For a ticket price of $75, visitors to the Sedona, Arizona area can sign up for a Jeep tour to get a closer look at the scenic countryside. Most outfitters introduce passengers to an open-air, bumpy jump seat in the wilderness—the dust, mud, and weather conditions at no extra charge!
While Sedona’s 3.3-mile round trip on the Broken Arrow Trail to the “Chicken Point” Lookout is relatively short, it is one of the most technical sections of road in Sedona for off-road enthusiasts. In fact, there is a rock barrier at the trail’s entry point that the locals called the “gatekeeper.” It acts as a deterrent to those who do not have the driving skills – or the car equipment – to proceed safely and pass the pass.
Honda recently hosted a handful of journalists in Sedona for a press launch of the all-new, fourth-generation Honda Pilot three-row crossover, and I was one of the lucky attendees. I saddled up in the driver’s seat of a Pilot TrailSport with Honda development team member Jed Aston by my side in the passenger seat. Not only did he educate me on the ins and outs of my off-road strategy, but also on the benefits of the vehicle he and his team had invested in for the past five years.
Based on my experience conquering Broken Arrow: Jed and his teammates nailed it.
Pilot model history
The Pilot is now 20 years old, which oddly means that the oldest generation is approaching classic status. First launched in 2003, this three-row mid-size crossover has been a success for the Honda brand, consistently selling more than 100,000 units annually over the past decade. As Honda’s largest SUV, the Pilot has earned a reputation for its versatile load capacity, smooth ride and multi-terrain capability.
Each generation has evolved in size, equipment and capabilities over the following two decades, with the second generation appearing in 2009 and the third generation in 2016. The exterior lines became slimmer over the years, and the third generation reached ten percent. reduction of air resistance compared to the previous version. Parallel to the revision of the design, technology and powertrains received similar attention: in 2017, all equipment except the LX received Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And in 2021, the new nine-speed gearbox became standard equipment.
Some say the Pilot has moved away from its go-anywhere goals as the design aesthetic adopted softer lines and underpinnings focused primarily on the street. Engineers planned to change this direction by 2023.
New in 2023
The fourth-generation Pilot was first introduced in November 2022, and production began the following month at Honda’s Lincoln, Alabama, plant. The designers strived to create a better capable pilot regardless of terrain conditions. With this in mind, the length, wheelbase and track have been increased. The hood was extended, the side profile received a strong horizontal belt line. Below are some details about Honda’s updated features.
Honda resurrected some fan favorites on the equipment list, including a shallow luggage shelf on the passenger side of the dash for smaller items. The lower tray of the center console can hold two smartphones next to each other. The design team joked, “We all know what it’s like to lose a cell phone between the seat and the center console, so why not build a place to put it?”
I didn’t get a chance to test the second or third row, but that’s where the new Pilot shines. As a class-exclusive feature on most Pilot trim levels, the middle seat in the second row can be removed and stowed in the trunk at the rear of the vehicle. This reminded me of the first-gen CR-V, which offered a folding picnic table in the same area – typical Honda innovation and space efficiency.
Rounding out the list of interior upgrades are 14 cupholders, a configurable 10.2-inch digital display on Elite models, illuminated USB charging ports, and an available Bose 12-speaker audio system.
Under the hood resides a 3.5-liter J-Series V6 rated at 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque—a five-horsepower bump over the previous model. Torque is sent through a 10-speed automatic transmission in all four corners (double the number of gears that drove the first-generation Pilot, by the way). Honda’s i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system (a Pilot first) detects and corrects wheel spin. Honda made no mention of upcoming hybrid or EV Pilot versions, and fuel economy is estimated at 20 mpg combined city/highway.
In typical Honda fashion, there are several trim levels available for the new Pilot: LX, Sport, TrailSport, EX-L, Touring and Elite. Price points range from $35,950 to $52,030.
In the previous generation Pilot, Honda began to direct the Pilot more into the off-road area in 2022 with the TrailSport trim. This lineup becomes even more comprehensive in the latest Pilot, offering equipment such as single-inch suspension, separate 18-inch wheels, standard tow bar, three skid plates, rollback points, tuned suspension, anti-roll bars, hill control, off-road tires, full-size spare tire, custom decoration.
A pilot is a pilot
Now for the important part: how is the driving? The terrain around Sedona was a perfect testing ground for our assessment, as we set off on predetermined routes to explore the region.
The first half of my day was spent in a road driving environment where I had the opportunity to test the TrailSport and Elite models on a roughly 50 mile loop near the Prescott National Forest and Highway 89A. Even with its greater ground clearance and cargo versatility, the Pilot is as predictable and confidence-inspiring as an ordinary passenger car. The 3.5-liter V6 provided good punch without being obnoxious or harsh. I enjoyed opening the panoramic sunroof, which Honda points out is an exclusive feature in its class for an eight-passenger vehicle.
The Sedona area had seen rain and snow in the days leading up to the event, making the back roads slippery. In fact, the Broken Arrow Trail was closed in the early morning hours to allow the ice to melt, but I got to experience it later in the day on a TrailSport model.
From the experience was how easily the Pilot did things. The point-and-shoot confidence felt impressive, especially after hearing from my Jeep-owning friends how technical the trail can be. Some sections of the trail were narrow, so Jed and I used the “TrailWatch” system’s side view and bird’s-eye camera angles to better see our surroundings on the nine-inch touchscreen monitor.
We were also able to test the new Hill Descent Control function. It maintains a constant low speed and manipulates the brake and accelerator to minimize skidding. There were times when particularly rough terrain brushed the bottom. “That’s what it was designed for,” Jed said. Skid plates are designed to support the full weight of the vehicle in a crash – that’s how durable they are. I found the turning radius, ride and traction control systems to be well optimized for climbing. The stunning view at the top crowned the engineering team who worked hard to refine this vehicle for just such adventures.
If history is true, Honda is on track with the latest version of the popular Pilot. It’s a gateway to outdoor adventure—not to mention offers far more comfort than a foam jump seat in a Jeep touring car. As we passed each group of jeeps on the trail in the comfort of a smooth ride, heated seats, heated steering wheel and modern conveniences, I tried to contain my sly grin. Pilot is just that good.
Stay tuned to the ClassicCars.com Journal for the upcoming Pilot and other models.