2019 Honda Pilot Elite quick spin review

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The Honda Pilot three-row crossover was refreshed for 2019 with updated exterior styling and a few tweaks to the interior and tech. The Pilot shares a platform with the upcoming two-row Honda Passport and Ridgeline pickup truck. Our tester is the top-tier trim, meaning it’s loaded with plenty of goodies like leather, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, blind-spot monitoring, LED lighting and an updated infotainment system. All in, this tester came out to $49,015.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: The and the Ridgeline definitely are similar, but I came out preferring the Pilot. The primary reason is that the Pilot felt more engaging because of the handling. It feels lighter, has a bit less body roll, and turns in more eagerly. The ride isn’t as cushy, but considering the Ridgeline’s couch-like feeling, the Pilot’s stiffer tuning still leaves plenty of comfort. And to get something that’s livelier in corners is worth the minor sacrifice to me. I actually didn’t mind the 9-speed automatic that much, but it’s easy enough to opt for the 6-speed unit.

A secondary reason for preferring the Pilot is for the revamped infotainment system, which has more to offer than just the physical volume knob. With crisp graphics and text, fast responses and logical menus, it’s a quantum leap over the ugly, sluggish system in the Ridgeline. I’m shocked Honda hasn’t added the system to the pickup and the Civic.

There’s another aspect of this particular Pilot that we need to discuss, and that’s the stickers on the hood and the sides. They received near-universal derision from the staff, leaving me as the only dissenting opinion as far as I know. I get that the Pilot doesn’t really offer much to support bold graphics, especially ones with faux carbon fiber patterns, but I also don’t think it’s quite so soulless to drive for the graphics to be completely inappropriate. More importantly, though, I appreciate that is looking for ways to make its otherwise drab crossover a little more interesting and unique. I certainly was glad to hop out and not feel like I was driving just another plain white, gray or black appliance. Those pops of color on each side made it stand out a bit, and I feel there’s a lack of that in paint and graphics nowadays. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to brace myself for the rebuttal.

Associate Editor Reese Counts: Joel is wrong. The graphics are dumb.

Personally, I really don’t care how a vehicle like this handles or steers. The Pilot impresses, but no one is going to go canyon carving in a Pilot. I just want a quiet, comfortable and practical family hauler. Like most Hondas, the interior is roomy and filled with a seemingly endless amount of cupholders and storage bins. I also dig the new infotainment system and the updated instrument cluster. I hope both make it to the Ridgeline sometime soon.

My complaints are few. The updated styling is OK, but I wouldn’t call it pretty. The 9-speed is fine at best and infuriating at worst. It never seems to be in the right gear when I need some power. That said, the 6-speed is standard on most models and I do appreciate that Honda is still using a naturally-aspirated V6.

Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: Honda went at the Pilot with soft brush strokes for the mid-cycle refresh. There isn’t anything that’s drastically different from before, but that’s because the Pilot was a competent, competitive three-rower already. It drives and behaves similar to our long-term Honda Ridgeline — these vehicles share underpinnings, and a whole lot more too.

The 2019 Pilot’s new tech — updated infotainment, digital instrument cluster and (gasp!) volume knob — all play together to make the refresh worthwhile on the inside. We had the Elite trim (the most expensive one) but it still felt like a non-luxury Honda inside, despite the tech bells and whistles. This car slants more toward making life easier for a large family than treating a driver to an opulent experience. There’s oodles of usable space, cupholders and outlets galore, and it even inherited the Odyssey’s intercom unit to scold children three rows away.

Normally, I find the driving experience of the SUV version of a truck to be, well, better. Driving the Ridgeline and Pilot back-to-back, I found myself preferring the dynamics and comfort of the truck more. A lot of that stems from the shaky 9-speed ZF automatic Honda smoothed out for 2019. It might be improved, but it’s still frustrating at times in operation as it searches to find the right gear in enthusiastic throttle applications. You lose one mpg for the city rating with the six-speed automatic in the EPA test cycle, and trust me, you won’t be missing it.

The Ridgeline has always impressed with how uncannily quiet it is at all times. There’s a lot more open space behind you in the Pilot, and I could hear way too much of it in the form of creaks and rattles. If you’re dead set on buying a big Honda, try them both (those in need of seven seats need not follow this advice). I’d grab the keys to the pickup every time.

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