I’ll call this a win.
Was I able to at least get my wife thinking of a minivan? Absolutely (follow me on Instagram for that). Was I able to ultimately buy one for our needs? Well, as you can tell from the title, nope. Nada.
To be fair, we did our homework. While a minivan is the most LOGICAL choice, since she’d be the primary pilot (see what I did there?) it made sense to get something she likes. The Fusion, while rock solid as a family hauler, was growing long in the tooth to keep up with the needs of a growing family. Plus, at over 140k miles, it was time to retire the trusty Blue as primary kiddie hauler. A larger vehicle was needed and we pursued a three-row SUV (because someone envisioned either carrying a bunch of kids in the third row or going thrifting).
Our choices were vast. The Hyundai/Kia twins were MY top choices. The Korean manufacturers have come a long way from their humble cheap-as-rocks roots to become a worthy equal to (and in some cases, surpassing) the establishment. The Palisade could pass for a luxury SUV. The Telluride is stylish and handsomely rugged looking. However, the wife’s rejection of Korean vehicles in general nixed those two (even after a brief Telluride test drive). Mazda, as many of you know, holds a special place in this heart of mine and the CX-9 fit the bill of being near right-sized for my wife’s aversion to large vehicles. Yes, it’s on the small side of the segment but with the 3rd row down, has ample space for those envisioned thrift runs. Plus it has the driving feel that only Mazda could engineer and an interior quality that’s near luxury.
But alas, at the time of our analysis, Mazda had just stopped producing the CX-9. This made finding the spec we wanted either much harder or nigh impossible without going out of state. The all new CX-90 (the CX-9’s premium replacement) had just started trickling in to dealerships and if you know me and my history with Mazdas, well, I was stoked to see one in person. Its more upscale look and interior befits Mazda’s desire to be more premium. Plus the rear-wheel drive platform and an all new 300+ hp 3.0L turbocharged inline 6 cylinder had me salivating. Like the adult male I was, I wanted a driver’s car and the CX-90 would more than fit the bill. BUT, that very same Mazda upscale premium-ness mean’t a hefty price hike, more than the most expensive CX-9 ever was.
Since I wasn’t going to be the primary driver and this would be more for the kids, I started thinking like a parent. Function trumps form (more or less) so the reliability, functionality, ease of use and safety were the top priorities. Sometimes a good ol’ tuna sandwich is better than fancy sushi. With that said, only two contenders remained. The Toyota Highlander never really moved the needle for me. We thought about pursuing a used Honda Pilot but the looks-too-much-like-a-minivan styling was also off-putting.
Then came the redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot. I was intrigued.
Gone are the smooth curves and blob-like design of the old model replaced with a return to the boxy proportions of the first two generations. “Babe, we can’t find any new build CX-9s in the trim we want. You said a flat NO to anything from Korea and the Highlander had a lot of interior quirks that seem like afterthoughts. The CX-90, while nice, is out of our price range. Let’s try the new Pilot”. After initially crawling around one at the Fort Lauderdale Auto Show and dismissing it as too large, we came back a few months later to drive it. I say we, but I mean she. The test drive sealed it for her: “It’s actually not too big, I felt fine behind the wheel.”
We opted for the Touring model which gave us, we felt, a good balance of niceties and functionality.. All wheel drive isn’t a necessity here in Florida so we stuck with front wheel drive. We’re also not off roaders in any sense so we passed on the new TrailSport model. Regardless of trim, the new Pilot is good looking, the boxier, squared -off dimensions enhancing the space and airiness of the cabin. The heavily revised 3.5L V6 produces 285-hp and routes power to an equally new 10-speed automatic transmission. With a 0-60mph time of about 7 seconds, acceleration is about adequate for a 4700 lb vehicle. Fuel efficiency is, well, it’s a big vehicle. So far 19 mpg combined seems to be where we are. That said, I’m glad Honda is sticking to the V6 instead of going the turbo-four cylinder route.
The Pilot’s interior is reasonably nice in a function-over-form way. Materials are high quality in typical Honda fashion. With seating for 8 passengers, space in each of the rear rows is adequate with even the third row able to fit adults comfortably for extended trips. In our case, that third row remains stowed in favor of increased cargo space and let me tell ya. If my wife wants to go thrifting she certainly can. The leather seats themselves are on the softer side of firm, but comfortable and come with enough adjustability to fit anyone of any size.
The infotainment screen is small nowadays at 9.0 inches (Sport models and below come with 7.0 inchers) but the system itself is incredibly easy to use. Wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard as is a 12-speaker Bose audio system (on Touring and Elite trims). Tri-zone climate control is also here as well as WiFi connectivity. One nit to pick is the gauge cluster which, in Touring trims and below, is equal parts analog and digital. If you want a full digital cluster, you have to step up to the top Elite trim which I think is a cheap move. The digital side has a good amount of flexibility and displays almost everything you need to know but as a whole feels unfinished, especially knowing the good stuff is available.
Is it fun to drive? No, not in the least. But the handling is stable and predictable. In the hands of someone used to small cars, that’s what really matters. The steering is lifeless but responds quickly enough to sharp inputs without feeling darty. The suspension is softly sprung, soaking up road imperfections and the ride befits an impressive long distance cruiser. The 10-speed transmission shifts smartly and doesn’t have the feared “gear-hunting” quirk that affect so many other multi-speed transmissions. There’s also really good kick-down when needed, even in the most tame of the available drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, Snow and Tow are the options). Honda knows how to make engines, the big 3.5 giving a nice intake howl at full throttle.
We’ve taken the Pilot on a few road trips so far and its been impressive. Honda has some smart features like Cabintalk, where the driver’s voice is amplified through the stereo speaker. This allows quick vocal intervention to warring parties in the rear. Need to make sure the passengers are playing nice? A cabin mirror, which folds down below the sunglass holder allows for regular checks to ensure the kiddos are behaving. Charge ports (USB, cigarette style) and cupholders are EVERYWHERE with ample storage for everything a family could need. The tiniest human is particularly intrigued by the massive panoramic sunroof which affords her a great view of the world outside.
We’ve put some 5000 miles on our new Big Steed in mostly around town driving and a few road trips. It continues to impress with just a few annoyances. I mentioned the gauge cluster as being one, but another which is more a functional aspect is the wireless phone charger. Charging is either inconsistent or none at all, even with the phone being close dying. I’ve already alerted Honda about this, which they say is a common issue among newer Hondas and a fix is in the works. The start-stop system for the engine is rough at times but it can be switched off, even if you have to remember to turn it off at every start up. All in, our Pilot is proving itself as a capable family hauler and impressive road tripper.
The wife is happy and loves how smoothly the Pilot goes down the road. Other things she’s grateful for are the powered cargo hatch, spacious cabin and how much easier it is to load the kiddos. Negatives for her are the lane keep assist (too sensitive), start-stop system (for reasons above), parking sensors (too conservative….look how much space mi have!) and how Apple Carplay immediately starts playing her music on start up when she really wanted the radio instead. With the Pilot now assuming primary family hauler duty, the trusty Fusion now takes on its role as beater (a nicely equipped one, update on that coming soon).
Special shoutout to the folks at Rick Case Honda, Ethan and Abdul in particular. They worked to secure the best deal and were fantastic people to work with. Make sure you check them for your next vehicle and tell ’em I sent ya!