2023 Honda Pilot Preview

Christian Wardlaw | Nov 07, 2022

Honda found a successful family-sized SUV formula 20 years ago when it introduced the first-generation Pilot for the 2003 model year. It had plenty of passenger room in three rows of seats, a large cargo area, a V6 engine, and available all-wheel drive (AWD). In addition, while it looked like an SUV, it drove more like a car. Indeed, it was one of the first large crossover SUVs.

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Diffused Sky Blue Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Now, the fourth-generation 2023 Honda Pilot is about to go on sale. It adheres to the same recipe described above, and Honda substantially upgrades it over the popular third-generation model it replaces. Honda will offer the redesigned 2023 Pilot in Sport, EX-L, TrailSport, Touring, and Elite trim levels when it arrives in dealership showrooms in December 2022.

What's New for the 2023 Honda Pilot? - Find the best Honda deals!

  • Completely redesigned
  • Longer and more rugged on the outside
  • Bigger and more comfortable on the inside
  • Seats up to eight people
  • Tows up to 5,000 pounds
  • Carries up to 113.7 cubic feet of cargo
  • New 285-horsepower V6 engine
  • Available next-generation torque-vectoring AWD
  • New TrailSport trim level with improved off-roading capability
  • Next-generation infotainment and safety technologies
  • The 2023 Honda Pilot release date is December 2022

2023 Honda Pilot Exterior - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot Elite Dark Blue Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda took more than a few hits over the third-generation Pilot's styling and interior, which seemed too similar to a minivan at a time when rugged styling, knobby tires, and an overlanding lifestyle skyrocketed in popularity.

So, with the all-new 2023 Pilot, Honda makes the model look more like an SUV and less like a minivan. Blunt front styling, a long hood, flared fenders, bigger tires, raised roof rails, a kinked C-pillar, and trapezoidal rear windows all lend the new Pilot a more outdoorsy and adventurous look. Honda also pulls the cabin back on the platform, increasing the "dashboard-to-axle" ratio for improved proportions.

The 2023 Pilot grows 3.4 inches in overall length, has a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase, and features wider front and rear tracks (up by as much as 1.2 inches and 1.5 inches, respectively).

Sport trim has a black grille, black exterior trim, and Shark Gray 20-inch alloy wheels. Choose the Pilot EX-L for chrome grille detailing, chrome exterior trim, and 5-spoke 18-inch wheels with a machined finish. Touring and Elite trim levels feature an exclusive black grille design, black B-pillar trim, dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets, and 7-spoke 20-inch wheels with a machined finish.

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Diffused Sky Blue Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Then there is the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport. This is the new off-roading variant, and it does more than look the part. It comes with exclusive black 18-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires and is available in a new exclusive color called Diffused Sky Blue. Honda also raises the off-road suspension by an inch and installs steel skid plates that it claims can support the entire weight of the SUV crashing down on rocks.

Yes, Honda equips the 2023 Pilot TrailSport with recovery points. You just can't see them because Honda integrated them with the front skid plate and standard rear tow hitch. Why did Honda do that? Because exposed tow hooks create pedestrian safety concerns. Honda says the recovery points are rated to handle twice the TrailSport's gross vehicle weight rating.

If the TrailSport's unique styling isn't different enough, you can equip it with a Honda Performance Development (HPD) package that adds snazzy bronze wheels, fender flares, and HPD decals.

2023 Honda Pilot Interior - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot Interior Dashboard Elite Trim

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda says the 2023 Pilot has the largest interior in the nameplate's history. According to the automaker, it provides 2.4 inches of added second-row legroom, more than half an inch more third-row legroom, and between 22.4 and 113.7 cubic feet of cargo space, depending on how you've configured the seats. A power panoramic sunroof is available with TrailSport, Touring, and Elite trim.

The Pilot's dashboard will look familiar if you've seen the inside of a Honda redesigned during the past two years. Digital instrumentation is standard, and you get one of two touchscreen infotainment systems, depending on the trim level. Honda says the dashboard design reduces glare and reflections in the windshield, and the SUV includes a handy shelf in front of the front-seat passenger.

