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Flying High: 2019 Honda Pilot Elite AWD Test Drive

What kind of car buyer are you? Do you have to be the first one on your block to own a hot new model? Or are you the kind of person who waits for a vehicle to be out for a few years before seriously considering it? The urge to be an early adopter of a particular vehicle is understandable. There’s an undeniable sense of satisfaction that comes with getting what you want exactly when you want it. But there are upsides to waiting, as well.

The 2019 Honda Pilot is a great example of how patience can pay off. Honda introduced the rounder and sleeker third-generation version of its three-row SUV for the 2016 model year. For 2019, Honda has thoroughly refreshed the Pilot inside and out. That means revised styling front and rear, new features, updated infotainment technology, and improvements to the nine-speed automatic that’s available on the Touring and Elite trim levels (Pilot LX, EX, and EX-L models get a six-speed auto).

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience the multitude of upgrades Honda made to the Pilot behind the wheel of the flagship all-wheel-drive Elite model ($49,015 as delivered).

2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot Elite Exterior

Like other 2019 Pilots, the Elite gets updated exterior styling. There’s a silver panel at the bottom of the front end designed to look like a skid plate and give the Pilot a more rugged, off-road appearance. The new bumper features larger LED fog light housings. Above that is a bolder take on Honda’s “flying wing” grille with a chrome wingspan that extends over the Elite’s full-LED headlights.

All Elite models now get power-folding, automatically dimming side mirrors. Honda added a strip of brightwork to the bottom of the doors, right between the redesigned wheels. The LX, EX, and EX-L trim levels come with 18-inch wheels; Touring and Elite models are equipped with 20s. I thought my test rig’s two-tone wheels looked great set below its Deep Scarlet paint, but I couldn’t deny the fact that their size and the relatively slim Continental tires they were wrapped in had an adverse effect on the Pilot’s ride quality.

Honda tweaked the rear end of the Pilot by installing new taillights with amber turn signals and LED backup lights. There are two more strips of brightwork on the corners of the rear bumper. In between those, there’s another skid plate-like silver panel. The most significant change Honda made to the back of the Pilot was offering the convenience of a hands-free power liftgate (just wave your foot under a certain spot) available on Touring and Elite grades.

2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot Elite Interior

The interior of the 2019 Pilot gets a bit of a makeover, too. In addition to a new steering wheel with more intuitive controls for various functions, there’s new trim around the air vents and wider fold-down armrests for the front seats. Three-stage heated front seats and second-row captain’s chairs and retractable sunshades are available – and my Elite press loaner had all of those boxes ticked.

While Honda was making changes to the Pilot’s cabin, it also incorporated several upgrades to its infotainment technology. The instrument cluster has a new look as well as a larger seven-inch TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen that can display a variety of information, including your speed and RPM. You can also customize its Multi-Information Display and have it show you things such as audio system information and a turn-by-turn navigation route.

In the middle of the dashboard, there’s an all-new Display Audio system (standard on EX grades and above). You can tap, swipe, and pinch the eight-inch touchscreen just like a smartphone’s screen to perform a variety of functions, including enter a destination into the navigation system, connect a smartphone to the new 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and control the audio system, which is a 590-watt, ten-speaker/subwoofer setup in the Pilot Touring and Elite models. In my personal opinion, the smallest change Honda made to the Pilot’s interior is the most significant: adding a volume knob. It’s too bad they didn’t add a tuning knob, too. If I wanted to scroll through radio stations, I had to press the touchscreen – not something I enjoyed doing while going highway speeds.

Honda had the Pilot Elite delivered to me on a Wednesday morning. That Saturday, my girlfriend’s friend Rachel called her up and asked if we would like to go to lunch with her, her boyfriend Austin, and her brother Josh. We said yes. I was excited not only to try a new restaurant (The Hideaway Café in Austin, Texas), but find out how comfortable the Pilot was for more than two people. With the push of a button on one of the second-row captain’s chairs, Rachel was able to tilt and slide it forward so she could get into the reclining third row. I know from personal experience that she had plenty of space back there because I’m 5’10” and had a surprising amount of room; Rachel is about 5’2”. The guys had no legroom issues in the second row, which is saying a lot considering Austin is 6’2”.

Having people in all three rows gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a couple of cool features. Eli told Rachel about the Pilot’s Rear Entertainment System so when we picked her and the guys up, she made sure to bring a DVD copy of the 1990 science fiction comedy “Spaced Invaders” to watch on the enlarged 10.2-inch, 1024p fold-down screen (in the gallery below, you’ll see a shot from the 2012 James Bond movie “Skyfall”). Just for laughs, I engaged the Pilot’s CabinTalk feature to broadcast my voice to the second and third rows and tell my friends to stop misbehaving or else I’d turn the Pilot around and go home.

2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot Elite Performance

All Pilots are equipped with a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 that uses regular gas to generate 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. In Pilot Touring and Elite models, that engine is connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The Pilot Elite comes standard with all-wheel drive and a hydraulic rear differential that can transfer torque between the front and rear axles and distribute it between the left and right wheels in the back.

Honda has made some refinements to the nine-speed auto for 2019. If you go light on the throttle or the Intelligent Traction Management (ITM) switch is in Snow mode, the gearbox starts off in second gear to launch the Pilot more smoothly and improve its low-speed acceleration. Practicing some restraint also gives you a better shot of hitting the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy estimates for the Pilot Elite: 19 city, 26 highway, and 22 combined mpg.* In various other circumstances, such as when you apply full throttle, the transmission starts you off in first gear.

2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot Elite Safety

With so many people on board for our trip to and from lunch, I was more aware of the 2019 Pilot’s safety equipment – and grateful for it. All 2019 Pilots have the Honda Sensing suite of technologies. That ranges from Adaptive Cruise Control to the Lane Keeping Assist System to the Collision Mitigation Braking System with Forward Collision Warning. The blind spot information system’s availability expands from just the Elite trim level to the EX, EX-L, and Touring for 2019. The Rear Cross Traffic Monitor trickles down from the Touring and Elite grades to the EX and EX-L models. Automatic high beams and a Multi-Angle Rearview Camera round out the list of safety features and contribute to the Pilot’s five-star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2019 Honda Pilot

2019 Honda Pilot Elite Overall

If you’ve read this far and you’re still waiting to try out the Honda Pilot, stop! The 2019 model has new looks, improved technology, and updated hardware. And it’s in AutoNation Honda dealerships right now at a starting price of $31,450.** Go to the location closest to you and test drive it.

*Based on 2019 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

**MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

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