

The Pilot is generally listed as a mid-size SUV, but Honda has done such a good job providing a spacious feel that you’d swear it’s larger.

Front-seat passengers will find plenty of leg- and head-room, but even that second row is generous, especially with the aforementioned captain’s chairs.

I kept the third row folded for most of the time I drove it, but even those are not overly cramped. The third row is even fairly easy to access, and that’s not always a given.

The seats are comfortable, the kind you appreciate during long-distance hauls. All of the controls are laid out well, and there’s great visibility for the driver.

The storage space up front is a major strong suit for the Pilot. There are generous cup holder/door spaces, and the center bin is wide and deep. We’ve become a culture that demands plenty of space for our junk, and the Honda doesn’t disappoint.

Storage in the way-back comes up a tad short compared to some other players in this category, but I enjoyed the extra room from keeping the third row folded. In some models the second row can also be stored, which boosts your storage capability even more.

The Drive

Again, smooth and comfortable. Honda put some work into improving the 9-speed transmission, and it pays off. Instead of the sluggish shifting we got in the low gears, things are much smoother.

Acceleration is about average, but I never once felt like I was hurting for power. Highway merging is a breeze, for instance.

Steering, handling, and braking also come in about average. Remember, we’re talking about a mid-size SUV so you won’t ever confuse the Pilot with a sports car. And yet it was a bit more nimble than the Pilots I drove a few years ago.

I did not take the Pilot off-road, and I get the feeling it’s not what the average buyer is looking for. But, if you get the urge, it does have a selection of off-road modes for things like sand and mud.

The Tech

The infotainment system is pretty good. You can use the vehicle’s wifi system to add apps to the screen, which is cool.

In the higher trims Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. There are multiple USB ports as well as 115-volt plugs, too.

Parents will enjoy the CabinTalk feature, which allows someone up front to communicate through the Bluetooth microphone to the little ones in the back. Gone are the days of having to turn around and yell.

There’s a full suite of safety apps, too, through the Honda Sensing feature. You’ll get adaptive cruise control, collision braking systems, lane assist, and road departure mitigation.

Climate control is simple and intuitive, and the audio system is equally well-tuned.

It’ll take you a few minutes to get used to the shift controls, which are made up of a series of buttons and pulls. (See photo) At first I wasn’t keen, but after a day or two I decided I really liked them. They lay flat, and therefore take up less room. I’ve since driven them in another Honda, and it’s a nice design.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking to transport a good-sized brood, and a third row of seats is important to you, there are many SUV choices for you to shop.

But the Honda Pilot does a great job of providing the room, the styling, and a smooth, comfy ride. Their attention to some of the tiny problems from the past shows they’re committed to keeping the Pilot among the premiere third-row machines.

With decent fuel economy, it adds up to a solid entry to the category. Start by looking at the mid-trim levels and see which assortment of features make sense for you and your family.

The Details

2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD
3.5-liter V6, 280 horsepower
9-speed automatic transmission
All-wheel drive (front-wheel drive standard on most trims)
Fuel economy: 19/26/22 combined
MSRP: $48,020
As driven: $49,015

Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer

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