2019 Honda Pilot first-drive review

With Honda's new Pilot, family adventures don't have to stay on pavement

Numerous little tweaks help the 2019 Pilot straddle a prime seat in the three-row SUV segment.
Numerous little tweaks help the 2019 Pilot straddle a prime seat in the three-row SUV segment.
Numerous little tweaks help the 2019 Pilot straddle a prime seat in the three-row SUV segment.


  • More intuitive infotainment system
  • Serious off-road capability
  • Honda Sensing safety tech now standard
  • Plenty of power and a smoother gearbox
  • Quiet, comfortable ride


  • Still a softer exterior than we’d like
  • Fully equipped at $49K is a chunk o’ change

Life’s a mystery. One day you’re bungee-chording duffle bags to the roll cage of your Miata in preparation for a solo journey cross country, then, what feels like the very next day, you’re shopping midsize crossovers to accommodate your growing family. Part of you desperately wants to return to simpler times, but the other part of you knows you were kind of clueless back then. It’s best to embrace the mature you and just find an SUV with a little personality (and yes, there is such a thing).

The three-row utility vehicle segment is darn competitive, which is great news for you and bad news for most automakers. Even ultra-successful brands like Honda struggle to stand out. The current generation Pilot is a great product, with space, comfort, and power to match or best its rivals. Alas, bland styling fails to leave a lasting impression. Honda hopes to change that story by emboldening its 2019 model year Pilot, improving its tech, and increasing standard features.

We anticipate folks will most commonly cross-shop the 2019 Pilot ($32,445) with Ford’s Explorer ($33,135), the Toyota Highlander ($32,275), the Volkswagen Atlas ($30,750), and Mazda’s CX-9 ($33,105). Honda offers the Pilot in front-drive and all-wheel drive forms, covering five trim grades. Our first drive puts us behind the wheel of the range-topping Elite trim, at a lofty-but-loaded price of $49,015.  

Active safety for all

Active driving aids haven’t been around for all that long, yet their saturation of the automotive market has been comprehensive. From economy cars to ultra premium vehicles, driver assistance technologies are now commonplace. Honda’s decision to include its suite of active safety goodies as standard across all tiers of the 2019 Pilot is a heads-up move in our book.

2019 Honda Pilot review
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

Comprising the Honda Sensing package are collision mitigation braking with forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. Other standard features include automatic high beams and a multi-angle rearview camera. EX and above trims now get blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic monitoring as well. Our time in the driver’s seat lets us experience several of these features, and though some luxury brands may have smoother applications of lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, Honda excels within its segment.

Honda’s decision to include its suite of active safety goodies as standard is a heads-up move.

Outside the realm of safety, Honda has given its infotainment and driver display a rework to be more user friendly and visually appealing. Though not quite as streamlined as the unit in the new Accord and Odyssey minivan, the 2019 Pilot’s 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment sees the return of the volume knob, simpler menus, and quicker response times. As before, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on EX and above trims, and a Wi-Fi hotspot is available at the Touring level.

Drivers now enjoy a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster with customizable features. While not as striking as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, the display is still pretty trick. In additional to typical speed and rpm visuals, the monitor can show audio, trip, smartphone, and route guidance information.

Effortless driving, whatever the conditions

When you think of the Pilot, chances are, you’re picture a Trader Joe’s parking lot or a row of tract homes as a backdrop. Indeed, errand runs and carpool duty are really where contemporary crossovers excel, but Honda wants you to think bigger, or rather, more adventurously with the refreshed model.

2019 Honda Pilot review
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

In addition to the highway and city routes, Honda has a groomed off-road course for us to enjoy. Dirt, rocks, deep grooves, and some steep ascents and descents are designed to show off the Pilot’s true torque-vectoring system. As opposed to brake-based or alternative torque management methods, the Pilot’s all-wheel drive setup detects the wheel or wheels without traction and reallocates power from those tires to ones with grip. We’ve seen this kind of tech on sports cars and it serves the Pilot well on the off-road playground.

Ultimately, ground clearance will determine just how far you can take the 2019 Pilot off-road, and even some of the groomed course’s troughs has the crossover scraping its plastic under-business. Power and grip, however, are impressive. As a demonstration, one of Honda’s pro drivers stops the Pilot halfway up a serious incline, takes his foot off the brake to show the vehicle’s hill-hold function, then continues up the mound with ease.

Honda wants you to think bigger, or rather, more adventurously with the refreshed model.

To accommodate the various climates and geographies its owners might encounter, Honda equips the Pilot with four drive modes: normal, snow, mud, and sand. While you might imagine the AWD system is behaving the same on any slick surface, the Pilot in fact shifts power between axles and either increases or decreases traction control to match each terrain. For example, mud and sand require momentum to avoid getting stuck, so the traction control eases off and the transmission holds gears for longer.

On road, the Pilot is as comfortable and easy to drive as ever. 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque is plenty to hustle through traffic and even tow up to 5,000 pounds. Touring trims and above come equipped with an updated nine-speed automatic that’s notably smoother and more responsive than the last time we tested this transmission. Unchanged, however, is the Pilot’s complete lack of steering feel. Turn the wheel and the SUV heads in that direction, apparently, because the scenery changes – not because the front tires are telling you anything.

The most efficient version of the Honda Pilot, a front-drive model with a nine-speed automatic, earns 20 mpg city, 27 highway, and 23 combined (figures that trail only the Mazda CX-9 in the segment). We expect most buyers will option all-wheel drive, however, which cuts 1 combined mpg for nine-speed models and 2 mpg for six-speed versions.

Looking more the part

It’s clear the Pilot can hack it off-road, but few consider taking it there because it doesn’t look capable.

