2019 Honda Pilot gets refined 9-speed, tougher styling and standard safety suite
Honda’s 3-row family SUV gets a much-needed transmission tune, a standard safety suite and the volume knob has returned.
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The 2019 Honda Pilot arrives with few but important changes for the 3-row, 8-seat SUV, most notably revisions to its 9-speed automatic. More rugged new exterior styling is designed to remind consumers the Pilot has a thoroughly capable torque vectoring all-wheel-drive setup, and Honda’s suite of radar-based safety systems is now standard on all Pilot models. Extensive cabin tech upgrades include a welcome return of the volume knob, refinements to the infotainment interface and an available 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. On top of these upgrades and on sale now, the 2019 Pilot remains a plush and practical family hauler.
Honda tames the 9-speed
Honda worked with ZF on updates to the 9HP 9-speed automatic (right) to address drivability concerns that have dogged several automakers applying the gearbox. Available on the top two 2019 Pilot trims (standard is a 6-speed automatic), the transmission’s sometimes wonky shift behavior appears to have been mostly exorcised. It apparently wasn’t affecting U.S. sales of the Pilot however (up 38% YTD in the SUV-mad market), thanks to a recent production increase designed to ease capacity constraints.
Mods to the dog-clutch-equipped transmission include “both hardware and software improvements,” said Justin Chiodo, senior product planner on the Pilot. “The clutch packs and hydraulic system have been modified a little bit for smoother, more refined shifts, and we've done a lot with the tuning of the transmission.” Though we only spent a day in a pre-production 2019 Pilot, the mods appear affective, as the 9-speed drew the ideal zero attention to itself along the varied drive route.
Under light-to-moderate throttle, Pilots equipped with the 9-speed now start in second gear, and the software tuning updates seem to have created a far more invisible setup. Also updated to positive effect is the Pilot’s stop-start system, which operates more smoothly via new programming, a reconfigured air conditioning system and a new brake-pressure trigger for quicker restarts. Also, when in idle stop, the engine now remains off after shifting to Park.
Chiodo has a unique perspective as the Pilot’s product planner, having traced its development path. A mechanical engineer by degree, he started with Honda R&D in Ohio as a test engineer in the engine research group, working on the 3.5L V6. He then moved to Honda’s advanced product planning group in Torrance, CA in 2011, and was there when the Pilot launched as an all-new model in 2016.
“At that point, I actually transferred to American Honda to continue along with the Pilot and see it to market,” Chiodo explains. “It's exciting, because with a lot of the projects in advanced planning, you're so far ahead that you'll work on something that doesn't come out in the market until years later. I feel very fortunate I was able to see this one through all the way to the on sale date.”
Styling aligned with capability
All 2019 Pilots feature more aggressive front and rear styling to remind consumers it has robust off-pavement and all-weather traction capabilities. Design updates include a new front fascia with standard LED low-beam headlights, while the rear features new taillights, a new bumper and chrome accents. A new garnish on the lower portion of the front bumper (above) is designed to look more like a skid plate.
The toughened appearance is still supported by Honda’s available intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) system, which uses an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated rear differential with dynamic torque vectoring to actively distribute torque between the left and right rear wheels. Up to 70% of available engine torque can be sent rearward, with 100% of that torque capable of being directed to either rear wheel.
The system is put to effective use via four available modes (Normal/Snow/Mud/Sand), with mode selection now actively and colorfully dramatized via a new, larger 7-inch TFT gauge-cluster display. Savvy throttle and transmission maps tailored to each mode provide a surprising amount of low-traction-surface capability, easily exceeding what most owners would ever attempt to leverage.
The 3.5L 24-valve SOHC i-VTEC V6 remains the sole engine option and is unchanged for 2019, producing (SAE net) 280hp at 6000 rpm, and 262lb·ft (355 N·m) at 4700 rpm. The extra cogs in the 9-speed help keep Honda’s stalwart V-6 from feeling too breathless in a field quickly filling with torque-leaden turbocharged motors, and it continues to snarl while sounding silken.
Standard safety suite, more in-cabin tech
For 2019, all Pilot models come standard with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies, which include forward collision warning with an auto braking function, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise. The camera-based Lane Watch function is no longer available, but the blind-spot monitoring setup previously available only on the Elite trim is now standard from EX trim and up, along with rear cross-traffic alert.
An all-new infotainment interface ported from the Odyssey (“Display Audio” in Honda-speak) is easier to use, with customizable shortcuts, simplified menus, and the return of a dedicated volume knob. The system retains its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and the HondaLink connected services content is available with the top Touring and Elite trims. A new CabinControl smartphone app allows control of a range of features, including the audio/entertainment systems and rear climate setup.
Road-tripping families might appreciate the new CabinTalk feature (in most clans, this might earn a “Don’t Make Me Come Back There” moniker..), which lets folks in front row address those in the second and third rows using the rear speakers, wireless headphones, or both. Depending on source, it can even pause or mute audio content, much like on your favorite airline.
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