Review: 2019 Honda Pilot gets a new attitude, added tech, improved shifts
The 2019 Honda Pilot has been refreshed, with an updated look and improved technology. Many advanced safety systems that were optional before are standard now, and transmission shifting is smoother in the 9-speed option. Infotainment is also more usable.
These are changes to what was already a well-done family three-row crossover-SUV. The Pilot is one of the best sellers in the segment for good reason, though we do have some gripes about a few refinement misses – namely in its noise levels on the highway and not-so-smooth shifting in the upgrade transmission.
The 2019 Pilot comes in five trim levels, all of which are powered by the same 3.5-liter V6. This engine outputs 280 horsepower (209 kW) and 262 pound-feet (355 Nm) of torque. That power goes into a six-speed automatic transmission in the first three trim points, and into a newly-remapped 9-speed automatic in the top two (Touring, Elite). Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.
The 6-speed automatic transmission, which we drove last year, was an excellent match for the Pilot. It's smooth and quick about getting into the proper gear; more so when the drive mode is set to Sport for a more aggressive feel. The upgrade transmission did not have that reputation, but has seen some changes for this 2019 model year to improve its shift patterns. We still felt some hesitation and occasional "clunk," though – especially when pushing the Pilot to get moving for a pass or when accelerating to get through an intersection. There is a hesitation to downshift in most drive modes (Sport excluded) and shifting can, especially in the lower and middle gears, be rough in feel.
There are advantages to the Pilot's 9-speed transmission, however. Gearing in the nine is much more aggressive and progressive than it is in the 6-speed. The lower gears in the 9-speed start with a strong 4.7:1 versus the 3.4:1 in the six. In addition, there are twice as many (the four uppermost gears) gears with a sub-1:1 ratio for highway efficiency in the 9-speed.
We had expected these gearing differences to mean fuel economy differences as well. They are much less pointed than expected, however, with the 9-speed having only about a point more than the six. The best fuel economy figures for the 2019 Honda Pilot are 20 mpg (11.8 l/100km) in the city and 27 mpg (8.7 l/100km) on the highway when equipped with front-wheel drive and the 9-speed automatic. The same setup with the 6-speed is EPA-rated at 19 mpg (12.4 l/100km) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Another point is lost when going to the AWD drivetrain with either transmission.
In the real world, with the 3.5L, 9-speed, AWD-equipped 2019 Pilot, we saw an average of 21 mpg (11.2 l/100km) overall in a week's worth of mixed driving. That included varied passenger loads, some light cargo hauling, and a little off-pavement driving.
The other note we made during our week with the Pilot was with interior noise levels. Around town, the Pilot is smooth and nice to drive with a fairly quiet interior. On the highway, however, noise levels raise considerably as tires spin and pavement discrepancies translate into the cabin. These noise levels were acceptable 10 years ago as the norm for most vehicles, but now stand out in a segment of family haulers that's becoming much more refined. The Pilot's engine noise is smooth and unobtrusive, we did note.
An up side to the spacious interior of the 2019 Pilot is its well-designed ergonomics and excellent new infotainment interface. The Pilot has comfortable front row seating, great middle row captain's chairs (an option), and a usable (if cramped) third row to accommodate seven or eight passengers in all. Tri-zone climate control (standard in the Pilot) is also a boon. Parents will like how easy it is to access the embedded LATCH anchors in the second row of seating for child safety seat installs.
Ride comfort, in terms of how well the Pilot absorbs the road, is very good, especially on the highway. The Pilot is also nicely maneuverable despite its bulk, making it a good around-town goer. Visibility for the driver is great, thanks to a large greenhouse and high seating position.
Interior storage is well done in the 2019 Honda Pilot, with lots of places to stash various items like drinks, water bottles, gadgets, and so forth. Cargo space is also good, with a wide, square rear hatch opening that offers 16 cubic feet (453 liters) behind the third row and 84 cubic feet (2,379 liters) with the second and third rows folded down. They fold perfectly flat, we noted. Another boon.
For infotainment, the 2019 Pilot has low functionality in the base trims, but upgrades quickly. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in the mid-level infotainment, as is an 8-inch touchscreen. So are Honda's CabinControl and HondaLink app integration system, which adds in-car Wi-Fi and some comfort items. Among those is a cool "social playlist" option which adds music from a device to the Pilot's in-car playlist for everyone to enjoy. We had two devices easily adding songs to that playlist on the infotainment screen. Users in the cabin can also send navigation to the driver's screen via their connected phones (the driver can choose to accept or decline).
Most other infotainment items are well done, with the new user interface in the Pilot having a much more intuitive feel than did the previous generation. There are four USB ports (two up front, two in the rear) as standard in the Pilot and three 12-volt plugs throughout the cabin. A 115-volt household outlet and HDMI plug come with the rear seat entertainment upgrade.
The driver has access to several driver's aids, depending on the 2019 Honda Pilot's trim level. At the upper-most Elite, these include a full suite of active safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more. We noted that the collision alert and automatic emergency braking system in the Pilot can be a bit aggressive and the adaptive cruise is jittery, slowing down at the last minute and taking time to speed back up when the way clears. The adaptive cruise also does not work in stop-and-go traffic, shutting off when speeds go below 20 mph (32 km/h).
In all, the new looks for the 2019 Honda Pilot are a nice upgrade from the conformist previous-gen of the crossover-SUV. We also liked the better shift mapping for the 9-speed transmission, though it still needs some refinement. Drive quality is very good in the Pilot, and few can boast the kind of interior spaciousness and ergonomics that Honda has perfected with this crossover. It's comfortable, if loud, on the road and the infotainment is now one of the more advanced in the segment.
The 2019 Honda Pilot is a solid family hauler with a lot going for it. Manufacturer's retail at base is US$31,450. We drove the upper-most Elite package priced at $49,015 delivered.
Product Page: 2019 Honda Pilot