Expert Reviews

2023 Honda Pilot First Drive Review

Rugged, capable, stylish, and loaded with features, the redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot will wipe clean the bad rap of the outgoing model.

A new exterior design sets the stage as the Pilot no longer looks like a blobby minivan and now appears more like a traditional SUV. It looks nothing like the outgoing model, which was completely forgettable. Adding to its appeal this time around is an off-road-oriented TrailSport trim that’s ready to play in the increasingly popular pseudo-adventure segment.

Emphasis on the Trail

Honda is so assured of the capabilities of the new TrailSport that it sent us up the Broken Arrow Trail in Sedona, Ariz., to experience it ourselves. It’s easy to tell this version of the 2023 Pilot apart from the rest thanks to an extra 25 mm (one in) of ground clearance, all-terrain tires, a full-size spare tire, and skid plates to protect the drivetrain and fuel tank.

Beyond those bits, the TrailSport also features a revised suspension system, optimized stabilizer bars, and adjustments to the all-wheel drive system that allow it to cleverly handle no-traction situations like when a wheel is in the air (which occasionally happens in tough off-road situations). A forward-facing camera can provide a better view of the route ahead, and includes guides to help drivers avoid dangerous obstacles.

The TrailSport worked well on the trail and kept up with some of the Jeeps and purpose-built off-roaders (much to the chagrin of their drivers). The skid plates also proved their worth in some trickier sections, though hearing them scrape on the rocks is like nails on a chalkboard.

Overhauled Interior

In addition to the added ruggedness outside, the 2023 Honda Pilot receives plenty of changes in the cabin. The upholstery and trim in the top-of-the-line Black Edition model in particular feel premium and high quality. Top trim models will also come with a unique eight-seat setup, with a removable centre seat in the second row that can be taken out and stowed in a special compartment in the trunk. At nearly 14 kg (31 lb), it’s not exactly light, however.

Overall, the interior is well-sorted. It’s loaded with cup holders, USB ports (both A- and C types), cubbies, and pockets. In the past, Honda has faced criticism for its infotainment systems, but recent vehicles feature a blend of physical and touch controls. The main screen varies in size from seven to nine inches, and there is an available head-up display – a first for the Pilot.

There’s a bevy of safety gear included as standard, and the vehicle has been designed to ace the new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety tests. The redesigned structure is better at absorbing energy in a crash and keeping occupants safe. Additionally, there’s a new front passenger airbag design that reduces head rotation in a crash.

Power to the Pilot

Under the hood, there’s a newly designed 3.5L V6 engine. With 285 hp – five more than the outgoing motor. Honda says this new engine has fewer emissions than its predecessor, but it’s disappointing there’s no electrification at play here.

While the engine is smooth and responsive, the new 10-speed automatic transmission is worthy of praise, too. It features a lower first gear than in the outgoing model and can quickly downshift four gears in one go to help the Pilot get up to speed. The transmission makes the whole powertrain sing. The vehicle can tow up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).

The Pilot also features an updated version of Honda’s intelligent all-wheel drive system. This time around it can send up to 75 per cent of the available torque to the rear axle instead of 70, which will help with stability and traction in dicey conditions.

Out on the open road, the Pilot feels refined. The suspension isn’t too stiff or busy and should make road trips, carpooling, and grocery runs a breeze. The three-row features a new variable-ratio steering setup, which can feel a bit inconsistent and occasionally requires mid-turn adjustments.

While it’s more premium, attractive and capable, the Pilot has a steep asking price of $52,600 for the base Sport model, including a non-negotiable $1,950 freight fee. That’s a good chunk more expensive than the entry-level Nissan Pathfinder or Subaru Ascent. The hot-looking TrailSport trim is $59,400 including freight, which seems like the sweet spot for this level of equipment and capability. Finally, the top trim Black Edition will run you $64,800.

Final Thoughts

The 2023 Honda Pilot presents a hearty upgrade across the board, and the result is a three-row crossover that looks good inside and out while also offering more space and capability. It feels like a completely new vehicle and one that’s significantly more competitive with the top choices of the segment.