2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport: Semi-rugged soft-roader gets a lot right


Haven’t you heard? Americans are driving their unibody SUVs like Parnelli Jones, ripping up mountain roads, counter-steering through the mud, fording creeks and leaping boulders and ending up on some flowery hill with a campfire or, if you’re Subaru, to the precipice of a mountain cliff. That’s what we can conclude from TV commercials, anyway, which have not-so-rugged SUVs outdoing each other in hardcore ruggedness. This is seemingly not a selling point, it’s the selling point. Even Honda’s family-friendly SUV has gone butch, judging by the new-for-2023 Pilot TrailSport we recently drove.

I’ll admit to being confused. Certainly, an SUV should have some utility—it’s part of the acronym. But I live near some great off-road trails, and all I see there are Jeep Wranglers, new Ford Broncos, some Toyota 4Runners aside from a bunch of clapped-out, doorless, raised-up Jeep Cherokees. I’ve never, ever seen a Nissan Rogue emerge splattered in mud from one of these trails.

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport rear three-quarter

Honda, bless its heart, held off for as long as it could. For 2023, it nominated the Pilot for a TrailSport package, which is, of course, rugged. Or rugged-er. Neither are candidates to tackle the Rubicon Trail. (Check out our 2022 Passport TrailSport review, too.)

That said, we’ve recently driven the new Pilot TrailSport, and it’s a genuinely nice package, with some off-road chops that don’t get in the way of on-pavement prowess. The two-row Passport TrailSport was mostly cosmetic upon its debut for 2022, this Pilot version less so.

The TrailSport slots in the middle of the five Pilot models. Our test model was priced at $50,935, including $1375 in shipping. The Pilot starts at $38,465 for the base LX and tops out at $53,855 for the Elite model. The Passport is about 11 inches shorter than the Pilot, so we’d expect it to be a little more nimble off-road. The Pilot TrailSport is hardly a lightweight, clocking in at 4685 pounds.

SCS Honda PIlot Trailsport Review side
Steven Cole Smith

Specs: 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport

• Price: $48,800 (base); $50,935 (as-tested)
• Powertrain: 3.5-liter fuel-injected, dual-overhead-camshaft V-6; 10-speed automatic transmission
• Horsepower: 285 @ 6100 rpm
• Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
• Layout: All-wheel-drive, four-door, seven-passenger SUV
• Weight: 4685 lbs.
• 0–60 mph: 7.1 seconds
• EPA-rated fuel economy:
18 mpg city, 23 highway, 20 overall
• Competition:
Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek

This fourth-generation Pilot, at about 200 inches in length, is a little longer than the Kia Telluride and the Nissan Pathfinder.  It’s Honda’s largest SUV ever. The TrailSport seats two up front, two in the middle, and three in the third row, but even a child the middle-seat rearmost passenger will hope for a short trip. Second-row seats, however, are quite comfortable even for adults. The interior is finished in black “synthetic leather,” with orange stitching. There’s 18.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row seat; fold it down and there’s 48.5 cubic feet behind the second-row.

The TrailSport we tested was painted “Diffused Sky Blue Pearl,” a very pretty color but, along with three additional colors, a $455 option. Black and white come at no extra cost. Fit and finish on this Alabama-built Pilot was uniformly good.

As it has been since the Pilot was introduced in 2003—yes, 20 years ago—the TrailSport is powered by 3.5-liter V-6 engine. This latest iteration has 285 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque, good for a 5000-pound towing capacity. It’s a punchy, pleasant engine that’s happy running on regular gas. The Georgia-built 10-speed automatic transmission is certainly efficient but borders on being too busy, especially when it’s searching for a gear as you cruise at 45 mph or so.

The TrailSport is rated at 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg overall, a little thirstier than the other Pilots likely due to the off-road appointments, like 265/60 R18 Continental all-terrain tires and an extra inch of ground clearance (a useful 8.3 inches in total).

SCS Honda PIlot Trailsport Review wheel
The embossed TrailSport wheel is a nice touch, too. Steven Cole Smith

Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, a 245-watt, nine-speaker sound system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; active noise cancelation, fog lights, a power tailgate, and all the safety equipment Honda can jam onto a Pilot. Instruments and controls are well-placed and simple to interface with.

2024-honda-pilot-trailsport infotainment menu
Eric Weiner

TrailSport-specific stuff includes 18-inch wheels, a torque-vectoring rear differential, steel skid plates, hill descent, front and rear recovery points, and an off-road tuned suspension. It’s also the only Pilot with a full-size spare tire, which matters if you actually plan on any off-roading. The TrailSport’s turning circle, at 37.7 feet, is a foot tighter than the other Pilot models. The TrailWatch video system helps you maintain driving visibility when cresting a hill; you simply activate Trail mode to view a live feed of the surrounding terrain on the nine-inch touchscreen. And whereas the Passport TrailSport we tested before included only a front skidplate “garnish,” this Pilot includes actual steel skid plates to protect the underbody.

2024-honda-pilot-trailsport interior front
Aside from some splashes of orange, a relatively sober interior in the context of modern “off-road” packages. Eric Weiner

The central feature of the TrailSport package is the availability of multiple drive modes: Normal, ECON, Snow, Tow, Sport, Trail, and Sand. I did some mild cow-trailing and a little mudding in the TrailSport, and it seemed eager for more. For regular driving, we stuck with Normal and ECON. Sport was a little terrier-like—cute, but it might get on your nerves after a while.

Bottom line: Assuming you plan some off-roading—and you’ll be letting down your TV set if you don’t!—Honda has packed the Pilot TrailSport with a lot of appropriate equipment that does not harm the SUV’s daily usefulness. The company may be late to the off-road party, but Honda got it right.

2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport

Highs: Good-looking for a family hauler. Functional. Off-road chops are (relatively) substantial. Plenty of useful standard features.

Lows: Busy transmission. Only two colors at no added cost. Lower fuel mileage than other Pilot models.

Takeaway: No longer just a cosmetic package, the Pilot TrailSport brings cool off-road digs and added capability with little to no downside.




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