Now in its fourth generation, Honda’s three-row SUV gets some off-road bonafides to go with a redesign for this year.
The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is made up of more than some added body cladding and a tough name, with tall all-terrain tires, a lifted and retuned suspension, steel skid plates, and recalibrated all-wheel drive system that puts it squarely in line with the likes of the Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek or Kia Telluride X-Line and X-Pro trims.
The redesigned Pilot ditches its previous minivan-like profile for a decidedly more rugged SUV look, sporting chunky, upright bodywork and a longer hood. Here in TrailSport trim it eschews chrome trim for the blacked-out look. It rides on exclusive 18-inch shark grey alloy wheels shod in high-profile all-terrain tires. Other clues to its mission are the increased ride height and visible skid plates front and rear. Meanwhile, this tester’s trendy semi-gloss Sonic Grey Pearl paint ($300) is subtle but adds to its appeal.
The 2023 Pilot comes standard with a comprehensive suite of advanced safety and driver-assist systems including blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and keeping assistance, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Also standard are a rear-seat reminder, traffic sign recognition, and trailer stability assist, as well as automatic high-beam control.
The Pilot is a roomy and versatile three-row SUV, although the TrailSport only comes with second-row captain’s chairs, making it a seven-seater. A second-row bench is available in most other Pilot trims, delivering full eight-occupant status. However, the captain’s chairs fold forward to create a huge flat load space (3,219 L), of which I made use when loading up the Pilot with scrap metal and building supplies. Later, we tied a queen-size box spring on the roof using the standard roof rails.
The Pilot has plenty of small item storage, too. There’s a large center console tray and covered box, and the cabin is rife with pockets and cup holders.
For light- to medium off-road duty, the Pilot TrailSport forges ahead of its mainstream competitors. Along with its raised ride height and all-terrain tires (265/60R18), the suspension has been tuned for the trail, getting special dampers, springs, and thinner anti-roll bars that allow for more wheel travel. With trail mode selected, the all-wheel drive’s new “trail torque logic” system can send up to 70 per cent of available torque to the rear wheels, with up to 75 per cent of that going to the wheel with traction and the remaining 25 per cent to the other. The TrailSport also gets hill descent control, although the nifty forward-facing camera found on the American version doesn’t make it to Canada. The TrailSport gets standard tow package, and will pull up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
The redesigned Pilot maintains a plethora of analogue controls, making for easy operation and quick familiarity. The central touchscreen features a logical menu structure, and below that sits the HVAC control panel with a trio of rotary knobs – still the best layout in the business. There are hard buttons for seat heat, as well as an array of buttons on the steering wheel for audio and cruise control adjustment. Honda’s odd push/pull button set up for gear selection takes some getting used to.
A button on top of captain’s chairs has them quickly folding and sliding forward for relatively easy access to the third row.
The TrailSport is the third in the 2023 Pilot’s five-trim lineup. Along with the aforementioned full suite of safety kit, standard features include an average-sounding nine-speaker stereo, a nine-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay (wired), Android Auto (wireless), subscription-based satellite radio, USB-A and USB-C ports, a 110-volt outlet, in-cabin PA system, wireless charging pad, and tri-zone climate control.
The seats are trimmed in exclusive TrailSport leatherette (easy to clean), and both the front buckets (10-way driver, four-way passenger) and second-row captain’s chairs get heat. Not on the menu are ventilated front seats, a head-up display, or navigation. Those are found in the two higher trim levels – the Touring and Black Edition. Overhead is an power panoramic sunroof. Drive modes include sport, normal, eco, trail, snow, tow, and sand, and the TrailSport is the only Pilot to get a full-size spare wheel.
Doing duty here is a 3.5L naturally-aspirated V6 that Honda claims is all-new, making 285 hp at 6100 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. It’s mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth and polished drivetrain, but with not much low-end torque, so one must rev the engine to find the power. Under most circumstances the V6’s urge is adequate, but when calling for quick merging or passing, the Pilot comes up short of some of its turbocharged rivals.
Even so, it’s smoother and more satisfying than the 3.8L V6 in the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade twins.
A happy side effect of the TrailSport’s unfashionably tall 18-inch all-terrain tires (all other Pilots wear 20-inch wheels) is the smooth ride they impart. Adding to this is the TrailSport’s softer suspension tune. So yes, this all makes for a cushy cruise, and the cabin is impressively quiet, too, helped by the standard noise-cancellation system.
The front seats are broad, and while not sporty in their support, they’re comfortable for the long haul. The same goes for the heated second-row captain’s chairs. Standard second-row side sunshades will make the kids happy. Third-row legroom is comparable to the Kia and Hyundai rivals, and there are also USB charging ports and air vents back there. There’s a good amount of headroom, too, so carrying two average-sized adults in the rearmost seats is doable.
Driving Feel: 7/10
While the Pilot TrailSport’s soft suspension pays dividends for ride comfort and off-road ability, it makes for a tippy, top-heavy feel on the pavement. It floats along, pitching over undulations and leaning heavily into the corners. It’s a bit Range Rover-like, if you want to be kind. This nautical comportment is not terribly disconcerting, it just takes some getting used to – but it certainly discourages spirited driving.
Fuel Economy: 6.5/10
With fuel economy numbers pegged at 13.0 L/100 km in the city, 10.3 on the highway, and 11.8 combined, the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is the thirstiest member of the lineup. My week of admittedly gentle and mainly highway driving netted 11.6 L/100 km, which is probably a best-case scenario. All trims run on regular-grade fuel.
With an as-tested price of just over $60,000 before taxes, this 2023 Pilot TrailSport is priced competitively, and undercuts what could be perceived as its main rival, the Kia Telluride X-Pro (about $65,000 before taxes) that also gets a raised suspension and rides on 18-inch wheels. However, the Telluride has more power, a richer interior, vastly bigger screen, ventilated front- and second-row seats, leather – and the list goes on.
Do you need a three-row SUV with some bona fide off-road ability, or is it all about the perception? With the former, the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport will tackle some pretty nasty terrain and come out unscathed. With the latter, it doesn’t exactly scream about its tough-guy cred; I motored about for a week essentially unnoticed. In either case, you’re getting the benefit of a comfy ride and a well-built – and well-engineered – family hauler that, while limited to seven seats, will handle domestic duties and then some.
|Engine Cylinders||Naturally aspirated V6|
|Peak Horsepower||285 hp @ 6,100 rpm|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.0 / 10.3 / 11.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||618 / 1,685 / 3,219 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport|
|Price as Tested||$60,377.30|
$827 – Sonic Grey Pearl $300, Protection Package $527.30