For decades, automakers have been creating special trim packages, limited edition models, and unique appearance schemes to bolster the sales of vehicles that might be getting a little long-in-the-tooth. From muscle cars to Malibus, one-off trim levels juice sales.

While Honda ‘refreshed’ the Pilot last year, this 3-row crossover is several years old so a new ‘Black Edition’ trim tops the model chart for 2020.

Essentially a top Elite model with a $1500 increase of the sticker price, and with every conceivable surface painted like Henry Ford’s first Model T, black wheels, black grille, black interior, black dash, the Black Edition Pilot looks beefier and more earnest even if the mechanicals remain the same as other models.

Packing a 3.5-liter 280-hp V-6 backed by a 9-speed automatic, the AWD Pilot is quick when you lean on the throttle—easily pacing its 3-row rivals. Driven more sedately, like day-in, day-out routine, the Pilot actually felt a little lackluster and needed a stronger mid-range response from gentle right foot prods. With very few miles on the superslab and mostly commuting duty, the Pilot matched the EPA combined fuel economy estimate—19/26/22-mpg.

Derived from the same chassis design as the Odyssey minivan (as well as the Ridgeline pickup), the Pilot drives most like a minivan in this class—but with AWD. The wide track stance is stable, yet there is notable body lean in turns. The part-time all-wheel drive provided good grip during a 6-inch spring snowstorm, yet I couldn’t help thinking that a locking button to keep the AWD engaged full time would have been better while negotiating over a winding rural road, with that slush splashing against the underside and impacting the selected path.

As with the recently sampled Passport, the Pilot had seven episodes of phantom braking alerts, all on straight stretches of road. The forward braking system ‘sees’ something that is a hazard or it believes is coming at you. This activates a flashing dash warning to BRAKE as well as rapidly shaking the steering wheel to get your attention. Rest assured, a shaking steering wheel always gets my attention.

The Pilot’s expansive interior might also remind some buyers of a minivan; the flat floor provides tons of foot space, the wide cabin has plenty of passenger space, plus the plethora of bins and cubbies, including an excellent front console, all utilize the high-points of a minivan’s interior—but without the sliding rear doors. Third row seating is best suited for children, however the second row seats here (heated and multi-adjustable) require no comfort sacrifices.

Black trim also includes a power rear liftgate, a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front leather seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging, Apple and Android Auto compatibility plus a Wi-Fi hotspot function.

Up front, the Pilot reflects the rapid changes in tech and design with some contrasts. The driver’s info-panel offers a staid digital info display, which is countered by a full array of simple push-buttons for the climate system. The 8.0-inch info-screen is touch-only except for a volume tuning knob, while the non-intuitive push/pull transmission shifter arrangement doesn’t incite eyes-free confidence. There is a CD player, but Honda elected to leave out the commendable LaneWatch camera system for right-side vehicle views. There is also Cabin Talk—a driver intercom system to discuss issues with errant rear passengers, a rear DVD entertainment system, plus rear window sunshades.

The Pilot (just over $31,000 to start, up to $51,500 here) proved to be one of the quietest Hondas recently sampled. A long day in the saddle to Eastport demonstrated that the Pilot can comfortably hustle when urged and competently cruise when prudent. The very features that some buyers love in minivans—space and storage—are evident throughout, while the driving dynamics are also close to a minivan, which depends entirely on your own personal emphasis.

The crux of the situation however is that the Pilot has four rivals that are brand new this year—the Ford Explorer, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, and the Toyota Highlander. Each brings a different set of virtues to the market, not the least of which is the latest tech and interior designs. Like fashion changes, buyers love to gravitate to the latest fads. This will create opportunities for hard-core Honda fans who value the Pilot’s steadfastness and dependable record of reliability over the latest and greatest.


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