2019 Honda Pilot First Drive: Fixing the Issues

It seems like Honda launched the current-generation Pilot yesterday, but given the competitiveness of the midsize SUV segment, it’s not surprising that the three-row SUV is already receiving updates. The 2019 Honda Pilot received a host of changes—from an improved nine-speed transmission to a new infotainment system with CabinTalk and CabinControl, and updated styling—designed to maintain sales.

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In our long-term 2016 Pilot Elite, we had the transmission replaced under warranty at 21,428 miles after we experienced jerkiness and audible chirps. Editor-in-chief Ed Loh, who chaperoned that Pilot and documented his experience in a couple of updates, still wasn’t pleased with how the new ZF-supplied transmission behaved, noting poor acceleration and slow response from the paddle shifters. So it seems like Honda listened to us and to many customers who complained about the transmission’s behavior. For 2019, the Pilot’s nine-speed gearbox got hardware and software changes that address these issues. Honda replaced the clutch and hydraulics to help shift speed and consistency, and modified the valve structure to improve persistent shifts. Honda claims the response from the paddle shifters is faster, and that it’s updated the shift selection strategy to maintain performance and combat shift frequency. Honda made other revisions to the start-stop system, which now starts the engine a little more swiftly. In normal driving conditions, the transmission will start in second gear for a smoother launch, but that changes when driving is more aggressive or when the Pilot is in Sport mode.

We spent a few hours driving the 2019 Honda Pilot Elite on Southern California’s twisty roads and highways and noted the changes in the transmission. The shifts happen smoothly and at the right time, although the gearbox is always hunting for the highest gear to enhance fuel economy. That changes when driving in Sport mode, where the engine revs at higher rpms and the shifting can be done using the paddles, which showed no delay. The start-stop system also acts quicker when restarting the engine in Sport mode, though you’ll still notice noise and vibrations whether the engine is on or off. The system isn’t as smooth as those we’ve seen in the recent Fords and Chevrolets, but it isn’t as agitated as BMW‘s. We’ll need to spend more time with the 2019 Pilot to make sure we don’t experience more issues.

Regardless of the trim, all Pilots are propelled by the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that develops 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. LX, EX, and EX-L trims come with a six-speed automatic transmission, and Touring and Elite models get the upgraded nine-speed. In a push to bring more safety to Honda owners, the Japanese brand has implemented Honda Sensing as standard equipment on all Pilots, which means you get forward collision warning with emergency braking, road departure mitigation, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. However, blind–spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert are only standard on EX, EX-L, Touring, and Elite models.

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In terms of tech, the 2019 Pilot comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on EX and above trims, and it adds Honda’s new infotainment system, which gets CabinControl (EX and above) and CabinTalk (EX-L and above). CabinControl, a downloadable smartphone app we first saw on the Odyssey, allows passengers to control the Pilot’s audio system, rear entertainment system (if equipped), and rear climate control system. The passenger can also send the Pilot’s navigation system a specific address directly from his or her smartphone, which can be helpful to the driver. With CabinTalk, the driver can talk to backseat passengers through headphones when they’re watching a movie, or through the rear speakers. Wireless charging makes its way into the 2019 Pilot Elite, and a hands-free tailgate is now standard on Touring and Elite.