If you need a minivan but don’t want to admit to yourself that you need a minivan, the Honda Pilot has been a great alternative choice for years. But it hadn’t been redesigned since 2016 — making it feel a little old and not nearly as competitive as it had been in the past. To fix that, Honda redesigned the Pilot for 2023, giving it a new look and improved off-road capability.
Honda says the new Pilot is the “largest and most powerful SUV in Honda history,” which may technically be true, but don’t expect to win any drag races against a Dodge Durango Hellcat. The “all-new” 3.5-liter V6 is only slightly more powerful than its predecessor, now making 285 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, up from 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque in the ‘22 model.
Then again, that’s probably a good thing for most technically-not-a-minivan buyers. The Durango may be quick, but the Pilot’s going to be much more fuel efficient. Honda hasn’t released official fuel economy numbers yet, but it’s probably safe to assume they’ll be about in line with the 2022 Pilot’s 23 mpg combined rating.
And while the new design does look more rugged than before, the real focus is on the interior. Honda says its seats were redesigned to be more comfortable, while adding 2.4 inches of legroom to the second row. Third seat passengers get an extra 0.6 inches.
You can also option the Pilot with a removable center second-row seat that stores under the rear cargo floor, allowing you to switch between seating for seven or eight. Honestly, that sounds pretty cool. You can drive around in the more-convenient seven-passenger mode most of the time, then pop in an eighth seat any time you need to haul an extra kid.
Standard features include heated seats, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 7.0-inch digital driver display, and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen. Thankfully, Honda learned from past mistakes and included physical volume and tuning knobs. Higher-end models get larger screens with more processing power, extra USB ports, and wireless charging.
On the safety front, Honda says it’s aiming for the Pilot to get a Top Safety Pick+ award and five stars from the NHTSA while also meeting the IIHS’s Side Impact Crashworthiness Evaluation 2.0 standard. Advanced driver assist features have also been improved with both the rear camera and radar system getting a wider field of view, which should hopefully do a better job of picking up other vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians who would prefer not to be run over by distracted drivers.
The standard driver assist system also includes blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, low-speed automatic braking, and a traffic jam assistance feature that provides steering assistance.
Honda also claims the new Pilot will be more fun to drive than before, including shift paddles as standard and a 10-speed automatic it says was tuned specifically for this application. Front-wheel drive is standard, but the optional all-wheel-drive system has been upgraded with a rear differential “that can handle 40% more torque and provides 30% faster response.” As much as 70 percent of the engine’s torque can be sent to the rear wheels, which can then be fully applied to either the left or right wheel if necessary.
You also get several drive modes to choose from, including new sport and towing moves. If you do tow, the Pilot is rated up to 5,000 lbs. The top trim also gets an updated sand and a trail mode if you decide to do a little light off-roading. And Honda definitely wants you to know the new Pilot can go off-roading.
If you actually do want to hit the trail, Honda brought back the Pilot TrailSport, which it claims to have tested at Moab, Glamis, and somewhere in the mud in North Carolina. Aside from some cosmetic differences, the TrailSport gets a one-inch lift, an off-road-tuned suspension, all-terrain tires, skid plates, a full-size spare, a trail driving mode, and a four-camera trail view system.
Honda still hasn’t released pricing for the 2023 Pilot, but expect that soon because it goes on sale next month.