According to Honda, the Pilot's new "body-stabilizing" front seats reduce fatigue on long trips. Honda installs seat heaters in every trim. The Sport has cloth upholstery, while others have leather upholstery. Premium perforated leather and ventilated front seats are standard with Elite trim.

I tried the seats in the 2023 Pilot Elite and easily found a great driving position. I can also attest that the Pilot no longer feels like a minivan from behind the steering wheel. Honda removed the inboard front armrests, low center console, and front quarter windows that made it feel so uncool in favor of more traditional SUV-style design elements.

2023 Honda Pilot Interior Second Row Seats Elite Trim

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The second-row seats offer more legroom plus 10 degrees of recline angle. They're comfortable, too. Both the TrailSport and the Elite trims I examined had rear side window shades, triple-zone automatic climate control with rear air conditioning vents, rear USB-C charging ports, and a 115-volt power outlet. With Touring and Elite trim, the second-row bench seat has a removable center section that you can store in the underfloor compartment in the cargo area.

Honda says the Pilot's third-row seat is roomier than before, and it feels that way. It's not quite as easy to climb into as some rivals in the segment, but comfort is on par with the Chevrolet TraverseHyundai Palisade, and Kia Telluride. (In my opinion, the Volkswagen Atlas still offers a higher seating position with better leg support and, therefore, comfort.) Honda also claims it improved the outward visibility for third-row passengers, and I can confirm this is true.

The new 2023 Pilot retains the bins and shelves on all four doors, a practical and helpful detail from the previous-generation model. Also, the storage bin under the center armrest is large, and the new Pilot has 14 cupholders, eight of which can hold a 32-ounce water bottle. Wireless smartphone charging is standard with all trims except for the Sport, and the tray forward of the transmission controls can hold two smartphones simultaneously.

2023 Honda Pilot Interior Third-Row Seat Elite Trim

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda claims the new 2023 Pilot offers more cargo space than the previous model. Behind the third-row seat, the SUV supplies 22.4 cubic feet of cargo space. The maximum volume with both rows folded down is 113.7 cubic feet, according to Honda. The automaker did not provide a number for the volume behind the second-row seats.

You can identify the Pilot TrailSport by its standard orange contrast stitching, logos embroidered on the head restraints, all-weather floor mats, and heated steering wheel. The Pilot Elite also has a standard heated steering wheel.

2023 Honda Pilot Specs - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Grille Badge

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda says it is using a new 3.5-liter V6 engine in the redesigned Pilot. It makes 285 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque and includes Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) technology to improve fuel economy. The VCM can shut off some of the engine's cylinders when they're not needed, saving gas.

Why bother with a new gasoline-fueled engine when the auto industry is scrambling to electrify? Honda says it is to ensure compliance with future emissions regulations.

The V6 engine in the new Pilot bolts to a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Econ, Normal, and Snow driving modes return from the previous Pilot, now joined by Sport and Tow modes. Some trims also get a Sand mode. When properly equipped, the 2023 Honda Pilot can tow 5,000 pounds.

The powertrain propels the front wheels unless you choose a Pilot with the next-generation Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) torque-vectoring AWD system. It is standard with TrailSport and Elite trim and optional on all others. The i-VTM4 is a true torque-vectoring system that can deliver up to 70 percent of the engine's power to the rear axle and all of that 70 percent to a single rear wheel. Honda equips every 2023 Pilot with a hill-decent control system.

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Wheel All Terrain Tire

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda claims the 2023 Pilot is the most off-road-capable SUV it has ever made, referring to the new TrailSport version. In addition to unique 18-inch wheels with 265/60 Continental TerrainContact all-terrain tires, the TrailSport has an off-road-tuned suspension with a one-inch factory lift. That improves the approach, breakover, and departure angles. In addition, Honda fortifies the Pilot TrailSport with unique sway bars and spring rates for added wheel articulation and wheel travel, plus a full-size spare tire.

