2019 Honda Pilot: Honda's three-row SUV faces steep competition [Retake]

2019 Honda Pilot 34.jpg
2019 Honda Pilot (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

When last I drove the 2019 Honda Pilot, I was driving it through a mogul-laden obstacle course on the press preview. I was impressed with its dual personality: the ability to be comfortable on the highway as well as ability to go off the beaten path.

It was the first of a bevy of new three-row SUVs I’d driven for the 2019 model year, and the initial impression was favorable.

It still is.

But unfortunately for Pilot, it has some steep competition from the likes of the all-new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride – both of which feel more luxurious and comfortable with a topped-out price tag that’s about $5K less than the Pilot.

After a second look at the Pilot, it’s still a solid contender with stalwart genes and an interior that can take a beating. But it doesn’t stand up quite as well as it did in my first-look review.

Since Pilot is a family oriented vehicle, it does benefit from lessons learned from the Odyssey minivan, namely it gets CabinControl and CabinTalk features. It also adds standard Honda Sensing, which includes lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.

One lesson it didn’t learn: It has three rows of seats but only comes standard with one USB port up front.

Another disappointment: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t standard on the Pilot. They are on Palisade and Telluride.

Pilot is equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, delivering 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet, and it is available in both front- and all-wheel drive. This is comparable to the powertrain found in both the Palisade and Telluride.

During the test week, I took a small weekend road trip, and I found the power to be sufficient for aggressive passing maneuvers – I happened to be following my husband in his Volkswagen GTI, and while I couldn’t quite keep up with him as he zipped through traffic, I wasn’t far behind. As I wove around slower vehicles, the Pilot didn’t quite feel nimble, but it didn’t lumber either.

The ride was stiff but overall comfortable on the highway.

Pilot has adaptive cruise control but not the stop-and-go functionality. Basically, that means the adaptive cruise control will maintain a steady highway speed and will slow down when it detects a slower moving vehicle. However, once it gets below about 20 mph, the feature shuts off and the driver must take over manual operation of acceleration and braking.

Palisade and Telluride both have an adaptive cruise control that brings you to a complete stop and maintains low-speed cruising – which is helpful in rush-hour traffic.

In my combined – but mostly highway – driving, I did manage to hit the EPA estimated average of 22 mpg. My actual when I turned in the vehicle was 22.7 mpg. But that was with almost 500 highway miles. Then again, my city mileage was subpar at about 14 mpg, when the EPA estimates you should get around 19 mpg.

So, if you do mostly city driving, be prepared to be a bit off the EPA estimates.

The Pilot’s design is more handsome than attractive, and it falls in line with the rest of the Honda lineup. The interior gauges and controls are intuitively placed, but materials were a bit plasticky – and this was on the top-tier Elite model.

Pilot retains its five-trim structure, and pricing only increases $550 to $1,000 depending on the trim. The breakdown is as follows:

  • LX ($32,445): This trim is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, Honda Sensing, push-button start, 8-passenger seating, 5-inch color infotainment screen, 18-inch alloy wheels and 1 USB port.
  • EX ($35,325): This trim adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, one-touch second row, HD Radio, CabinControl, passive entry, remote start, 3-zone automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, 8-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and SiriusXM radio.
  • EX-L ($38,755): Honda expects this trim to be the volume seller, and it adds nice up-level features such as memory driver’s seat and mirrors, second-row sunshade, power moonroof, power tailgate, leather seats, 4-way power adjustable front passenger seat and 2 USB ports – for a total of 3 USB ports.
  • Touring ($43,515): This trim is equipped with the 9-speed automatic transmission and adds features such as HondaLink, hands-free power liftgate, heated second-row seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, auto stop/start engine, roof rails, navigation, parking sensors, 10-speake premium audio and available captain’s chairs.
  • Elite ($49,015): This top-tier trim adds wireless charging, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, dual-pane panoramic moonroof, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers.

If you go all-in with the Elite trim, you’ll get a lot of nice up-level tech features, including wireless charging, hands-free power liftgate and three-zone climate control, but there’s nothing particularly exceptional about the Pilot.

The Bottom Line:

I don’t mean to beat up on the 2019 Honda Pilot. It is a good vehicle, and people who are steady Honda fans will like the familiarity of interior fit and finish as well as ride and handling.

But with new competition from Palisade and Telluride, Pilot is going to have a hard time winning over conquest sales.