We drove a $49,000 Honda Pilot to see how the new family SUV stacks up against rivals from Toyota and Ford. Here’s the verdict.

Our 2019 Honda Pilot Elite test car.

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Our 2019 Honda Pilot Elite test car.
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Business Insider/Hollis Johnson

  • For Honda, the stalwart Accord and Civic sedans have for decades delivered reliable sales and helped the company profit year after year.
  • But with the meteoric rise of SUVs in recent years, Honda now depends more and more on crossover utes like the mid-size Pilot.
  • The three-row, mid-size Honda Pilot is updated for the 2019 model year with fresh styling, a more refined drivetrain, and new tech.
  • In the marketplace, the Pilot competes with the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Subaru Ascent, Nissan Pathfinder, and Volkswagen Atlas.
  • All Pilots are powered by a 3.5-liter, 280 horsepower V6 engine mated to either a six-speed or a nine-speed automatic transmission.
  • The base 2019 Honda Pilot LX with front-wheel drive starts at $31,450. Our top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Elite trim test car starts at $48,020. A $995 destination and handling fee pushed the as-tested price to $49,015.

For decades, Honda has depended on its stalwart Accord and Civic sedans to deliver not only sales volume but also profits.

The automotive landscape has changed drastically in recent years. Crossover SUVs are now king of the showroom. For Honda, it’s the CR-V compact crossover.

The Civic and Accord remain Honda’s second and third best sellers in the US with 326,000 and 291,000 units respectively left showrooms in 2018. But those figures are down 13.7% and 9.8% respectively compared to 2017.

Fortunately for the Japanese auto giant, sales of its fourth most popular offering, the mid-size Pilot crossover SUV, surged 25% last year to just under 160,000 sold.

According to data from Kelly Blue Book, the Pilot is the third best-selling three-row mid-size SUV in the US behind only the Toyota Highlander and the segment leader Ford Explorer.

Read more: We drove a $42,000 and a $50,000 Toyota Highlander to see why it’s one of the best family SUVs money can buy – here’s what we discovered.

The current third-generation Pilot has been around since 2016. However, Honda decided to give the Lincoln, Alabama-built family hauler a mid-life refresh for the 2019 model year.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to spend a week with a 2019 Honda Pilot AWD Elite to see how the updated crossover stacks up to the competition.

The base 2019 Honda Pilot LX with front-wheel drive starts at $31,450. Our top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Elite trim test car starts at $48,020. A $995 destination and handling fee pushed the as-tested price to $49,015.


Honda introduced the first generation Pilot back in 2003. It was the company’s first mid-size SUV.

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Honda

Previously, Honda’s SUVs were simply rebadged versions of models made by other manufacturers. For example, this 2002 Honda Passport is really an Isuzu Rodeo.

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Honda

In the 1990s, Honda even sold rebadged a Land Rover Discovery Series 1 as the Crossroad.

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Wikimedia Commons/Riley/attribution

A second generation Pilot followed in 2009.

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Honda

The current third generation model arrived in 2016.

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Honda

For 2019, Honda is rolling out an updated version of the Pilot.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

This includes a refreshed front end with new LED headlights along with a redesigned bumper and chrome grille.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The rear of the Pilot gets new taillights, bumper, and chrome accents.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our Elite trim test car also came with these new 20-inch wheels.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Aesthetic updates aside, the overall dimensions of the of 16.4-foot-long Pilot remain unchanged.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Inside, the Pilot’s interior received only minor styling updates for 2019.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This includes a new steering wheel, redesigned trim pieces around the air vents, and wider front passenger armrests.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Pilot’s interior is roomy, comfortable, and well put together. Overall material quality is superb. There wasn’t a squeak or rattle to be detected. Even on the pothole-riddled roads of New York and New Jersey.

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The front seats are well bolstered and comfortable.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The driver’s cockpit is well organized as controls for most functions are easily within reach.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a digital instrument display. I don’t think it looks very good, but it was easy to use and presented all of the pertinent information the driver needs.

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All Pilots except the base LX trim are equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen running Honda’s newest infotainment system. The Pilot LX gets a five-inch screen.

