The 2020 Honda Pilot is a comfortable, user-friendly, inoffensively minivan-like SUV for large families. The 2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition, is, get this, black. Exterior, interior, wheels. It’s as all-black as New Zealand’s rugby team or a car from the motor pool for anonymous henchmen.
(Full Disclosure: Honda’s press fleet arranged to let me borrow a Pilot Black Edition for about a week. I was conveniently able to collect it at, and return it to, JFK airport.)
We’ve already expounded on the virtues of the current Honda Pilot, so I’ll direct you to my first drive or Alanis King’s review for a comprehensive rundown. But basically, the car is very comfortable, generally passionless, and entirely painless to drive.
All the controls are easy to find, the steering wheel moves so effortlessly that you can barely tell you’re ever turning, and the rear seats slap down hastily when you want to go from passenger-mode to cargo-carrying time. I actually really like it, and so will you if you have folks or things to move around.
All Pilots have the same architecture and engine but the top of the range is the AWD Elite which rings up at $48,120. That gets you a generous sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated back seats (nice), and a wireless phone charger along with many passive safety features.
Blindspot detection, emergency braking, it’s all there. Car writers complain about Honda’s execution this stuff not working with some regularity. I, personally, didn’t have an issue with it on my 800-plus mile test of this car.
Anyway, the Black Edition isn’t really about safety features. It’s about that sweet, sinister triple-black decorative scheme with red ambient lighting (shoutout to the Sith lords who just need a car to get their kids to school) 20-inch wheels and almost imperceptible red accents in perforated leather seats.
Oh! And you can’t forget: the phrase “Black Edition” affixed to the grille, glued to the tailgate, and stitched into the front seats. The Pilot with an evil aura will set you back $49,620 if you pay list, so think of it as: $1,500 for the seat dressing, wheels, and lighting kit. Which is actually, I suppose, pretty reasonable.
A base front-wheel drive 2020 Pilot lists for about $32,000; this one is almost $50,000. That’s all in luxury features, driver-assistance aids, and the transmission. All Pilots are wrought from the same unibody platform with the same 111-inch wheelbase and 196.5 inches of total length.
All Pilots also run the same V6 engine, rated to 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, but higher spec cars including the Black Edition have nine-speed automatic transmissions and of course all-wheel drive plus terrain-selectable traction control. Base cars get a six-speed and front-drive as default.
But the nine-speed and six-speed return the same fuel economy claims for highway driving: 26 mpg.
The two-wheel drive eeks out an advantage at 27, and the nine-speed car has an edge in combined driving. That said, the Black Edition is about 300 pounds heavier than the base car.
Get a load of all these goodies the Pilot Black Edition’s rear passengers get to play with! Granted, some of this is to control the pointless ceiling-mounted flip-down entertainment screen you can use if you want to pretend you’re on a flight to 1995 (why are we not just looking at our phones?) but the climate and audio control flexibility is a good thing.
I also found cargo space abundant with four people or less, and when you do have six seats in use, you still get a trick secret storage shelf in the rear luggage area.
The third row’s not exactly comfortable for a six-foot person, but at least it’s easy to get out of.
And the front seats, despite the aggressively aggro colorway, are firmly coddling in a nice way.
The Pilot is the kind of car anyone can climb into and find every feature of immediately and without an instruction manual. If you don’t have any real interest in performance or design, or rather, you prioritize simplicity and (likely) reliability over speed and swagger, this is a great family hauler for you.
I’ve been impressed by the AWD Pilot’s ability to find traction in slippery stuff in the past, and if bad weather driving is something you do frequently there are certainly worse cars to be in.
Today’s Pilot gets a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA so the survivability of its occupants in a crash should be pretty high, in the event that the advanced all-wheel drive system lets you down and you end up in a wall.
Putting an aggressive aesthetic package on a car that mainly exists to placate the egos of people who can’t bear to be seen in a minivan is asking for eye rolls. Sorry. Even with four “Black Edition” markings, and that tactical red interior lighting, nobody’s going to notice that you sprung for $1,500 worth of sexiness on your practical people mover and anyone who does will think it’s goofy.
And, as so often comes up when we talk about family-oriented SUVs, the practical benefits afforded by the Pilot SUV over Honda’s Odyssey minivan (a little bit of ground clearance and all-wheel drive) cost you a lot of stretch-out space your passenger would have in the van.
It’s hard to complain about the Pilot after spending a week racking up easy miles around New England in one. The ride’s plush, smooth, and stress-free. But as nice a time as I had, driving from house to house seeing family members for Thanksgiving, it’s even harder to imagine signing up to owe a bank $50,000 for it.
Put another way: Unless this version of the Pilot turns out to be indefatigably reliable (it’s already been recalled once, for a very ominous-sounding “incomplete body welding”) I don’t see any significant value proposition here over a lightly used, well, Pilot.