The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Is ‘The Most Off-Road Capable Honda SUV Ever’ Except It Isn’t

04 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport

This morning, Honda unveiled its latest Pilot SUV. Honda is calling it the largest and most powerful Honda SUV, and that appears to be true. But then Honda goes a step further and calls it the most “the most off-road capable Honda SUV ever,” and we’re not so sure about that. However, the 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport is cool, so let’s take a look at it!

Just over 20 years ago, Honda hit the 2002 New York International Auto Show with its opening salvo on America’s growing lust for larger SUVs. The first-generation Pilot was designed to be the ultimate people hauler, sporting loads of cargo room and helpful features for kids and family. The Pilot has enjoyed three generations of getting families down the road in style, and now Honda is unveiling the fourth-generation today.

01 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport

Dubbed the largest and most powerful Honda SUV, the automaker says that the Pilot comes with Honda’s most powerful V6 ever. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter dual overhead cam V6 producing 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft torque. That’s paired to a 10-speed automatic driving an all-wheel-drive system that offers torque vectoring. For comparison, the original Pilot had a 3.5-liter V6 with 240 horses in its stable. And the third-generation Pilot punched out 280 horses with its V6.

So the new Pilot is indeed the most powerful, but we aren’t talking about something that will shred tires.

Inside, you get a cabin with a middle second-row seat that can be removed and stowed under the rear cargo floor. That gives owners the option to go full-on family hauler, or have buckets in the second-row. The Pilot seats up to eight when the middle seat is in place.

06 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport

And when that middle seat is in place, but in a down position, the people sitting in the second row get a sizable center console. In terms of cargo hauling, Honda says that you get 113.67 cubic-feet behind the first row and 22.42 cubic-feet behind the third. The automaker says that there are storage compartments throughout, including 14 cupholders.

The headliner version of the new Pilot is the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport. This off-road version of the Pilot sports a TrailWatch camera system that uses four cameras to help off-roaders avoid obstacles without a spotter. Aiding in off-road capability is a one-inch suspension, Continental TerrainContact AT 30.5-inch tires, and skid plates right from the factory. These skid plates are said to be thick steel and protect the oil pan, transmission, and fuel tank. It also comes with a full-size spare and off-road recovery points.

03 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport

When the Pilot’s drive mode system is set to Trail mode, the torque vectoring system works to maximize traction. The Pilot TrailSport lacks a low range or lockers, and tries to make up for it with its AWD system. The Pilot uses Honda’s i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system. In normal conditions, the SUV is front-wheel-drive. However, when i-VTM4 detects wheel slippage, it can engage the rear clutch pack to deliver torque to the rear wheels. The i-VTM4 can deliver up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear wheels, and up to 100 percent of that torque can be delivered to a single rear wheel. The idea here is if one rear wheel is in the air, the Pilot can keep going, rather than just spinning that hanging wheel.

Honda calls the new TrailSport its most off-road capable SUV ever, but we’re not really sure about that. Remember, Honda once sold the Crossroad, which was literally a Land Rover Discovery with a Honda badge on it. Then there was the Isuzu-Rodeo-based Passport. Honda also took an Isuzu Trooper and called it the Honda Horizon and the Acura SLX.

[Editor’s Note: The Pilot TrailSport’s traction control system will almost certainly be better than that of any Honda off-roader before, but it doesn’t have low range, it’s big, and too much of the body sits too close to the ground. So the claim is dubious, but it’s marketing. -DT]

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1993 Lj 05 B

And if you ignore badge-engineered off-roaders, you still get the Honda Vamos, a kei buggy from decades back in Honda’s past. It was only rear-wheel drive, but it was tiny and had an engine over its drive-wheels. Plus, I mean, just look at it:

Screen Shot 2022 11 07 At 10.06.55 Am

Originally built starting in 1970, the Honda Vamos was the automaker’s entry into the popular world of tiny off-roaders. This was Honda’s interpretation of vehicles like the Mini Moke, Citroën Méhari, Volkswagen Thing, and the Suzuki Jimny. If you’re willing to look past the “SUV” designation, you’ll also find Honda’s Acty kei trucks and vans, which are tough little off-roaders.

The Pilot is almost certainly better in the sticks than the little Vamos, but it seems that Honda is forgetting its history a bit. Even if you exclude the off-roaders that weren’t available in America like the Crossroad, there’s still the Passport and SLX, and both were sold in America. Also missing from Honda’s release is any information about ground clearance or information about approach, departure, and breakover angles. I have reached out to Honda to see if this information is available.

