The Honda Pilot has long been a can't-go-wrong option in the three-row crossover segment. The third-generation model launched in 2016, and its combination of a roomy, well-built interior, strong engine and competent handling chops made it appealing to families.
But that doesn't mean it was perfect. The Pilot's nine-speed automatic transmission was prone to incessantly hunt for gears, and there were some infotainment-related complaints to speak of. None of these problems were total deal breakers, mind you, but Honda still needed to address these issues.
Enter the 2019 Pilot. It may not seem all that different at first blush, but with fresher styling, as well as numerous tech and powertrain revisions, Honda's well-rounded Pilot is better suited to duke it out in the highly competitive three-row crossover class.
None of today's large, family crossovers boast a design that'll get your pulse racing, but the Pilot remains one of the better-looking specimens out there. Light changes for 2019 consist of a new fascia with redone grille, a healthier helping of chrome trim and larger fog lights. Out back, there's a new bumper, taillights and more chrome as well.
Heading inside, eagle-eye Pilot experts may pick out the new vent trim and wider fold-down front armrests. The gauge cluster now features a larger, 7-inch (up from 4.2-inch) TFT display, controlled by revised steering wheel controls that are super easy to use.
Everything else about the cabin largely carries over unchanged. All rows of seats are comfortable, with quality materials throughout, and the way-back third row is actually pretty easy to get in and out of. When it comes to hauling stuff, there's 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which grows to 46.8 with it folded. Flip the second row captain's seats down and you'll have nearly 84 cubic feet of real estate that should swallow just about anything.
With the exception of the base LX model, all Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to seven devices are also included, but the best feature of all is, without question, the return of a physical volume knob. It's amazing how simple things like this can really make a huge difference.now come standard with an 8-inch Display Audio system. The new infotainment interface looks sharp, is incredibly responsive and offers the ability to organize system icons to your liking. Top-end Touring and Elite trims can even receive over-the-air updates.
To help the parental units in front maintain order in the back, the CabinTalk feature from the Honda Odyssey makes it way into the Pilot. Instead of dad screaming at the top of his lungs to tell the kids to stop giving each other wet willies, he can now be easily heard through the rear speakers via the Bluetooth microphone.
Power ports to charge smart devices shouldn't be a problem, either, with the Elite sporting two USB outlets, two 12-volt outlets and a wireless charging pad up front. For second-row passengers, there are another two USB ports, as well as a household plug located on the back of the center console.
For safety, every Pilot gets the Honda Sensing suite of features that adds forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The Elite also gets blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, which I always appreciate having in parking lots. The only big disappointment is that a 360-degree camera is not available. Instead, it only has a multi-view rearview camera with image quality that's far from stellar.
The Pilot continues to be powered by an excellent, 3.5-liter V6 engine making a serviceable 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The Elite's nine-speed automatic gearbox is also altered with new tuning to smooth out off-the-line behavior and make more decisive cog changes. There's still some gear hunting from time to time, but overall there's a clear uptick in drivetrain refinement that's welcome. Adding to that smoother behavior is a revised stop-start system, which is now good enough that I don't immediately want to turn it off.
With all-wheel drive, the EPA estimates the Pilot Elite will return 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. During a week of mixed driving, I managed to observe a respectable 22.1 mpg with my heavy right foot, which matches the EPA's combined rating.
Considering its 4,319-pound curb weight, the Pilot isn't too bad of a bad handler. Entering a corner reveals grabby brakes, reasonably responsive steering, brisk turn-in response, well-controlled body roll and good grip from the 245/50R20 Continental Cross Contact LX Sport tires. It certainly feels more composed and possesses better reflexes than rivals such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder.
There is, however, a downside to the bigger tires. Ride quality isn't magic-carpet-ride smooth, meaning you'll feel impacts from most ruts and potholes you encounter. The suspension still softens blows enough so things are far from harsh, but those looking for more ride comfort may want to checkout the Pilot LX or EX that come on an 18-inch wheel-and-tire package.
How I'd spec it
As enticing as getting a full-zoot Elite model is, with niceties like a panoramic roof and heated and cooled front seats, my test car's $49,015 price tag, including $995 for destination, is pretty dear. To make the dent in my bank account a little less severe, my ideal Pilot would be a Touring model with all-wheel drive and a Modern Steel paint job, which starts at $45,415. Add in the $500 heated steering wheel for toasty paws in the winter then turns it into a $45,915 vehicle.
Ready to take on all comers
The updates to the 2019 Honda Pilot not only make an already strong three-row crossover SUV better, but come at a good time to fend off some newer competitors like the Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas. With good looks both inside and out, an improved technology menu and smoother and refined drive characteristics, the Pilot is among the most complete and buttoned-up entries in the segment today. It's now an even better can't-go-wrong family hauler.