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.
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.
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.
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]
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:
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.
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.