2023 Honda Pilot Trades Minivan Vibes for a Brawnier Guise

2023 Honda Pilot Trades Minivan Vibes for a Brawnier Guise

The 2023 Honda Pilot has been redesigned with a more rugged look, a roomier interior, and increased capability. The Pilot also has a new powertrain, a redesigned 285-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and a 10-speed automatic transmission.The TrailSport trim makes the Pilot truly capable off-road thanks to all-terrain tires, steel skid plates, and a lifted suspension.

Ever since the original Honda Pilot debuted back in 2003, it has basically been a minivan dressed up as a three-row mid-size SUV. However, its shared bloodline with the sliding-door-toting Honda Odyssey wasn’t outwardly obvious until the outgoing third generation. That’s when the Pilot showed its true colors, with a bulbous shape and bland bodywork that deviated from its boxier predecessors. That’s also one reason it failed to stand out in a competitive segment full of more interesting alternatives. Well, Honda has flipped the script, with the new fourth-generation 2023 Pilot getting bigger, brawnier, and better at doing off-road stuff.

New Above and Below the Hood

Let’s start with the obivous. The 2023 Honda Pilot no longer looks like a lifted minivan. Along with being a lot squarer than before, it has an upright front end and front roof pillars that sit farther back, giving it a longer dash-to-axle ratio. The Pilot is also 3.4 inches longer from stem to stern, and its wheelbase stretches by 2.8 inches, too. Its front and rear tracks are also wider, growing by up to 1.2 and 1.5 inches, respectively.

The increased dimensions are part of a new platform, which makes the Pilot the most rigid it’s ever been, according to Honda. The company also says its new chassis includes a stiffer suspension, a quicker steering ratio, and other changes intended to make the Pilot handle and ride better. A set of larger front brake rotors (13.8 versus 12.6 inches) and a shorter overall pedal motion are improvements in the braking department. The addition of extra sound-deadening materials should also make for a quieter interior.

It would’ve been easy for Honda to take the 280-hp SOHC 3.5-liter V-6 and nine-speed automatic transmision from the outgoing Pilot and plug it into the new one. Instead, the automaker completely redesigned its venerable engine, keeping the same displacement but making myriad improvements. In a nutshell, the new DOHC V-6 has better packaging.

While the 3.5-liter makes the same 262 pound-feet of torque, horsepower rises to 285. A cylinder-deactivation system also joins the party in pursuit of better fuel economy. However, Honda hasn’t yet announced EPA estimates. All Pilots now have a 10-speed automatic transmission (paddle shifters included).

TrailSport: A Truly Rugged Trim

The 2023 Pilot won’t be the first with a TrailSport-badged trim, it’ll just be the first one where it actually meant something. That’s because, unlike the glorified appearance package that came before, the new TrailSport model is truly capable on most trails—as we learned during a prototype drive.

Equipped with all-terrain tires and steel skid plates, the off-road-oriented Pilot can go places its predecessors couldn’t. Adding to its capabilities are a 1.0-inch lift that increases ground clearance and provides better angles front and back for clearing obstacles. The TrailSport’s suspension has also been revised to do more than regular models. What if it gets a flat? There’s a full-size spare tire. What if it gets stuck? There are sturdy tow hooks built into the front bash plate and one on the standard trailer hitch.

To help the TrailSport avoid getting stuck, Honda fits it with a specially calibrated all-wheel-drive system. We won’t get too complicated, but when the Trail drive mode is activated, the setup effectively manages traction to the appropriate wheels. Also useful in this mode is the aptly named TrailWatch camera system, which provides four different angles otherwise not viewable by the driver. It can be manually turned on or display it on its own at speeds below 15 mph. Speaking of low speeds, when combined with sloped surfaces, every 2023 Pilot has hill-descent control for the first time.

An Inside Job

Sure, a model that can shuttle the whole family into the wilderness is cool, but that’s not the Pilot’s full-time job. It’s a people mover. And moving said people is much easier when the space inside is big and comfortable. Well, Honda says the second row has an extra 2.4 inches of legroom and the third row adds a half-inch of leg space. For those sitting in the middle row, those seats recline farther.

The 2023 Pilot still has room for up to eight people, and the middle seat in the second row is removable. However, instead of having to leave that seat behind, there’s now room for it under the rear cargo area. The latter is also bigger than ever, measuring 22 cubic feet behind the third row and a massive 114 cubes with the second and third rows stowed. Honda improves small-item storage, too, with the return of a useful parcel shelf built into the dashboard. No one should have a problem finding a cupholer, either, as the Pilot has up to 14 of them.

Overall, the inside of the new Pilot looks ritizier. The materials appear to be more upscale and the design is undeniably more mature. The standard gauge cluster is part digital, part analog (as seen in other Honda models). Those who opt for the top-of-the-line Elite trim exclusively get a 10.2-inch digital cluster and a head-up display. Apart from the base-level Sport, which features a 7.0-inch touchscreen, every Pilot has a 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Availability and Pricing

Honda hasn’t yet told us how much it’ll charge for the 2023 Pilot, which will be offered in Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring, and Elite trim levels. The previous generation ended with starting prices between about $39k—$53k, and we expect to see those costs rise by a couple thousand dollars across the board. We’ll likely know the exact MSRPs before the new Pilot goes on sale next month.

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