2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport Unveiled

2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport Unveiled

The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is an off-road-ready SUV with customizations to help it thrive in the wild - and Honda hopes drivers will support it.

The new TrailSport spec moves beyond soft-road posturing with functional upgrades, A/T tires, and rock-bashing armor.

Honda proudly proclaims that the newly debuted fourth-generation Pilot is the largest, most powerful SUV that it has ever built. Well, of course, it is -- isn't that what the Pilot has always been? Not to steal too much of Honda's thunder, the 2023 Pilot is a handsome machine arriving with more space for passengers and cargo, a new V6 engine, and a more rugged TrailSport trim level with capability-boosting off-road upgrades.

The 2023 Pilot is new right down to the latest generation of Honda's light truck platform, which comes with improvements to chassis rigidity, handling, and ride quality. Overall, the SUV is 3.4 inches longer than the previous generation at 199.9 inches bumper-to-bumper with a 113.8-inch wheelbase -- 2.8-inches longer than last year. The Pilot's track has also been increased by 1.1 inches on the front axle and 1.4 on the rear, but the overall body width of 78.5 inches is 0.1 inches narrower than before.

The dimensions only tell part of the story. The new look features more upright proportions, blending the squared-off profile of the second-generation Pilot with the more organic shape of the third-gen. Up front is the largest hood that Honda has ever manufactured, which drapes over the engine bay with a clamshell design. Also up front is a new honeycomb grille and angular headlamps with an equally new LED light signature.

Inside, the larger Pilot benefits from more second- and third-row legroom (up 2.4 and 0.6 inches, respectively) and more cargo capacity, with 22.4 cubic feet behind the third row and up to 113.7 cubes with both rows folded flat. The Pilot is available in eight- and seven-passenger configurations, but the Touring and Elite trim levels feature a new removable second-row center section that gives you both. It flips up to form a three-across bench seat, flips down to serve as a wide second-row center armrest, or pops out leaving a pass-through to the third row.

The removable section weighs around 35 pounds and snaps into place easily, though it can be a bit tricky to lift out. There's even a storage cubby for it beneath the cargo floor, so you'll never have to leave home without it.

Expanded tech and safety

The base Pilot Sport comes standard with a 7-inch hybrid instrument cluster that combines a color screen with a physical speedometer needle. That's mated with a standard 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity via USB. The dashboard is home to two USB ports (a 3.0-amp Type-C port and a 2.5-amp Type-A), while the second row dedicates a pair of 2.5-amp USB-A ports to charge.

Step up to the EX-L grade or better to upgrade to a 9-inch infotainment system with faster processing, smoother simplified navigation software, and wireless connectivity for CarPlay and Android Auto. That also gets you a Qi wireless charging pad and another pair of 2.5-amp USB-A ports for the third row. The top-spec Elite model further upgrades with a 10.2-inch, full-digital instrument cluster, and a color head-up display.

Driver aid tech has also been enhanced for the 2023 model year starting with the same sensor changes that debuted on the new 2023 CR-V. The forward-looking camera sensor now features a wider 90-degree field of view, while the front radar expands to a 120-degree FOV. Together they improve recognition of pedestrians, vehicles, bikes, and road boundaries, helping the pre-collision, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping steering assist systems behave more naturally. The radar range for blind spot monitoring has also been extended to 82 feet. The standard Honda Sensing driver-aid suite now includes Traffic Jam Assist, low-speed auto-brake assist, and traffic sign recognition.

All-new V6 engine

Powering the Pilot is an all-new 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 285 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Yes, that's the same displacement as last year. Yes, its peak torque is the same, too, but Honda assures me that this is a new engine with a unique block and a new low-profile cylinder head. With 5 hp more than last year, this is just barely the most powerful V6 that Honda has ever offered in an SUV, but more importantly, the more compact design promises to yield efficiency and emissions improvements, though Honda hasn't yet released official estimates.

Also new is the standard 10-speed automatic transmission with a lower first gear than the 9-speed it replaces, and the second-generation Honda's i-VTM4 torque vectoring all-wheel drive system. i-VTM4 can send up to 70% of available torque to the rear axle and shift 100% of that to either wheel if necessary. If this sounds a lot like Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, that's because it is. i-VTM4 uses the same differential design, but with beefier components for increased torque handling and different tuning for SUV duty.

The Pilot features Normal, Econ, Sport, Snow, and Tow drive modes -- the last one unlocking up to 5,000 pounds of trailer capacity with the appropriate hardware. Optioning all-wheel drive adds Sand and Trail modes to the digital selector. Hill descent control is also standard on every Pilot model now.

Rugged TrailSport spec

Honda debuted a TrailSport trim level for the 2022 Pilot, but that was mostly an appearance package with a bit of a lift. The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport features more robust equipment that should help it walk the off-road walk more confidently.

The changes start with the Continental TerrainContact A/T all-terrain tires with chunky 60-profile sidewalls wrapped around reasonably-sized 18-inch TrailSport-specific wheels. Peer beneath the rear bumper and you'll spy a full-sized spare tire as well. Ground clearance and approach/departure angles are increased thanks to a 1-inch lift over the rest of the lineup. Unique springs, dampers, and off-road stabilizer bars boost articulation and off-road comfort to complement the lift.

Ground clearance is great, but contact with obstructions is sometimes a reality when off-roading. Honda has fitted the TrailSport with beefy steel skid plates beneath the oil pan, transmission and fuel tank that can support the entire weight of the SUV slamming onto a rock. The front skid plate and the rear tow hitch also integrate recovery points rated for twice the Pilot's gross vehicle weight rating, making it safer and easier to be towed out of sticky situations.

The TrailSport's Trail mode also features unique all-wheel-drive logic that helps it retain traction when lifting a wheel from the ground. A combination of mechanical rear-axle torque vectoring and front-axle brake biasing enables the i-VTM4 system to send up to 75% of available axle torque to the grounded wheel, while the lifted tire gets the remaining 25%. Honda reckons that keeping the raised wheel spinning also keeps it ready to seamlessly accept power when it eventually touches back down for a more seamless driving experience. 

Inside, the TrailSport features embossed logos on the headrests, all-weather "TrailSport" branded floor mats, and orange contrast stitching on the dashboard and the first two rows of seats. The TrailSport's TrailWatch camera mode activates the Pilot's surround view camera and keeps the front camera active at low speeds for a better view of tight sections and over steep crests. Exceed 15 mph and the camera deactivates, but the system will automatically reactivate if you slow to 12 mph in Trail mode, which is nice. Camera washers for the front and rear cameras are also standard for the TrailSport trim.

The 2023 Honda Pilot and Honda Pilot TrailSport should begin production at the automaker's Lincoln, Alabama plant in December and reach dealerships shortly thereafter. Pricing and economy haven't been announced, but we expect to learn more in the coming weeks.

Originally published on www.cnet.com