The Honda pilot has transformed from a venerable suburban conveyor to a lightweight off-road explorer. This fourth-Generation Pilot has a tougher and grittier look, and there’s legitimate substance to back up that style. From steel skid plates and a full-size spare tire to a range of off-road driving aids 2023 Honda Pilot Trail Sport is equipped with noticeable improvements that will be useful for the occasional off-road excursion.
The growing popularity of off-road driving has prompted several manufacturers to offer rugged trim packages for their vehicles – think about it Subaru wilderness subsidiary brand. Honda announced it trail sports Trim level in late 2021, but the company’s initial offerings were mostly cosmetic additions to the existing vehicle lineup. The new pilot on the other hand offered Honda the opportunity to turn its TrailSport package into a worthwhile off-road upgrade.
Full Disclosure: Honda flew me to Phoenix, AZ, then drove me two hours north to a scenic and snow-covered resort sedona, AZ. There, several other journalists and I got to drive the 2023 Pilot TrailSport through what could have been a “Visit Arizona” commercial.
The TrailSport has the same 3.5-liter V6 engine and 10-speed automatic transmission as every other different 2023 Honda Pilot model. This engine produces 262 lb-ft of torque in addition to 285 hp – an increase of 5 hp over its predecessor – and the transmission features paddle shifters for manual control. According to EPA fuel economy ratings, this iteration of the Pilot will achieve 18mpg city and 23mpg on the highway, similar to the 2022 Kia Telluride.
A tough traverser
In terms of off-road capabilities, the Pilot TrailSport has many firsts for Honda. It’s the company’s first SUV to come factory fitted with all-terrain tires with a set of 265/60R18 Continental TerrainContact ATs. These tires wrap 18″ wheels with recessed spokes to avoid chafing off-road. The Pilot also comes with a full size spare wheel mounted at the bottom of the rear.
This is also the first Honda SUV to feature steel skid plates. The two Plates protect the oil pan, transmission and gas tank. The front skid plate is 4mm thick and the tank plate is 2.8mm thick.
But don’t get too ambitious; These changes don’t make the Pilot a purpose-built off-roader. The TrailSport has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, just an inch more than the standard Pilot, resulting in 19.8-degree approach, 19.6-degree breakover, and 19-degree departure angles. This makes it a bit easier to navigate dirt trails and over obstacles, but only marginally more so than with the base Pilot.
The off-roader for beginners
The Pilot TrailSport comes standard with several features to make off-road driving accessible. The two best known of these are TrailMode and TrailWatch.
TrailMode is an off-road torque logic function that controls the power distribution of the four-wheel drive system. This torque vectoring technology can transfer 75 percent of the available power to one of the rear wheels when the opposite tire loses contact with the ground. The remaining 25 percent is left with the non-active wheel to transfer power quickly after traction is restored.
The throttle is easy to modulate, encouraging the gradual input needed for crawling to keep off-road riding smooth. In addition, the electronic traction management system works invisibly. Communication through the steering wheel and pedals is excellent, helping you gauge the level of traction at each wheel.
When you’re unsure of your exact wheel placement, TrailWatch comes into play. TrailWatch is a four-camera system that helps you spot obstacles that are out of your line of sight. The camera system switches on automatically at speeds below this 15 miles per hour when TrailMode is on, and uses three low-perspective views and a 360-degree rendered top view to convey as much information about you Surroundings as possible. This is extremely helpful when navigating in tight spaces.
Onroad impressions and conclusion
Despite its off-road capabilities, the Honda Pilot TrailSport 2023 is still very demanding on paved surfaces. Driving in Sedona, Arizona, the crossover is smooth and stable with minimal body roll on twisty mountain roads, regardless of how hard I pushed it. Honda’s usual range of driving aids, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning, is standard, and there’s a new traffic sign recognition system that uses a camera to recognize and project road signs this information on the pilot’s head-up display.
The Honda Pilot TrailSport 2023 is currently available at an MSRP of $49,695 which includes a $1,345 destination fee. While avid off-roaders will likely splurge on a more purpose-built SUV, the Pilot TrailSport is a great SUV for buyers looking to mess around with their daily driver on the weekends.