First drive: 2016 Honda Pilot in the UAE
Honda is better known as a maker of Civics and Accords nowadays, and anyone other than Honda salesmen will have a tough time trying to remember if they sell anything else. However, they do offer a midsize 4×4 called the Pilot, a model that had been chugging along virtually unchanged since the last recession. It wasn’t particularly good at anything either, so we were keen to see how Honda has gone about bringing the all-new 2016 Pilot bang up to date in our all-too-brief time with the car.
First off, the boxy shape is obviously gone, replaced by a contemporary aerodynamic look similar to the current CR-V. It also looks small in photos, but is a pretty big car, measuring in at only 10mm shorter than a Toyota Land Cruiser.
Stare at the Pilot long enough though, and it becomes clear that the proportions are rather bulky around the cabin area. Step inside, and it becomes clear that there’s actually more space than the aforementioned “large” Land Cruiser, with adult-sized seating in all three rows. The second row moves front and back for more configurability, but access to the third row remains a chore. Cargo space is better than its rivals, even with the fold-flat last row in use.
Cabin materials have improved as well, with soft-touch trim on the dash, front doors and all door armrests, although it’s not hard to find large sections of hard-plastic touch surfaces the further back you sit. The tech now includes a touchscreen that features big icons, but is slow to respond at times and hard to use while driving. Safety is otherwise not compromised, with a full set of airbags, ESP, tyre-pressure monitor and hill-start assist all standard.
Powered by a mildly-updated 280 hp 3.5-litre V6, it’s mated to a 6-speed automatic with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. With 355 Nm of torque on tap at a high 4700 rpm in true i-VTEC fashion, acceleration never feels brisk as speed builds up linearly. And that’s why we were surprised when it posted a 0-100 kph time of 7 seconds flat in our 0-100 kph run, much quicker than rivals with similar specs such as the Chevy Traverse. It does need to be pushed for highway-overtaking though, but it is an effortless cruiser once you let it settle down. It burned petrol at less than 13 litres/100 km, pretty good for such a big car.
Interestingly, while the base 2WD model and our top-spec Touring AWD model come with 185 mm of ground clearance, the mid-range EX and EX-L all-wheel-drive models have 15mm higher ground clearance for, well, off-roading as per Honda’s marketing. Not that we’d recommend anyone go dune-bashing in one, considering none of the variants come with low-range gearing.
What it is capable of is comfortable commuting. In fact, the new Pilot is one of the smoothest cars we’ve ever driven, Rolls-Royce included. It’s not as quiet as a Rolls, mind you, but it keeps noise to moderate levels at highway speeds. Handling is also much better than the lumpy old model, with relatively less body roll, and never feeling bouncy or floaty. Even the brakes are respectable, offering good stopping power and linear pedal feel. However, the steering is lifeless, so you’ll never feel confident hustling it around corners, even as the tyres offer good grip.
But the Pilot’s target market isn’t current S2000 owners, but rather former ones who’ve become older and had too many kids. It is easily one of the most spacious crossovers in its category, supremely comfortable and safe, with decent power and fuel economy too.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Honda buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.