Changes: The 2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite

2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite
The 2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite.
With nearly 300 different nameplates on the market, there's no way to drive them all in 52 weeks unless you're a major outlet with a large staff (Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Road & Track, Automobile). TireKicker aspires to that, but we're not there yet.  With two writers, one in Arizona and myself in Northern California, we manage to drive and review a shade over 100 vehicles each year.

If we're not in a certain car one year, we'll probably see it the next.  Worst case, the year after that.  So how is it possible that our last review of the Honda Pilot was seven years ago this week?   So much has changed since that review....most of all, the Honda Pilot itself.

2016 Honda Pilot rear 3/4 view
2016 Honda Pilot  AWD Elite.
What was tall and blocky is now sleek and svelte, even though it is larger than the 2009 model bearing the same name.  250 horsepower is now 280, but gas mileage has improved from 16 city/22 highway to 19 city/26 highway, thanks to Honda's Earth Dreams engine technology and a nine-speed automatic transmission.  The Touring was the top-of-the-line back then, now it's the Elite (the Touring still exists as the next-to-the-top).  And a base price of $39,995 for the Uber-Pilot is now $46,420.  Hey, it's been seven years.

The Pilot proved to be the perfect vehicle for a quick weekend-before-Christmas trip to Mendocino County for Navigator's mother's birthday.  We both had to work that day, so we made plans to get on the road about 2 and arrive at the dinner by 5:30.  Nature and other drivers had other plans.  We got a late start (mostly my fault) and traffic through Metropolitan Sacramento on U.S. 50 and Interstate 5 was brutal.

Then the rains came.

Map of Folsom to Ukiah
Folsom to Ukiah via I-5 and CA 20 (source: Google Maps)
CA 20 makes up about half the drive from Folsom to Ukiah.  It is a winding, twisting two-lane road with a few (but not many) passing lanes and three fairly steep grades leading to mountain passes (the tallest of which is 1850 feet, give or take). By the time we got to it, it was dark and raining.  We were able to pass most of the traffic in front of us (including a big-rig tow truck that first appeared near Downtown Sacramento and stuck with us most of the way to Ukiah).

There were three features of the Pilot that proved invaluable that night.

One: Adaptive cruise control. This maintains a pre-set distance between you and the car in front of you. Set the cruise for 65, and if the car in front of you slows to 20, so do you.  In the dark and in the rain, that reduced stress enormously.

Two: Auto high-beam headlights.  This is a feature that goes all the way back to the 1960 Buicks and has been offered on some cars, somewhat inconsistently, ever since.  The old ones were pretty simple light sensors.  When a car's headlights hit your car, the sensor would dim your lights, then put them back on high beams when the light was gone.  The system in the Pilot is infinitely better, sensing changes in the light ahead of the car.  On curves, it senses the headlights of the oncoming vehicle before it is in your lights and dims so the oncoming driver isn't blinded.  Yet, unlike others, it doesn't dim when your lights are reflected back by road signs and guard rails.  Absolutely the best system I've ever experienced.

Three: Heated and cooled front seats.  Ever had one of those days (or nights) where no matter how you set the climate control, it was always just a little too hot or a little too cold?  This was one of those nights.  Navigator considers heated and cooled seats to be right up there with the invention of the automobile (and perhaps the wheel) itself.

Ultimately, we were about 45 minutes late to dinner, but arrived far more relaxed and unruffled than we would have without those features and the Pilot Elite AWD's all-wheel-drive system, which made the Pilot feel surprisingly nimble on those rain-slicked curves and hills.

2016 Honda Pilot Elite AWD interior.
The Pilot Elite AWD follows Honda's philosophy of one-price shopping.  Pick the trim level, it comes with everything that trim level comes with and you're done.  In this case, $46,420 gets you the powerplant, transmission and features mentioned above plus a leather-trimmed interior, a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-speaker premium audio system, an 8-inch touchscreen display for navigation and the rear-view camera, a Blu-Ray/DVD rear seat entertainment system, tri-zone automatic climate control, power front seats (10-way for the driver, four-way for the passenger), captain's chairs in the second row and a fold-down third row, blind spot information system, a panoramic moonroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and road departure mitigation.  All standard.

In short, a very nice ride.  Smaller, less expensive and more economical than, say, a Chevy Tahoe, but feeling none less capable or commodious.  Navigator's cousin, also from Sacramento, was also in Ukiah that weekend.  He owns an Acura MDX and was impressed by the Pilot.

Even if I'd had yearly exposure to the Pilot rather than driving one as often as Vulcans mate, I'd be impressed.  This is a very good SUV.