The all-new third-generation model for the Honda Pilot, was launched by Honda Philippines in February 2016, a year after it had been unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show. With all units worldwide being manufactured exclusively in Lincoln, Alabama, Honda Philippines ships in the new Pilot straight from the US, their offering picked right off Honda’s catalogue for North America.
Although the Pilot, from the very first generation to its third, has attained both critical acclaim and commercial success in the US, the premium mid-size SUV hasn’t been as popular in the Philippines. It’s in a niche above that of popular Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Isuzu Mu-X and Mazda CX-9 SUV models, though below luxury mid-sized offerings like the Lexus LX570. Yet this hovering between categories hasn’t lent the Pilot enough distinction to pop up on the radar of prospective buyers. If anything, the previous generations’ burly looks and premium though not-quite-luxury price points, had set the Pilot apart not from the competition but from other Honda models.
So, ironically, while the new Pilot comes loaded with an impressive array of engineering innovations, what is immediately notable about this third generation model is something that, on hindsight, was a long time in coming. For this iteration, this time around, the Pilot finally brandishes a design language that reveals its affinity with other things sporty, utile, and Honda … particularly in the Philippine setting.
A three-row 8-seat mid-size SUV, the Pilot (badged the MR-V in the Middle East) is big brother to Honda’s popular two-row 5-seater compact CR-V. And yet, all this time, there’s been this disconnect between the two SUV models.
Large for a crossover in the Philippine market where traditional body-on-frame construction is prevalent among utility vehicles, sporty or otherwise, the Pilot actually blends in among the many unibody models in other markets. In fact, even in the Philippines, the Pilot’s gasoline engine, FWD or AWD drivetrain, and supple suspension under a unibody fuselage are similar to those of, should be familiar because of, Honda’s popular CR-V and their Odyssey mid-size MPV. It hasn’t been perceived that way, though, and all this time it’s been because of aesthetics.
The Pilot’s size and angular build made it look out of place in Honda Philippines’ line up, prompting observers to file it away as esoteric, its boxiness making it interesting only to those wiling to go out-of-the-box. Introduced a year into the lifespan of the second-generation CR-V, the first-gen Pilot did look a bit like that 2002 redesign of the smaller SUV. But the similarities ended there. After the third-gen CR-V was introduced in 2007, the Pilot apparently went off on its own design fork entirely.
But the Pilot had actually inspired Honda’s development of the Ridgeline, their radical crossover redesign of the traditional pick-up truck format. So, in a twist of reverse-engineering, Honda had arrived at that place populated by most other brands that had common platforms underneath their pick-up truck and SUV models—reversed in this case because Honda’s crossover SUV came before the crossover sport-utility-truck, or SUT.
The Pilot and Ridgeline SUV/SUT tandem would’ve projected a powerful message—hitting well-known and closely-knit categories while pushing innovations in unibody engineering and application. No surprise that the models that ended up referencing each other’s designs were the Pilot and the Ridgeline, through the Pilot’s first and second generations and the Ridgeline’s several first-gen facelifts.
Problem is, Honda Philippines doesn’t carry the Ridgeline. On its own, without its truck sibling to back its pitch of innovative rethinking, the Pilot remained almost as much a stranger to this market. So, the seemingly standalone Pilot has been an acquired taste, a Honda only to bold aficionados. Now, finally, things are getting sorted out in a next-generation cascade.
The third generation 2016 Pilot references the design language of the fourth-gen 2012 CR-V which got a facelift only last year. And, the front fascia of the upcoming second generation Ridgeline SUT is now clearly influenced by both the Pilot and the CR-V. End of the day, and suddenly, all three siblings now look alike, and the Pilot, big-brother to the friendly neighbourhood CR-V, now looks the part … it’s finally back in good company despite third brother Ridgeline still not making it to these shores.
The new Pilot again comes with Honda’s award-winning J-series 3.5L V6, though now with the new Euro4-compliant J35Y6 Earth Dreams engine delivering 280hp @ 6000rpm and 262lb-ft @ 4700rpm. The improvement over the 250hp and 253lb-ft of the previous generation’s J35Z4 engine is brought by the new computer-controlled direct fuel injection system (versus the old port injection set up) with multi-hole injectors that now complements the engine’s i-VTEC variable intake valve timing and lift system and its VCM variable cylinder deactivation mechanism. Based on US EPA tests, fuel economy is as you’d expect on a 3.5L V6 but slightly improved at 7.7km/l in city traffic and 11.05 on the highway with an AWD 6AT drivetrain.
The 2016 Pilot also features new drivetrain options: the new standard 6-speed AT gearbox replacing the previous generation’s 5-speed transmission, and the high-performance ZF 9-speed AT first used on the Honda Acura which is now also featured on the Pilot’s top-spec variants.
|Gear||2015 Pilot 5AT||2016 Pilot 6AT||2016 Pilot 9AT|
With first gear ratios on both the 6- and 9-speed gearboxes made deeper than those on the 5-speed transmission of the previous generation, it’s clear that the new torque converters have a lower stall speed, a lower tolerance for slippage between drive impeller and rotor. This explains Honda’s claim of earlier, more efficient clutch lock-up on the new generation’s transmission options.
The AWD drivetrain option features a new variable torque management system, Honda’s trademarked i-VTM4, for optimizing traction and tightening up fast turns. The system can vary torque mix between front and rear to mitigate tire spinning, and left to right to create yaw force for assertive cornering. All-weather performance is improved with a traction management system featuring normal / snow / mud / sand modes on AWD variants, and normal / snow modes on FWD models.
