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Honda Pilot Through the Years

Over the course of three generations and many styling changes, the Honda Pilot has always been reliable, featureful, and almost luxurious.

Looking Back at Honda Pilot Generations

The Honda Pilot is a SUV that has always focused on providing robust reliability, outstanding interior space, and above all else, value to its owner. As the SUV craze began, Honda was left without a full-size offering. To combat this, they sold the Passport, a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. That gave them ample time to engineer a SUV that has stood the test of time. Honda has built three different generations of this award-winning three-row SUV and it seems like a brand new fourth generation is on the horizon. As we look down the sights at what we hope will be a 2022 reveal of the all-new 2023 Honda Pilot, it’s a good time to take a trip back through the years to see where this stately family hauler got its start. We’ll highlight all the big changes that came to the SUV and even some of the lesser-known ones.

First Generation (2003-2008)

2003 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2003 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • The Honda Pilot wasn’t aiming to take down any single competitor in the marketplace at the time of its birth.
  • It split the market down the middle by being perhaps the most balanced of the bunch. It wasn’t the most powerful, the most economical, or the most luxurious.
  • The Honda Pilot was, however, nowhere near the bottom of those categories either and is generally accepted as the most reliable SUV of the generation.
  • Honda used a multi-link suspension in the rear of the Pilot to allow for a flat floor design.
2005 Honda Pilot 3.5L V6 - hondanews.com
2005 Honda Pilot 3.5L V6 - hondanews.com
  • That feature combined with an overall length longer than that of rivals, like the Toyota Highlander, made the Pilot a proper cargo hauler.
  • It arrived on scene with 240-horsepower from a 3.5-liter V6, all-wheel-drive, and a 5-speed automatic.
  • Every Honda Pilot made from 2003-2005 came with that same drivetrain. No exceptions.
  • For 2005, the Pilot got more grunt from its 3.5-liter V6 and topped out at 255 horsepower.
  • Interestingly enough, around the same time, SAE standards were slightly modified so the technically correct horsepower output is 244.
2006 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2006 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • Honda performed a minor styling change to the Pilot for the 2006 model year that included new headlights, new taillights, a new front bumper cover and fascia, as well as new wheels.
  • The 2006 update also added a front-wheel-drive version of the Pilot which increased fuel economy by a single MPG in both highway and city driving respectively.
  • The last two years of the first-generation Honda Pilot saw no major changes aside from trim content shuffling and paint color changes.
  • Generally speaking, the Pilot was well regarded for almost car-like handling (which makes sense seeing as this generation shared a platform with the Honda Accord sedan).

Second Generation (2009-2015)

2009 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2009 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • As vehicle size grew, the Honda Pilot did too. Its second-generation was considerably larger than the outgoing model.
  • Headroom, legroom, and total volume increased in each of the three rows.
  • The new design was similar to the original, but with more muscular cues on the wheel arches and the fenders.
  • While this generation of the Honda Pilot never scored more than 4 stars in NHTSA crash tests, it was awarded a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.
2009 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2009 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • In general, this was the generation where the Pilot went from being just another budget 3-row SUV to a pseudo-luxury vehicle in its higher trims.
  • Every pilot from this era came with front and rear air conditioning, cruise control, and a 3.5-liter V6.
  • That V6 engine made 250 horsepower and for the first time in all Pilots, offered Variable Cylinder Management.
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2012 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2012 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • This Variable Cylinder Management technology allowed the Pilot to deactivate up to three cylinders under light load to save fuel.
  • Every Honda Pilot regardless of whether it was front or all-wheel-drive used a five-speed automatic transmission.
  • The back of the Pilot now featured a flip-up hatch for easier access to the cargo area.
  • The Touring model gets satellite navigation with voice controls, a 120-volt outlet, and driver memory settings.
2012 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2012 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • Just three model years later, in 2012, the Pilot gets a facelift with a new front and rear-end design.
  • Changes continued inside the vehicle as well with a new audio system that included Bluetooth connectivity.
  • The next year, Honda started to include tri-zone climate control on all models of the Pilot.
  • Just before the generation concluded, a new rear-seat DVD entertainment system was added into a new trim, the SE.

Third Generation (2015-Present)

2016 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2016 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • Honda swiftly brought the Pilot into a new age for 2016, featuring dramatically revised exterior styling.
  • Gone were the hard creases and sharper angles of the boxy Pilot and in their place were curves and soft lines.
  • Honda says that the new shape provides better aerodynamics and fuel economy despite being larger than the old Pilot.
  • For the first time, the Honda Pilot not only scores five stars in crash tests by the NHTSA, but is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
2019 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2019 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • While not standard, Honda did introduce a number of advanced safety features like LaneWatch. It used a camera mounted to the passenger-side mirror to provide the driver with a real-time view of the adjacent lane.
  • Again, a 3.5-liter V6 is used in every Honda Pilot. It makes 280 horsepower. Front and all-wheel-drive versions of the Pilot are both available.
  • Two automatic transmissions are featured for this generation. Lower trims use a six-speed automatic, while the Touring and Elite trims get a nine-speed ZF gearbox.
2016 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
2016 Honda Pilot - hondanews.com
  • From 2016 to 2019, Honda ditched a traditional volume knob in the cabin and replaced it with a haptic feedback slider.
  • Many users and reviewers found the haptic feedback slider to be a lackluster replacement, and Honda reverted to the standard knob in 2019.
  • In 2019, Honda revised the Pilot with new styling outside and new features inside.
2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition - hondanews.com
2020 Honda Pilot Black Edition - hondanews.com
  • New bumpers, LED headlights, and revised taillights are the main differences outside the Pilot for the 2019 refresh.
  • Inside, buyers had a new gauge cluster, a new CabinControl app, and the latest Honda infotainment system.
  • Between 2020 and 2021, only two real changes came to the Honda Pilot, the first of which was the addition of the Black Edition trim package.
  • As the name suggests, it offers black badging, black trim, and black wheels.
  • The other update was the use of the nine-speed ZF automatic transmission on all trim levels.

While nothing official has been announced, it would seem that the fourth generation of the Honda Pilot will be revealed sometime in 2022 as a 2023 model. Check out our recent review here in the meantime.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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