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The new system is a marked improvement over the previous unit. It’s clearly organized and crisply rendered. Although we are happy to see the return of a volume knob in place of the touch panel, we would have also liked to see a tuner knob as well.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The system is equipped with a host of auto sources including satellite radio.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There’s also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our Elite test car came with a built-in navigation system. However, it proved to be surplus to our requirements with Google Maps, Waze, and a host of other navigation apps at our disposal.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

One of our favorite features in the Pilot is Cabin Talk. It comes from the Honda Odyssey minivan and allows the driver and the rear cabin passengers to communicate using a series of microphones placed within the interior. That way, folks in the front won’t have to yell at people sitting in the back and vice versa. It’s also a handy way for parents to listen in on what their kids are doing in the back.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Cabin Talk pairs perfectly with the panoramic mirror attached to the sun glasses holder.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The center stack is also equipped with a host of ways to charge your smart devices from USB plugs to a wireless charging pad.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There are even more charging plugs located in the configurable center console between the driver and front passenger seats.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rear cabin can be optioned with either a second-row bench or captains chairs. With the bench seat, the Pilot can haul up to eight passengers.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The second row feels positively palatial. It is incredibly spacious with 38.4 inches of legroom.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The massive glass roof fills the cabin with natural light.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

According to Honda, the third row boasts an airplane-seat-like 31.9 inches of legroom. However, it felt tighter than that. So that row is essentially reserved for kids.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

On the bright side, third-row ingress and egress is a cinch.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The push-button seat actuator is a big help.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Passengers in the back of the Pilot are also treated to a bevy of tech and convenience features.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This starts with a 10.2-inch high definition rear seat entertainment system that comes standard on the Touring and Elite trims.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

It’s controlled using this remote.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

You can plug in wired headphones or you can use the pair of wireless units that come with the car.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There’s a Blu Ray player built into the dash or you can stream video using a host of apps through the Pilot’s onboard 4G LTE wifi hotspot.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The second row also get heated captains chairs along with their own climate control setup.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Out back, the Pilot is equipped with a hands-free tailgate that will lift up automatically if the driver swings his or her foot under the rear bumper.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There’s also a small storage compartment under the rear cargo area.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Behind the third row, there is 16 cubic feet of cargo room.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

With the rearmost seats folded down, cargo volume expands to 46 cubic feet. With the second row folded, that figure expands to 82 cubic feet.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

As with all Pilot models, our test car came standard with the Honda Sensing driver’s assistance tech package. This includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigating braking, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane keep assist. Outside of Honda sensing our test car came with blind spot awareness and rear cross traffic alert.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car also came with a multi-angle rear view camera.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the hood, all Pilots are powered by a 280 horsepower 3.5-liter, naturally aspirated VTEC V6 engine.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The V6 is paired with either a six or nine-speed automatic transmission. Our test car came with the nine-speed.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

With the exception of the Elite trim, all Pilots come standard in front-wheel-drive with all-wheel-drive available as an option. Our Elite trim tester came standard with all-wheel-drive. According to Honda, front-wheel-drive models can tow up to 3,500 pounds while AWD equipped Pilots can tow 5,000 pounds.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

So, what’s like to drive?

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s inoffensive.

Here’s what I mean. The Honda Pilot isn’t going to blow you away with its blistering performance nor will with annoy you with any glaring faults. It’s designed to deliver competent acceleration, a smooth ride, and a quiet cabin. The Pilot delivers all of those.

First, the engine. It’s Honda’s corporate V6 and it’s an absolute jewel. It’s velvety smooth and delivers solid punch off the line. One of the updates made for the 2019 model year is a retuned nine-speed automatic. It worked. The nine-speed delivered quick shifts that were virtually imperceptible.

Unfortunately, the Pilot’s handling proved to be very vague while its softly sprung suspension made the SUV feel large and a bit cumbersome. Especially around the streets of New York City. With that said, the Pilot’s ride quality was exceptional. It felt like you were riding on a bed of pillows.

According to Honda, our Pilot Elite should be able to deliver 22 MPG of fuel economy in mixed driving. However, we struggled to get above 17 MPG. But, the Arctic cold weather may be may be to blame.


The verdict.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Three-row mid-size crossover SUVs are effectively the family minivans of this decade. They deliver exceptional people hauling and cargo hauling ability in a friendly and reliable package.

The Honda Pilot is the epitome of excellence in this genre of automobile. The third-generation Pilot was always a strong competitor in the segment. But the updates for the 2019 model year have corrected some of most glaring faults and bolstered its position as one of the finest family SUVs money can buy.