So popular that the Pilot has been dubbed the “king of the carpool lane.” You can also add “king (or queen) of the school run.”
Since 2002, Honda proudly produced their three-row SUV from their Lincoln, Alabama plant known the Pilot. It has been quite the popular vehicle, built off of Honda’s noted reliability. So popular that the Pilot has been dubbed the “king of the carpool lane.”
You can also add “king (or queen) of the school run.” Go to any pre-, primary, or secondary school across this country and count the Pilots lining up to pick up students.
For 2023, Honda introduced an all-new Pilot. Following the same formula, but with a few twists. One of them is the addition of the TrailSport model, made to one-up the ruggedized SUVs that can only manage a gravel road now proliferating our marketplace.
That should tell you the work Honda put in for the TrailSport model alone. However, let us back up a bit and talk about the new fourth-generation Pilot itself.
It starts with a new platform that was first developed for the latest Acura MDX. The goal of the new Pilot is to strengthen the platform to increase the model’s flexibility – hence the new TrailSport model.
Design-wise the exterior is bolder, more “masculine.” The front end is flatter, blunter, thanks to a large grille area and narrow LED headlamp units. The side profile is a complete departure from the previous model, which was viewed as sort of “minivan-like.” The new C-pillar glass paneI is a nod to a previous generation Pilot model and gives it its own personality. The roofline has a slight angle, cascading to a set of larger horizontal taillamp units. Bridging the two taillamps is a bold strip pronouncing the Pilot’s name – something we’ve never seen in a Honda before.
The TrailSport model adds more to this honest SUV design. It starts with an increase in ground clearance of an inch over the other Pilot models. With that, you get a set of 18-inch black-finished alloy wheels, larger black wheel arches, additional lower vents at the corners of the front clip, a rear diffuser that acts like a skid plate, and orange-lettered badges proclaiming what it is to the world. In other words, you can’t confuse this vehicle with any other Honda Pilot on the road. After all, it looks like it’s ready for a trail somewhere.
Stepping inside the new Pilot should be familiar to those of us who have driven any of the newest Honda products. The instrument cluster combines a seven-inch digital screen with an analog speedometer. On the digital tachometer side is where you find all of the information you need for the Pilot. The controls are exactly what you will find on the latest Honda models, including the push-button transmission actuator on the center console.
On top of the center stack is a tablet-like nine-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. The system also includes wireless smartphone mirroring along with wireless device charging. Included with the standard set of nine speakers – along with a subwoofer – is the Cabin Talk function, which enables the driver to communicate the rearward passengers when they are misbehaving – or, to find out if they want to stop somewhere to eat.
The TrailSport offers seating for seven over three rows. Working backwards, access to the third row is done through a pair of second-row captain’s chairs that slide forward. Be careful of the center area with that plastic trim piece in-between the second-row seats for those who want to scramble to get back there. Space in the third row is best for children.
About the second-row captain’s chairs, they do slide and have some recline. Leg and head room is very good overall. It also helps that all three rows are upholstered in a durable synthetic leather.
Then, we get to the front seats. They tend to be a bit on the firm side and could use some more bolstering. Otherwise, they’re pretty big. You don’t look any further than the headrests to know that you’re in a TrailSport with the orange stitched logo up front.
Cargo space is decent, starting with 18.6 cubic feet with all three rows up. The third row folds down flat to the cargo floor in a 60/40 split, adding up to 48.5 cubic feet – more than ample space for a rollator or a wheelchair. You still get a flat loading area once you fold down the second-row captain’s chairs, measuring up to 87.0 cubic feet.
Although the 2023 Pilot rides on a new platform with a new design inside and out, power remains the same as before. It starts with Honda’s 285-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, which also puts down 262 pound-feet of torque. Connected to this engine is a 10-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive using an Intelligent Variable Torque Management system. Part of that system is a multiple drive mode selector that includes Snow, Trail, and Sand modes.
On-road performance was OK. I wished for more low-end performance in passing maneuvers. When you take it off the highway, the Pilot’s driveline works quite well. Put it into Trail on the gravel and dirt roads, the engine turns higher revs, but better for sending power down to the surface. In terms of fuel economy, we observed an average of 19.1 MPG.
It is easy to say that the ride quality of the Pilot TrailSport as pretty soft. One could point to the off-road tuned suspension combined with the extra inch of ground clearance. However, this suspension worked better off road. We found the same conclusion with the all-terrain tires on the TrailSport -they’re better suited for off road surfaces than on the road. The flipside of those all-terrain tires is the noise they’ll make some road surfaces.
Also, we found some roll and lean in the turns on the tarmac. Again, something to expect from an off-road ready vehicle. On-center feel was fine, however you had to work the wheel on some turns. However, you can get out of tight situations pretty well. The brake pedal felt soft, but the system can turn in some good stops in normal and panic situations.
With six trim levels available, pricing for the 2023 Honda Pilot starts from $36,300. This TrailSport tester came with a sticker price of $48,745.
One could say that the newest Honda Pilot is improved in various ways. Exterior and interior design is easier on the eyes and distinctive compared to previous generations of this model. The TrailSport adds another option for families and adventure seekers to take their Pilot beyond the highway and to the cabin somewhere.
However, can we still call this the “king (or queen) of the carpool lane” or the school run? In the case of the Honda Pilot TrailSport, it can do more than just that.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern