The 2016 Honda Pilot is a turnaround success story. When it was new in 2003, it was one of the best family vehicles of its day–but a 2009 redesign turned it into a trucky and less refined crossover SUV.
That’s all in the past now. The 2016 Pilot is suave, slick, with great utility and safety to boot. And it’s The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy 2016.
It follows in the tire tracks of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, 2012 Ford Focus, 2013 Ford Fusion, 2014 Subaru Forester, and most recently, the 2015 Subaru Legacy as our pick from the crop of completely new or redesigned models.
MORE: Read our 2016 Honda Pilot review
The Pilot has elbowed aside some very strong competitors on its way to this year’s award. They include Honda‘s own Civic; the Mercedes GLC; the Lexus RX; the Kia Optima; the Chevy Camaro and Malibu; and the Volvo XC90. All those vehicles earned numeric scores within striking distance of the Pilot.
But the Honda topped them all. It isn’t just the best Pilot yet, it’s the best three-row crossover SUV we know–better than Explorer, Pathfinder, Highlander, and Traverse.
The Pilot isn’t just a workhorse. It’s a handsome family wagon that all but ditches the boxy styling that aged quickly in its last generation. There’s an elegance to the new Pilot’s profile, with its low front end and a horizontally themed grille that play handsomely off each other.
Inside, the cabin’s axed all the industrial-grade plastics it used to wear–the new interior couldn’t be more different from the blocky old design. In Elite trim, it’s as plush as any Acura.
It’s also simply one of the most versatile vehicles we’ve driven. Three rows of seats have space for up to eight passengers. The front seats are better and lower, which makes the Pilot a great choice for smaller and older drivers. The middle row is adult-friendly, and for the first time, you can get a version with two captain’s chairs and a pass-through.
Getting into the third-row seat is as easy as the touch of a button, and though it’s a squeeze to get between the seats, the third row has adult-sized head and leg room.
Don’t be afraid to bring everything with you, either. The third row folds down for a flat cargo floor. There’s a reversible cargo panel for dirty stuff like soccer cleats and
beach chairs—and this cargo well behind the third row can hold an 82-quart cooler. There are cupholders everywhere, and a console big enough for an iPad.
If you don’t think performance is a priority for family vehicles, the Pilot will prove you wrong. Its strong V-6 puts out 280 horsepower through either a six-speed automatic or a new nine-speed on the Pilot Elite. There isn’t a plusher ride or more relaxed steering in the Pilot’s playing field. It drives with a supple, mature feel that doesn’t get harsh even with big 20-inch wheels. All that, and fuel economy is as high as 23 miles per gallon combined.
As for utility, front-wheel drive is standard on the Pilot, but all-wheel drive is an option—and it can be outfitted with a traction management system that can help it pull out of mud pits or snow with ease. The Pilot also will tow up to 5000 pounds.
The Pilot’s already a leader in safety, with a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS. A a rearview camera is standard, and blind-spot monitors, a side-view camera, and forward-collision warnings with automatic braking are available.
Prices start from about $31,000 and all Pilots have standard power features, touchscreen audio, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. Top it off in Elite trim and the Pilot gets leather, DVD entertainment, ventilated front seats, and navigation. No matter which one you choose, you also get a reputation for durability that precedes the Pilot–and that just adds to the value.
So congratulations to all our nominees and all the finalists, but especially to Honda as we welcome the Pilot to our Best Car To Buy honor roll.