Honda’s tweaks to the 2019 model’s exterior focus on toughness without altering its family-friendly demeanor. In truth, few commuters will be able to spot the differences, but the freshened Pilot is subtly more confident.

A sharper front fascia includes standard LED daytime running lights, larger fog light housings, an updated grille featuring Honda’s “flying wing,” and a skid-plate-style garnish below the front bumper. Top of the line Elite trims also get full LED headlights and power folding mirrors. At the back, revised LED taillights include LED backup lights and the lower bumper adds a brushed metal panel to breakup all that black body cladding. In profile, there’s a new chrome strip on the rocker panels, new 18-inch wheel designs for lesser trims, and new 20-inch wheels for higher grades.

In truth, few commuters will be able to spot the differences, but the freshened Pilot is subtly more confident.

Inside, the changes are even more understated. There’s new trim around the vents, wider fold-down armrests for front passengers, available second-row captains chairs for both Touring and Elite trims, and retractable sunshades for EX-L and above models. Cargo capacity remains at a substantial 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 46.8 cu. ft. behind the second row, and 83.9 cu. ft. with both second and third row stowed.  

All told, the Pilot’s interior is high quality and, in Touring and Elite grades, upscale for the segment. While not as striking as, say, the CX-9’s Signature Edition, we wouldn’t mind taking a long road trip in these digs.

Warranty and Safety

Honda offers a three-year or 36,000-mile factory warranty, plus a five-year or 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Like Toyota, Honda is renowned for its vehicle reliability, so owners should have peace of mind when purchasing a new Pilot. Routine maintenance should keep any new Honda on the road for many years to come.

Though the 2019 model year Pilot has yet to be scored by the IIHS and NHTSA safety rating agencies, it should match the 2018 model year’s Top Safety Pick Plus (IIHS) and 5-star (NHTSA) marks.

Fierce field of family hauler foes

The list of options in this people-mover segment is dizzyingly long, but if we’re to cut it down to some close rivals, the 2019 Honda Pilot fares well against the Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Explorer. The Highlander starts at a fractionally lower price tag, the CX-9, with its four-cylinder engine, has 1 mpg better combined fuel economy, and the Ford Explorer looks more rugged. The Pilot, meanwhile, is effortlessly capable, supremely comfortable, high quality, and offers loads of passenger and cargo room.

How DT would configure this car

Our perfect Pilot takes the form of a Touring trim with all-wheel drive ($1,900). Outside, we dig the black forest pearl paint; inside, we’re stuck with beige leather interior. Throw some factory crossbars ($225) on the roof because you know we’re taking this thing camping, and call it a day. The Pilot Touring’s long list of standard goodies, like a hands-free power tailgate, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wi-Fi hotspot, heated front seats, 10-speaker premium audio system, Navigation, CabinTalk, LED headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, three USB ports, and Honda Sensing mean we don’t need to add much to its base configuration. Our price with options and destination fees is $45,640.


On the surface, little about the Honda Pilot has changed, but small tweaks here and there add up to one of the best three-row SUVs you can buy. From what we’ve seen of the striking new Civic and Accord, Honda designers could take the Pilot’s exterior design a step or two further without upsetting anyone, but perhaps that’s just our younger, Miata-driving selves talking. When the substance beneath the sheet metal is this good, we find it’s best not to be picky.


Driving Daimler’s 40-ton eCascadia big rig isn’t just fun, it’s electrifying

Daimler Trucks brought its all-electric eCascadia semi-truck to the 2019 CES, and invited us to take the wheel. What does it feel like to drive one? Simply electrifying, of course.
Product Review

Controversy has dogged the MacBook Pro lately. Is it still a good purchase?

The MacBook Pro is a controversial laptop these days -- and that's unfortunate. Due to some divisive changes Apple made to the functionality of the MacBook Pro, fans are more split. Does the 8th-gen refresh change that?

Here are 8 GoPro tips to get the most out of your action cam

There's more to your GoPro camera than just mounting it to your skateboard. Whether it's finding the best accessories or understanding the settings more thoroughly, learn to shoot video like a pro with these simple GoPro tips and tricks.

This Chevy Silverado pickup truck is made from more than 300,000 Lego bricks

To promote The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Lego and Chevrolet teamed up on a life-size replica of the automaker's Silverado pickup truck made from more than 300,000 plastic bricks.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.

Tesla cuts workforce by 7 percent, ends referral program to trim costs

Tesla has announced plans to trim its workforce by seven percent, and it will end the referral program that rewards customers who help it sell cars. These measures are ways to cut costs and boost profits.

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.

Worried about commuting in winter weather? Nissan has the answer

The Nissan Altima midsize sedan is now available with all-wheel drive. To advertise that fact, Nissan's Canadian division slapped some tank-like tracks on an Altima to create a one-off show car.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.

Michigan OKs digital license plates with Rplate’s connected car platform

The state of Michigan approved the use of digital license plates on motor vehicles registered in the state. Reviver Auto, the manufacturer of the Rplate connected car platform, worked with Michigan's Department of State to pass the bill.

Prices for using Tesla Supercharging just skyrocketed

Tesla is updating their Supercharging pricing based on local electricity rates and customer demand, which has lead to an increase in charging costs by as much as 33 percent in some regions.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Can electric motors finally make three-wheeled cars great?

Every few years, someone tries to sell a three-wheeled vehicle to Americans. Historically, it hasn’t gone very well. We’ve got our suspicions about why people don’t buy trikes, and they boil down to this: a trike is just not a real…

Is Uber planning to put its self-driving tech into bikes and scooters?

Uber reportedly has its eye on building autonomous electric bikes and scooters that ride to a user when summoned by an app. The technology could also be used to make its two-wheelers safer with obstacle avoidance systems.