Aging, yet eminently functional

The current generation of the Honda Pilot has been around since 2016 as one of the biggest three-row SUVs of its kind.

For fans with deeper pockets, the 2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition adds a modicum of attitude to this aging – yet imminently functional – domestic workhorse.

Styling: 6/10

The Pilot is inherently an uninspired sight, and no amount of exterior tweaking will change that. It’s a minivan for people who don’t want minivans. Nonetheless, this Black Edition tester does its best, wearing gloss black wheels and exterior trim bits, and here dipped in Platinum White Pearl paint. The only other colour available for the Black Edition is – you guessed it – black. Inside, the interior gets dressed up with red stitching, leather with red perforations, piano black trim, and red ambient lighting.

Safety: 8/10

While the 2021 Honda Pilot was not named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), it did garner a five-star crash rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

As would be expected, this most pricey Pilot gets all the safety kit Honda can throw at it. This includes auto-levelling full LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, auto high-beams, adaptive cruise control, front collision warning and auto braking, trailer stability assist, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist.

Visibility from the commanding front seating position is good in all directions thanks to the Pilot’s tall greenhouse, narrow windshield pillars, and big mirrors.

The all-wheel drive system primarily sends most torque to the front wheels, but if conditions dictate it can send as much as 70 per cent of what’s available aft, and from there a torque-vectoring system can distribute the torque left or right.

Practicality: 9.5/10

Practicality is the Honda Pilot’s calling card. This three-row is wide for the class, serving up generous shoulder and hip room. While other Pilot variants get a second-row bench that allows seating for eight, the Black Edition is a seven-seater only, sporting a pair of second-row captain’s chairs. These chairs slide forward for access to the third row. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze getting back there, as is the case with most three-row crossovers, but once seated the accommodations are fine for kids, and two adults can survive thanks to decent head- and legroom.

Honda equips the Black Edition for a very thirsty and active family. There are 16 cupholders, four USB ports, and a 115-volt outlet. Up front there’s a plethora of storage spots that include a wireless charging pad ahead of the shift buttons, clever bi-level door pockets, and a massive centre console bin with sliding inner tray and retractable cover.

Moving to the cargo area (accessed via a hands-free power tailgate), there’s a functional 510 L of load space behind the third row, with extra storage under the floor. The floor panel is double-sided – one carpeted and one textured plastic for grubbier items. The third-row seatbacks easily flip forward with a tug on a couple of straps, opening up 1,583 L of flat-floored storage. When the kids finally move out, you’ll have a total of 3,072 L with the captain’s chairs flipped forward.

Roof rails are standard and maximum towing capacity for the Pilot is 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).

User Friendliness: 8/10

The 2021 Pilot is a user-friendly device, scoring well for logical ergonomics and easy familiarity. The only caveat is the array of buttons (and a slider) on the console for gear selection; none of it really saves room, and you can’t select the gears by feel. Oh, and we would die for a tuning knob to pair with the volume knob on the bottom of the eight-inch touchscreen. That’s about it for complaints. Graphics are crisp, the menu structure is easy to decipher, and Honda’s voice recognition system responds with obedience. Within the major gauge cluster is a clear seven-inch information digital readout.

The HVAC system is controlled by an array of well-marked buttons and toggle switches, and hard buttons for seat heat, ventilation, and steering wheel heat are a welcome sight.

The power tailgate features hands-free operation, and another handy feature is the Pilot’s capless fuel filler.

Features: 8.5/10

Honda throws everything it’s got at this top-tier Black Edition. In addition to the laundry list of safety features and driver aids, front seat passengers enjoy heated and ventilated seats, although while the driver’s chair is 10-way power adjustable, the passenger makes do with four-way power adjustment. The sliding and reclining second-row captain’s chairs get heat but no ventilation.

The Black Edition has an impressive 600-watt premium audio system brandishing 11 speakers (including subwoofer) and 5.1 surround-sound. Included is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, navigation, and, for the kids, a 10.2-inch ceiling-mounted entertainment screen with a Blu-ray player and embedded media streaming apps. Are the kids still driving you nuts? The in-car PA allows mom and dad to send threats to their punching progeny through the Pilot’s speakers or headphones.

