Honda Pilot finally finds some style for 2016

Honda Pilot finally finds some style for 2016
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Pug-nosed Honda Pilots plod through the sunny streets of my suburb wearing pretty grim expressions.
Square as a church comptroller, they look as if they’ve seen too many wind-blown soccer-field parking lots and suffered too many jolts and blows at the mall.

As one of Honda’s primary kid-hauling devices, the blocky, cheerless Pilot has been on the Cheetos-and-animal-crackers circuit for more than a decade.
It shows, too, from the Pilot’s tired, blunt grille to its starkly upright body, seemingly shaped in a wood shop in the ’90s.
While Land Rovers and Escalades elegantly shoulder their way through traffic to deliver shiny, smiling people to the Meyerson, utilitarian Pilots tote hairy family dogs and muddy 6-year-olds.
I think they just need a good, rowdy night out — like the rest of us.
And finally, I guess, Honda saw the sag in the Pilot.
The all-new 2016 model I had recently arrived at The Daily Planet dressed in curves and chrome, ready to prowl Uptown with a fresh smile.
Gone from my dark metallic-green Pilot were all the 90-degree angles that made the old one about as exciting as a Saturday night out at Subway.
Bigger, lighter and much better-looking, the Pilot still wore Honda’s familiar three-bar grille, but with some new bends in it and pressed tightly against subtle headlamps. The relatively short hood actually curved some in its reach for the windshield, sporting four sharp character lines.
The Pilot shares a basic platform with Honda’s Odyssey minivan, and both use bones plucked from the Accord for their foundations.
The Pilot stands nearly 70 inches tall, with fairly flat sides that could quickly turn thick.
Fortunately, Honda gave the new Pilot a whimsical character line that cut through the handles of both big doors before curving up jauntily and fading into the back fender.
Even more surprising were the 20-inch alloy wheels — factory dubs on a Honda? — shod with beefy 245/50 tires. Did the Pilot spend the summer in Malibu?
I halfway expected to find Weezer’s alt-surf music ringing through its interior and maybe a little sand in back.
Of course, the fine 3.5-liter V-6 beneath the hood has long been the best part of the trucklet — a torquey, free-breathing engine that often seems more powerful than Honda claims. That hasn’t changed much in the new Pilot, which gets a version of the 3.5 rated at 280 horsepower.
As always, the engine felt rich, whirring with a silky mix of balance and precision that few sixes can match.
It pushed the big Pilot away from stops with convincing surge and pulled pretty hard to the midrange, its sophisticated nine-speed automatic generally finding and holding the right gear.
But once I got past about 4,000 rpm in the all-wheel-drive Pilot, the sweet six seemed to flatten out. Although the new Pilot is about 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor, which should give it stronger legs, it wasn’t all that enthusiastic about higher-rpm runs.
Not that most Pilot owners would care. They are more interested in cubic feet of storage space than cubic inches in the engine.
And when I looked up the new Pilot’s 0-to-60 time, I got another surprise. How about a very solid 6.2 seconds in a crossover weighing about 4,200 pounds?
Maybe my sense of speed got compressed by that Hellcat Challenger I had last winter — along with several spinal discs, one retina and what was left of my caution.
In addition, the Pilot should return 19 miles per gallon in town and 26 mpg on the highway, a 1 mpg improvement in both over last year.

Looking inward

At $47,300, the Pilot adds “pricey” to its list of features, as well. But the Elite model I had was a top-of-the-line vehicle, and lesser models are available in base form for $34,330.
At least you could see some of the extra expenditure in the Elite’s nicely stitched tan and black interior.
The flat-shaped dashboard in mine, for instance, was formed of decent-quality black plastic and included an interesting squared-off hood over the instrument panel. Rather than a conventional center stack, the Elite had an 8-inch display screen in the middle of the dash, flanked by air-conditioning vents and trimmed in silver.
Likewise, the vehicle’s climate controls spread out horizontally beneath the screen, featuring easy-to-use buttons and switches.
Once again, though, Honda chose — unwisely, I think — to use awful, distracting touch pads on the display screen to control the audio system’s volume and channel selection.
C’mon, Honda. Do you just not like us or do you own a bunch of body shops somewhere?

Soft seats

I almost forgave them after I settled into the Elite’s soft tan leather seats with nice bolsters and support.
The Elite’s broad console was coated in piano black and sported tan sides. It also provided a home for Honda’s unusual transmission shifter — buttons on the console, Acura-style, for “P,” “R,” “N,”“D” and “S” for sport mode.
Mine also had three rows of seating and, shockingly, the third row actually had acceptable headroom, though the legroom was limited.
Second-row legroom and headroom seemed really good. But I have to ask: Do I look as if I’ve shrunk some with age? Could that be it? Still, if you have to stuff a couple of real adults in the third-row seats, the second-row models are buckets and can be pulled forward some.
I admit I have not always been a fan of Honda’s vehicles. The Civic from two generations past, the Accord of five years ago and every Ridgeline looked and felt incomplete to me.
But just about every Honda vehicle over the last 18 months has arrived with better styling, performance, utility and economy, including the new Pilot.
Pay attention, Toyota and Nissan. Honda just might have found its way back.

AT A GLANCE: 2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite
Type of vehicle: Six- or seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive crossover
Price as tested: $47,300
Fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city, 26 highway
Weight: About 4,200 pounds
Engine: 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 with 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Performance: 0 to 60 mph in an estimated 6.2 seconds
SOURCES: American Honda Motor Co.; Car and Driver dallasnews
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