02 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport

Even if this isn’t Honda’s most capable SUV ever, it seems like it’s more than good enough for a fun romp in an off-road park. And it’s awesome that Honda appears to be doing real protection, rather than some of the skid plate-appearance parts that you’ll see out there. Also, you get a 5,000-pound tow rating, which is good enough for a boat or a camper. We’d love to see how the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport stacks up to other off-roaders.

Pricing will be announced closer to the date when production begins in Lincoln, Alabama.

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39 Responses

  1. The Acura SLX, which was sold as the Honda Horizon in jdm, was a rebadged Isuzu Bighorn/Trooper. It was an extremely capable off roader. It had 4×4 with a torque-vectoring borg-warner transfer case (called TOD, or Torque-On-Demand) and a limited-slip Isuzu 12-bolt rear diff.

    With the coil sprung solid rear axle and torsion bar front suspension, it is possible to get 3-4 inches of lift for about $150 (longer springs out back and a few turns of the 26mm bolt on the torsion bars in front) and clear 33 inch tires. These things are beasts off road and can be very capable rock crawlers as well.

    1. That’s how these always go:
      “The new Canyonero Timberline Wilderness is the most adventurous and rugged we’ve ever made!”
      *Vehicle traverses a perfectly-kept gravel road up a minor incline, stops near a cliff*

      Since I doubt the target audience does even that, especially when it is a 3-row, it probably never hurts sales.

  2. Honda needs to offer a 4-cylinder Pilot, and also a high performance version with either a turbo, or at least the 3.7L from Acura

    Some Acuras have over 300 hp, and not just the NSX! The RLX and MDX have over 300 hp, so Honda could use that engine for a higher performance version 😉

  3. I would consider even the Acty 4wd to be more off road capable. Maybe our most capable as offered in the US currently. It’s just a bloated CUV now.

    My mom had a 2003, one of the first sold in the state. We had it for over 10 years (eternity in the rust belt), 260k on it when it was traded. My sister learned to ‘drift’ in snow with it. And how to blow the transmission.

  4. In addition to their claims of offroad capabilities being bullshit, their statement that “the Pilot comes with Honda’s most powerful V6 ever” is also bullshit.

    It’s clear the people saying that are idiots who aren’t aware of other Hondas such as the NSX… or even the 300+hp 3.7L V6 that made over 300HP in a variety of Honda products.

    1. Yeah, but for the U.S./Canada – and maybe North America in general, not sure about Mexico – those are Acuras and thus a completely separate brand. No matter how much the public may know Acura=Honda, they aren’t incorrect.

  5. I think it may be worth more of a mention that this is the first J-series V6 since Honda debuted it 25 years ago to have DOHC heads. They don’t seem to have done too much with it for this application, but, that should open up some room for other, more performance-oriented vehicles down the road. At the very least, it seems to indicate that they’re going to be producing J35s for a little while yet.

  6. Re: the specs – I always felt like Honda was among the better OEMs with debuts, releasing nearly all the specs/features at once for a new model, but nowadays they drag it out more than anyone – multiple teasers (just show the damn car!), and then the actual debut but without the full specs.

    Nice update overall though, and appreciate that it still keeps a V6 even though it still likely uses a timing belt.

  7. They must have meant to add “that we build and offered in the US and not a rebadge”
    Why cannot they borrow some Honda Powersports employees and let them build an actual off-road vehicle they would know how?

  8. “Dubbed the largest and most powerful Honda SUV, the automaker says that the Pilot comes with Honda’s most powerful V6 ever. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter dual overhead cam V6 producing 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft torque.”

    While I was going to say “The first-gen NSX had 290hp, it only made 224lb-ft….which is NOT “more powerful” in a sense. Horsepower yes, torque, no.

  9. I guess Honda and Kia suddenly decided these glorified minivans need to “try” to have off-road chops? I mean the Pilot, Highlander, Telluride, etc. all seem to be selling fine without offroad packages. But now we have an “offroad” Pilot and Telluride, like it matters when 98% of these will experience “offroad” as a “grass field” at a fairgrounds.

    1. Now that everyone’s added a blackout/midnight/etc appearance edition, adding an off-roady theme model is the latest thing. Jeep rolled the Trailhawk versions out across most of the lineup a ways back, don’t know if could be considered a direct correlation, but certainly the rise in the overlanding craze as mentioned has contributed.

      Ford – Timberline
      Kia – X-Line/X-Pro
      Hyundai – XRT
      Nissan – Rock Creek
      Subaru – Wilderness
      Toyota – Woodland
      GMC – AT4? (Surprised Chevy hasn’t added a Z71 Traverse, Equinox, or Blazer yet)

  10. Mercedes! You forgot the most important part! They finally have a proper center console armrest again instead of the hideous captain’s chair armrests!

    Hopefully they flow these changes to the Passport.. where Trailsport is only a sticker package.

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