Many automakers are adding off-road styling and capability to their SUVs, and Honda is doing so by giving its models the TrailSport treatment.
Tested here is the 2022 Honda Pilot TrailSport, which is slowly but surely turning into an off-road model. For this year, it includes only minimal exterior styling differences and cladding, along with orange interior stitching and easy-clean mats. The real tough-stuff additions, like all-terrain tires, extra ground clearance, underbody protection, and a tuned all-wheel drive system, will be added over the next few model years.
The TrailSport is one of five Pilot trims available, and my tester was $58,170 before tax including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $1,950.
The Pilot isn’t a styling standout, but it’s well-proportioned. The TrailSport doesn’t look considerably different from other trims, but that’s a good thing; it shouldn’t look rough-and-ready when it doesn’t yet have the clearance or tires to do more serious off-road work. The TrailSport’s features include 18-inch wheels, black grille and roof rails, LED headlights, a sunroof, and power tailgate.
The Pilot gets the top five-star crash rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) isn’t as generous. In the seven areas of its crash tests, it gives the Pilot the highest “Good” rating in five, but gives it an “Acceptable” for passenger-side small front overlap, and “Marginal” in the updated side crash test, which was recently changed to better mimic a higher-speed hit from an SUV (and which many vehicles are failing).
Standard driver-assist technologies include emergency front braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and road departure mitigation, along with the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. It also includes a camera-based system that broadcasts a real-time view on the centre screen of what’s happening on the passenger side when the right-hand signal is activated or you turn it on with a button. It was pretty revolutionary when it came out, but the upper trims now use a sensor-based blind-spot monitoring system for both sides, which also includes rear cross-traffic alert.
The adaptive cruise control works well, slowing and accelerating smoothly when other traffic gets in front of it or then moves away. But the emergency front braking includes a preliminary warning if it detects you’re getting too close to another vehicle, and while the braking never came on during testing, I frequently got warnings when approaching vehicles on the other side of the road.
In addition to the standard safety-assist technologies, all Pilot trims include LED fog- and headlights, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirror, digital instrument cluster, proximity key, remote starter, tri-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The TrailSport is furnished similarly to the EX-L Navi, the next step up from the base Sport, with such items as driver’s-side memory seating, a power passenger seat, power tailgate, navigation, satellite radio, second-row sunshades, heated second-row seats, and leather-trimmed upholstery. It’s differentiated from the EX-L Navi by the minor styling changes and a wireless charger.
User Friendliness: 8.5/10
The Pilot’s controls are straightforward, with buttons and toggles for climate control, a simple infotainment interface, and equally-simple controls on the steering wheel to handle the cruise control, instrument cluster configuration, and other functions. Still, I’m not a fan of the button-activated gearshift.
The second-row seats slide forward for third-row access when you push a button, and fold flat for carrying longer items when the back-row seats are folded, too. The liftover is higher than if the hatch went right down to the bumper, but the opening is wide enough to make it easy to load.
The TrailSport may not yet have the off-road capability promised for the future, but most sport-utilities in this segment seldom have to tackle more than a cottage road that the Pilot can already handle.
With the third-row seats up, the Pilot provides generous – if not class-leading – cargo volume of 524 L, and up to 3,092 L with the second- and third rows folded down. There’s a bin under the cargo floor, and open cubbies on either side. Two towing packages are available, offering maximum capacity of 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) or 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
The front and second rows have good leg- and headroom, and the seats are supportive and comfortable. The TrailSport holds eight occupants; only the top Touring or Black Edition trims offer second-row captain’s chairs for a total of seven seats. The third row has more legroom than many in this segment, but the seats are flat and not very pleasant on anything but a short trip. Large cupholders in the doors and side panels let second- and third-row passengers park their drinks as needed. The ride is smooth and the cabin is quiet.
The Pilot is powered by Honda’s venerable 3.5L V6, making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, that’s also used in the two-row Passport, Odyssey minivan, and Ridgeline pickup. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard across all Pilot trims. Acceleration is smooth and strong; it doesn’t feel quick, but just-right for a family hauler.
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
It might not be ready yet for off-road prime-time, but the TrailSport does a good job on asphalt. The steering is smooth and accurate, it takes curves with a minimum of body roll, and the ride is supple enough to soak up bumps before they reach the cabin but tight enough for confident handling. It’s a pleasure on a road trip, whether you’re riding or driving.
The all-wheel drive system primarily powers the front wheels, but can send up to 70 per cent of power to the rear. Beyond that, it can further distribute that rear power to the left or right, sending as much as 100 per cent to the wheel that can get you out of a muddy or snowy situation. You can also switch between drive modes, such as for normal or snowy conditions, which adjust the throttle and all-wheel drive responses appropriately.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The TrailSport is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 12.3 L/100 km in the city, 9.5 on the highway, and 11.1 in combined driving, and it uses regular-grade gasoline. In my week with it, I actually came in under the official rating, racking up 10.1 L/100 km.
The Pilot sits mid-pack among some of its competitors. In combined driving, the non-hybrid Toyota Highlander rates 10.3 L/100 km, while the Subaru Ascent hits 10.5, and the Volkswagen Atlas with its turbocharged four-cylinder is 10.6. The Kia Telluride comes in at 11.3, while the Atlas with its V6 is rated for 12.2.
Among some three-row competitors, the Pilot’s trim range of $48,870 to $60,370 is topped by the Kia Telluride’s starting price at $48,895 (all prices including delivery fees) but its highest trim is $58,595. Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Atlas runs between $43,345 and $59,445; the Toyota Highlander from $46,640 to $55,080; and the Subaru Ascent is the least-expensive at $39,549 to $54,049.
The TrailSport is a $2,000 upgrade over the EX-L Navi trim and, as mentioned, the major differences are in appearance. Look at them both when you’re shopping.
Honda has taken an unusual step of improving its off-road TrailSport’s capability in stages, so if you want the tougher trail ability, you’ll have to wait a while. But overall, the 2022 Honda Pilot is a comfortable and roomy vehicle that drives quite well, and is a contender in any trim when you’re shopping for a three-row SUV.
|Peak Horsepower||280 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.3 / 9.5 / 11.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||524 / 1,582 / 3,092 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2022 Honda Pilot TrailSport|
|Price as Tested||$58,270|