The new Pilot has a longer wheelbase, and is longer and wider overall though with slightly decreased height compared to the second generation model—similar to how that previous one compares to the first generation.
These said, even with the predictable upsizing from one generation to the next, the new Pilot is surprisingly lighter with curb weight trimmed by 150kg and brought down to under 2 tons at 1962kg, and still has a relatively small tuning radius of 5.7m.
Straight from US showrooms
All Pilot units are still manufactured exclusively at Honda’s sprawling facilities in Lincoln, Alabama (Honda Manufacturing Alabama). Shipped from there by Honda Philippines, the Pilot 3.5L EX-L AWD now on offer looks like it was simply picked from among the numerous variants displayed in US showrooms, but with some upscale options made standard on the Philippine market’s one and only Pilot configuration.
In the US, continued are the Pilot’s LX, EX, and EX-L trim levels, all with the new standard 6-speed gearbox, while a new Touring line and the continued Elite line form the top-tier which feature the 9-speed ZF AT. All told, the US line-up has 15 configurations coming off Honda’s just-in-time production lines.
To simplify, there are:
- Two base LX variants with 6-speed transmissions and either FWD or AWD drivetrains.
- Four mid-range EX variants with 6AT, either FWD or AWD, with or without Honda Sensing driver-assist tech suite.
- Six upper mid-range EX-L variants with 6AT, FWD or AWD, with options for Navi, Honda Sensing or Rear Entertainment System packages.
- Two top-end Touring variants with 9-speed ZF AT, either in FWD or AWD configuration, and with 20” wheels.
- The top-spec Elite variant with 9-speed ZF AT, AWD, panoramic roof and 20” wheels.
And there’s a big price spread ranging from $30,145 for the base LX FWD, up to $46,570 for the top-spec Elite.
From this selection, Honda Philippines has picked the EX-L 6AT AWD with Honda Sensing package, plus some premium touches off the Elite variant—namely the Elite’s Blind Spot Information (BSI), Cross Traffic Monitor (CTM), and Multi-View Reverse Camera safety features, as well as the top variant’s driver’s seat two-position memory convenience feature. For now, Honda Philippines has no plans for also offering the Elite’s 9-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
New driver-assist technology
That Honda Sensing package they’ve throw in is a set of sensors and impressive driver-assist technologies that do not require any pre-existing infrastructure other than painted lane indicators on the road:
- Lane Departure Warning (LDW) – detects lane drifting and triggers an alarm.
- Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) – more active than LDW, this system triggers steering inputs if it detects you leaving the center of a marked lane.
- Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) – for specific lane keeping scenarios where there is risk of drifting off the road entirely, this system alerts the driver with rapid steering wheel vibrations and could trigger steering and brake inputs to avert
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) – automated throttle control based on set speed and separation from other vehicles.
- Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) – a millimetre wave radar sensor monitors against unavoidable collisions and emits an alarm then, if necessary, applies brake pressure to mitigate the effect of inevitable impact.
- Forward Collision Warning (FCW) – integrated with CMBS, this system adds optics, a camera atop the front windshield, to detect any risk of front collision, emits an alarm and, if necessary, applies brake pressure to avoid impact.
New price, new opportunities
SRP for the new Pilot EX-L AWD for the Philippine market now starts at P3.38M. With the previous generation’s SRP adjusted to P2.7M in current pesos to factor in this year’s forecasted USD exchange rate (up by 6 to 7% from last year), this means a price bump of P680,000. About P180,000 of this is may be for an increase in excise taxes made disproportionate by landed costs crossing the P2.1M threshold that the previous generation stayed under.
So, new buyers ought to be evaluating that net real increase in SRP of P500,000 against the major features of the new Pilot EX-L:
- the more powerful though slightly more economical 280hp 3.5L V6 with new direct fuel injection,
- the new 6-speed transmission with less slippage and earlier clutch lock-up,
- the new AWD drivetrain with traction and turn enhancing torque vectoring
- the bigger but lighter body on larger 18” wheel rims
- the new traction management system featuring normal / snow / mud / sand modes
- the new Honda Sensing driver-assist tech suite
Interestingly enough, if Honda Philippines had put the base LX trim on offer, buyers would be getting the old P2.6M price tag for the LX FWD variant and the old price adjusted for the new prevailing dollar rate of P2.7M for the LX AWD. These, based on the variance between US list prices for basic LX and high mid-range EX-L trim levels.
By settling for the LX trim, buyers would be foregoing conveniences such as the power tailgate and driver’s seat memory on the EX-L, refining touches like leather upholstery, and the traction management system and the Honda Sensing tech suite from the list above. They’d still have the new engine, new transmission, new AWD drivetrain with advanced torque vectoring, and the bigger though lighter body that now, for the first time, would clearly identify the Pilot as the CR-V’s big brother.
A base trim Pilot? Why not? After all, that new design language that unifies the Pilot and the CR-V could eventually become key in Honda Philippines’ marketing long game. They might eventually relent from putting their mid-size crossover SUV on a premium pedestal that separates it from the rest of Honda’s sport utility models and seek opportunities at lower price points (like the price points of the base trim LX), just as CR-V fans might now look at the Pilot as an upsized model smack in the middle of their upgrade path.