Road test: 2016 Honda Pilot

When announcing their latest models, carmakers are often prone to using terminology and adjectives that you would normally associate with supercars. A case in point is the description Honda has given its all-new ­Pilot: “The Pilot has been completely restyled with a bold, new front grille and flowing, elegant lines of a sport coupé.” OK, […]

When announcing their latest models, carmakers are often prone to using terminology and adjectives that you would normally associate with supercars. A case in point is the description Honda has given its all-new ­Pilot: “The Pilot has been completely restyled with a bold, new front grille and flowing, elegant lines of a sport coupé.”

OK, so while the style is new and the grille could reasonably be described as “bold”, there’s nothing remotely sporting about any aspect of this rather likeable barge. It’s a people carrier with SUV pretensions, and it will sit seven grown-ups in comfort. That’s the long and short of it – the Pilot is a large car for large families, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Not having driven either of the previous two generations of ­Pilot, I don’t have a reference point when it comes to any improvements, but the styling is definitely more modern than before. Its footprint is substantial, being roughly the same size as a BMW X5 or Toyota Land Cruiser, and there’s no hiding its bulk. It’s perhaps not as ruggedly handsome as Ford’s ­Explorer, but you see so few ­Pilots on the road that if you fancy being a bit left field, it could strike a chord with your desire for ­individuality.

The Pilot’s interior isn’t quite the luxury environ Honda would have us believe, either. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, but the nasty hard plastics that cover much of the cabin, and the cheap switchgear, serve as permanent reminders that you’re in a Honda and not a premium German machine. In its defence, however, this all-wheel drive “Touring” model is well equipped, with an eight-inch infotainment screen (which does a fine job of collecting fingerprints), tri-zone air conditioning, leather upholstery, reverse camera, and “Sand Mode” for driving on the dunes.

I’ve been explicitly told that off-roading in this thing is off limits, so I can’t report on its desert-traversing capabilities, but it does possess generous ground clearance, and power is sent to all four corners. There’s no low-ratio transmission, however, so you’re probably best leaving the adventure stuff to the Land Cruisers, but at least this Honda has been designed with a bit of thought and ­consideration.

The 3.5L V6 up front, under the stubby bonnet, might not be the most punchy unit in the world, but delivery of the power and torque it generates is cashmere smooth. As is the rest of the driving experience, with the Pilot generating very little wind noise and being almost entirely insulated from tyre roar, any din being quashed by a clever ­”active noise control” system that neutralises unwanted sounds.

Acceleration isn’t particularly electrifying, even when you push your foot flat to the floor, partly because of Honda’s famed VTEC valve timing, which offers the goods at much higher than normal revs. Peak torque doesn’t come in until 4,700rpm, so you have to wring its neck if you need it to move with any kind of rapidity, but in normal circumstances, the power and twist being delivered in such a linear and progressive manner is perfectly in keeping with the engine’s character, which is as unfazed as George Clooney on a charm offensive. There’s nothing thrashy about it, nothing unpleasant – just dollop after dollop of hushed loveliness.

You sit up straight, but not quite as though you’re in a van, and the tall roofline makes for headroom aplenty. Visibility is excellent, and when you indicate to make a right turn, the central screen acts as a rear-view mirror, which takes some getting used to, but it’s an intelligent safety feature. The ­Pilot has been designed with occupant safety as a priority, but it doesn’t feel like it’s telling you off for the slightest infringement – thankfully, the beeps, shrieks and steering corrections that blight the driving experience of many modern machines are absent. Cornering at speed is remarkably flat and composed for such a large car, and the brakes offer reassuring retardation without being grabby.

This new model has been given the thumbs up by the ­United States’ Insurance ­Institute for Highway Safety, which bestowed it with the “2015 Top Safety Pick+” rating, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Its body structure has been engineered for maximum protection, and a raft of systems come as standard, including hill-start assist, electronic brake distribution and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.

As worthy as all of the above is, the new Pilot’s trump card is the way it goes about its business without fuss or nonsense. We’re talking about Bentley levels of refinement, and if your requirements from a new car are a relaxing experience in the cabin, with enough space inside to host a party, look no further – this ­Honda seals the deal.

motoring@thenational.ae

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