Power outlets include three 12V hookups, one 115V, and four USB-A ports. The Pilot’s interior is showing its age, however. By modern standards the touchscreen and sunroof are undersized, and the Honda does not have a head-up display like many rivals.

Power: 7.5/10

Doing duty here is Honda’s ubiquitous 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddles shifter. Making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm, it’s a smooth and linear unit. While it might lack the low-end punch of some turbocharged rivals, it has the goods to move this three-row along with authority, with some of that signature Honda “raciness” when the tach passes 4,000 rpm.

Recent tweaks to the nine-speed automatic transmission, which is now standard across the Pilot lineup, have it working seamlessly while generally ensuring the vehicle is in the correct gear. Eco mode has the Pilot feeling pretty sluggish; it dulls throttle response and has the transmission shifting at lower rpms in the name of fuel economy. Normal mode is the most satisfying for day-to-day driving. Select sport mode via the D/S shift button and the transmission switches to a more aggressive program, keeping the revs higher and offering quicker response to paddle shifter inputs.

Comfort: 9/10

Passenger comfort is high on the Pilot Black Edition’s priority list. It has a smooth ride and quiet cabin thanks to its sound-cancelling technology, and acoustically insulated windshield and front side glass. The front seats are big and comfy with generous thigh support, and both the tri-level heat and ventilation settings for said seats are well judged.

The second-row heated captain’s chairs are similarly cushy and passengers enjoy manual sun shades and their own climate controls. As noted, the Pilot is one of few three-row crossovers that can actually accommodate adults in the third row. The Pilot’s is wide for its class and benefits from a tall greenhouse with lots of glass, resulting in a spacious, airy cabin.

Driving Feel: 8/10

Honda engineers its vehicles to feel good on the road, and as far as roomy three-row crossovers go the Pilot is one of the best. It drives with poise, offering natural steering feel and confidence-inspiring handling. Yes, the Mazda CX-9 is slightly more agile and engaging, but it lacks the space and functionality of the Honda Pilot.

The big Honda is happy eating up the kilometres on the highway where it tracks true and cocoons its occupants. If you’re feeling frisky, the Pilot will play along in sport mode. The shift paddles respond quick enough to make flicking through the gears and keeping that revvy V6 engine on the boil almost fun, and there’s some racy rev matching on downshifts.

Fuel Economy: 8.5/10

Honda has a nice habit of squeezing excellent fuel economy out of its highly engineered engines, and this big three-row with the 3.5L V6 follows suit. I returned the Pilot Black Edition after a week of use with a heartwarming average fuel consumption of 9.3 L/100 km showing on the information screen. Granted, much of that was highway driving, and those with a heavier foot won’t do so well. Official numbers for the 2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition are 12.4 L/100 km city, 9.3 highway, and 11.0 combined. The Pilot takes regular-grade fuel.

Value: 7/10

Honda Pilot models that sit a few rungs lower in the nameplate’s hierarchy offer better value than the Black Edition, with the EX-L Navi hitting the sweet spot at $49,105 before freight and taxes. The $55,005 Touring seven-passenger is identical feature-wise to the $56,805 Black Edition. So yes, $1,600 might seem a bit pricey for some black body bits and red stitching; as does $650 for the Protection Package (wheel locks, all-season floor mats and cargo tray) that push the pre-tax price to $59,425.

The Verdict

There’s a lot to like about the 2021 Honda Pilot when considering its room, functionality, drivetrain, and fine road manners. This is an old vehicle nearing the end of its lifecycle, and despite Honda’s best efforts to spruce it up with this pricey Black Edition, the addition of a bit black and red bling doesn’t hide the dated interior and infotainment interface, and its somewhat dull exterior. Nonetheless, in this crowded segment with a host of newcomers (fresh Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade) the ever-popular Honda Pilot continues to be a sound choice.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.5L   Model Tested 2021 Honda Pilot Black Edition
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $56,805
Peak Horsepower 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm   Destination Fee $1,870
Fuel Economy 12.4 / 9.3 / 11.0 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $59,425
Cargo Space 510 / 1,583 / 3,072 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st  
Optional Equipment
$650 – Protection Package (wheel locks, all-season floor mats, cargo tray), $650