The TrailSport also has an exclusive Trail driving mode with trail torque logic. Activate it, and the i-VTM4 AWD system can put 75 percent of the engine's power to a single rear tire with the most traction, while the remaining 25 percent goes to the wheel on the same axle with the least traction. That way, the Pilot will move forward when the TrailSport tilts back in the other direction, and the tire in the air regains traction. In addition, Trail mode uses a front brake torque-vectoring system to help ensure the AWD system sorts out where to put the power to the wheels.

All 2023 Pilot SUVs have a MacPherson-strut front suspension paired with a multi-link design at the back. Honda says it tunes the suspension to make the 2023 Pilot more fun to drive and improve the ride quality. Furthermore, Honda says the variable steering system responds quicker than before, and both a stiffer steering column and front torsion bar improve steering feel, stability, and communication. Larger front brakes are also standard, and the Pilot is sure to provide a quieter ride thanks to added sound-deadening materials and measures.

2023 Honda Pilot Safety - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot Elite Dark Blue Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda builds the 2023 Pilot on a different platform with a next-generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering architecture. The automaker claims it improves crash compatibility with smaller vehicles and improves occupant protection in offset frontal-impact collisions. Honda says it intends for the Pilot to earn top crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

In addition, every Pilot has a new front passenger airbag design that Honda says should reduce the potential for head and neck injuries. The company also claims it has improved the Pilot's front side-impact airbags and added new knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.

Both a rear-seat reminder system and a rear seat-belt reminder system are standard, along with a next-generation collection of Honda Sensing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Thanks to a new wide-view camera and a wider field of sensing for the radar units, the 2023 Pilot should better identify other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, as well as the lines painted on the road, curbs, etc. According to Honda, the adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance technologies are smoother than before and feel more natural to the driver, encouraging their continued use.

The blind-spot warning system also gains an improved radar range, now measuring 82 feet to either rear corner of the SUV. New standard safety features include low-speed automatic braking, a traffic-sign recognition system, and traffic-jam assist. Traffic-jam assist provides semi-autonomous driving assistance at lower speeds to ease stress in heavy traffic.

2023 Honda Pilot Technology - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot Infotainment System

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

All 2023 Honda Pilots have a 7-inch digital instrumentation panel except for the Elite, which features a larger 10.2-inch display. With Sport trim, the digital gauges pair with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while all other Pilots benefit from a 9-inch touchscreen setup.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in all 2023 Pilots, but only the larger 9-inch screen offers wireless smartphone-mirroring tech. It also has a faster processor for faster response to inputs and an embedded navigation system. Choose the Pilot Touring or the Pilot Elite to get a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound audio system. Only the Elite has a color head-up display.

A new TrailWatch camera system is standard with TrailSport and Elite trim. This forward-view camera helps the driver see what's ahead of the SUV and works at speeds up to 15 mph. Later, if the Pilot's speed drops below 12 mph, TrailWatch will automatically reactivate until you turn it off.

2023 Honda Pilot Competitors - Find the best Honda deals!

2023 Honda Pilot Interior Third-Row Seat Elite Trim

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The 2023 Honda Pilot is an upper midsize SUV with three rows of seats. It counts the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge DurangoFord Explorer, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Kia Telluride, Nissan PathfinderSubaru AscentToyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas as its primary rivals.

Meanwhile, regarding the new 2023 Pilot TrailSport, Honda names the Ford Explorer Timberline, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Kia Telluride X-Pro, and Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek as its main competitors.

You can see that unlike 20 years ago, in 2003, shoppers in this segment have many more choices today than they did in the past. Based on my first hands-on static evaluation of the new 2023 Pilot, the Honda should prove itself a formidable foe against most members of this vehicle segment.

Honda is the source of information in this article. It was accurate as of November 7, 2023, but it may have changed since that date. Always confirm product details and availability with the automaker's website or your local dealership.

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