Broken Arrow Trail outside of Sedona, Arizona is like an off-road theme park ride. Spanning 2.8 miles in and out, it rises more than 400 feet and features the region’s iconic red rock formations as a breathtaking backdrop. It’s also the birthplace of Pink Jeep Tours, which has been hauling people up and down Broken Arrow since 1960. While the company’s pink-painted Wranglers are an everyday sight, it’s not every day they share the trail with a mid-day caravan. -size three-row SUVs, specifically the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport.
It costs a family of four more than $500 to take the Jeep Tour on the same route we drove the new fourth-generation Pilot. We couldn’t help but laugh at the surprised looks on people’s faces as they passed what probably looked to them like the SUVs they arrived in. Some passengers smiled and took photos with their phones; others sat slack-legged in the open-air jeeps, perhaps wondering if they could have driven their own vehicle instead of paying for the tour.
A moderately difficult trail like Broken Arrow can’t be conquered in most family SUVs—at least not without damaging something. Honda hopes to change that with the improved Pilot TrailSport, and our first experience behind the wheel of a prototype showed it to be more capable than the bogus off-roaders so popular in this space (including the previous Pilot TrailSport). By making a model as capable as advertised, Honda hopes the new Pilot will stand out in a very contested segment.
The Outdoor Pilot
Starting at $49,695, the TrailSport is the poster child for the fourth-gen Pilot. Its robustness encapsulates the redesigned Pilot’s boxier look and larger proportions. Compared to its predecessor, the new TrailSport is 3.7 inches longer overall—making it Honda’s largest SUV ever—with front and rear tracks that are 1.1 and 1.3 inches wider, respectively. Unlike before, the Pilot won’t be mistaken for a minivan either, mostly because of its square face and longer dash-to-axle ratio.
While every 2023 Pilot looks stronger and benefits from a new platform that Honda says is the most rigid ever, the TrailSport stands out with exclusive off-road hardware. It includes a 1.0-inch lift that adds ground clearance (for a total of 8.3 inches) and a trim-specific suspension with retuned multi-valve dampers, unique spring rates and a thinner front anti-roll bar for improved flexibility. The new TrailSport is the first Pilot to be factory-fitted with all-terrain tires, mounted on dark 18-inch rims with a built-in spoke design and a unique wheel flange to prevent damage. It’s also the only model with a full-size matching spare screen. Fortunately, we never needed to fix a flat on Broken Arrow Trail, nor did we have to use the TrailSport’s front and rear recovery points.
The TrailSport’s Continental TerrainContact A/T off-road tires and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive worked together to maintain maximum traction. The 30.5-inch tires clung firmly to Broken Arrow’s rocky red terrain, slick from snowfall the day before. The all-wheel drive system can send up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear axle, and 100 percent of that can be sent to a single wheel. As the Pilot clawed its way over the toughest obstacles in the new Trail mode, we could feel Honda’s Trail Torque Logic at work as we relaxed in the now more supportive front seats.
Our comfortable nightmare was occasionally interrupted by teeth-grinding scrapes when hard objects met the steel skid plates protecting the engine, transmission and fuel tank. Still, no real damage was done, and our convoy pilots moved along confidently. Our confidence was bolstered by the TrailSport’s helpful TrailWatch camera system, which has front, side and 360-degree views quickly accessed via a button on the tip of the wiper stalk. The front view was especially useful on steep hills when the view over the hood showed nothing but sky.
Improved refinement on the road
While the TrailSport model gets the most attention, the regular Pilot is also significantly better. We spent time in a top-of-the-line Elite, whose fancy features explain its $53,375 starting price. Aside from the TrailSport’s improved off-road chops, the Pilot’s newfound refinement is the 2023 model’s most compelling update. The structure is stiffer, there are numerous sound dampening measures, and Honda has redesigned the suspension to improve ride comfort and stability. The chassis also features larger front brake rotors (13.8 versus 12.6 inches) and shorter overall brake pedal travel. The steering is quicker, and the wheel is slightly wider and wrapped in nicer materials.
Not only do the improvements help make the Pilot much quieter inside, but driving this Honda SUV is also no longer a total snoozefest. Granted, the Pilot doesn’t corner or stop like a Civic Type R, but it doesn’t feel like a wobbly body anymore either. The direct feel of the steering is a big leap over the old lifeless helm, and it combines with improved body control and more responsive brakes for a driving experience that’s far superior to its predecessor.
Each Pilot has Honda’s new double-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6, which has the same displacement as the venerable single-overhead-cam V-6 it replaces with notable improvements to the fuel delivery system, internal components and packaging. The new engine still produces 262 lb-ft of torque, but horsepower rises from 280 to 285. The powerplant is paired with a new 10-speed automatic transmission instead of a nine-speed unit, and front- or all-wheel drive.
The new powertrain doesn’t make the Pilot feel noticeably faster, but the throttle is more responsive at low speeds, and gear changes go mostly unnoticed. Towing capacity remains 5000 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy for front-wheel-drive models is 22 mpg combined, while all-wheel-drive versions earn 21 mpg combined (20 mpg for the TrailSport). Those combined figures are all 1 mpg lower than the outgoing Pilot’s.
Break the old mold
Although the 2023 Pilot lacks its predecessor’s obvious visual ties to the Honda Odyssey minivan, the new SUV’s larger dimensions and 2.8-inch longer wheelbase make it a more practical people mover than before.
The Pilot can comfortably fit seven or eight people, even if it’s easier to maneuver around the cabin in its sliding-door sibling. Still, second-row seats are very flexible, and some models have a removable middle seat that can be stored under the rear cargo floor. However, the seat weighs over 30 pounds, so putting it up takes some muscle. When the underfloor storage is not occupied, it offers 3 cubic feet of space. The removable boot floor panel is also reversible, with carpet on one side and rubber on the other.
The Pilot’s more spacious third row has a USB port on each side and four cup holders (out of a total of 14). Cargo space is also bigger, now with 49 cubic feet behind the second row and 19 cubic feet behind the third, a gain of two in both cases. Folding all the rear seats down creates a flat floor and opens up 87 cubic feet of space. There’s also extra storage up front via a larger center console bin and a useful parcel shelf built into the dashboard.
Only the top-level Pilot Elite has a 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster and a head-up display. All versions except the LX and Sport trims have a 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s all part of a compelling package that includes standard driver assistance such as automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist.
We’re impressed by the 2023 model’s improvements. It breaks the mold of the old generation and blossoms from forgettable to desirable—especially for anyone who’s seen the TrailSport keep up with the pink Jeeps on Broken Arrow Trail.
2023 Honda Pilot
Vehicle Type: Front Engine, Front or All Wheel Drive, 7 or 8 Passenger, 4 Door Wagon
Base: LX, $37,295; LX AWD, $39,395; Sports, $40,495; Sport AWD, $42,595; EX-L, $43,295; EX-L AWD, $45,395; Tour, $47,795; Touring AWD, $49,895; TrailSport, $49,695; Elite, $53,375
DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 212 inches33471 cm3
Power: 285 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Length: 199.9–200.2 inches
Width: 78.5 inches
Height: 70.9–72.0 inches
Passenger volume, F/M/R: 57–59/57–59/40 feet3
Cargo Volume, Rear F/M/R: 87/49/19 ft3
Combat weight (C/D east): 4050–4700 lbs.
PERFORMANCE (C/D IS)
60 mph: 6.0–6.5 sec
1/4-mile: 14.5–15.1 sec
Top speed: 115 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 20–22/18–19/23–27 mpg