Car Reviews

2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport Preview Drive: Honda tries its hand at off-roading

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — To today, Honda has by no means constructed a warlord-grade body-on-frame SUV, the type that critical off-roaders would truly take into account taking off-road. And no, rebadged Isuzus don’t depend. So that you would possibly assume it a daring attain to create a off-road-optimized machine from a Honda Pilot, however the firm based by a rebellious racer who constructed what’s nonetheless the world’s largest motorbike producer from the Superfortress-and-earthquake-ravaged rubble of his first enterprise ought to by no means be written off.

The Pilot TrailSport remains to be a crossover and it’s unlikely critical off-roaders will go close to it, however this ruggedized model of the next-generation 2023 Honda Pilot is a extra full effort than the final model. You might need missed it, however the TrailSport truly debuted for 2022 on the long-lived previous-generation Pilot as a three-row praise to the Passport TrailSport. It had harder tires, a bit extra floor clearance and an enhanced-outdoorsiness look to knock’em lifeless within the REI parking zone. It was competent sufficient for the typical out of doors journey seeker, however the 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport will get substantial engineering upgrades that make it much more more likely to make it to that distant trailhead and again in a single piece. Honda didn’t attempt to make it a rock crawler, however would anybody count on a Pilot to be one?

To be clear, that is in reality Autoblog’s first drive of the next-generation, 2023 Honda Pilot. Nonetheless, we solely have details about the TrailSport, and even that, it’s skinny. Fundamental dimensions and specs are nonetheless to be introduced, in addition to particulars in regards to the different trim ranges. We don’t even know what it actually appears like past the beneath teaser images. Honda saved the camouflaged wrappers on throughout our drive, which solely passed off off-road. It’s an odd strategy to introduce a brand new technology, however we’re not going to say no to a sneak peek among the many peaks of Colorado on the Center Fork Swan River street close to Breckenridge. 

Having finished my share of backpacking journeys to distant areas of the Mountain West, I’ve discovered that the purpose of such journeys is to get away from the noisy crowds that flip the extra accessible locations into mini-cities. With the pandemic sending much more people to the nice open air, a car that may depart the bizarre all-wheel-drive equipment behind and get previous the oil-pan-puncturing, exhaust-system-detaching obstacles on the more difficult trails will assist you to attain the extra unique trailheads and campsites. Honda’s American engineers designed the brand new Pilot TrailSport to do exactly that for weekend getaways, whilst the outside designers made it look harder for the weekday school-dropoff crowd (even with the camo, that a lot is apparent). Perhaps most patrons of this SUV won’t ever take it on any floor extra arduous than the gravel street to the lake home, however the concept is that you can if you happen to needed to.

The pinnacle of the powertrain group for the 2023 Pilot spends his spare time obsessively restoring an FJ40 Land Cruiser (about as critical a pure off-road manufacturing car as you will discover on the planet), whereas the Pilot TrailSport Suspension Potentate (not his actual title) gathers elements to construct a modernized MGB-GT with a Honda Ok-engine swap. There is a noticeable air of Mickey Thompson-style American hot-rodder ethos across the engineers who toughened up this crossover SUV, maybe with a touch of Soichiro Honda staring down the staid Japanese authorities forms as soon as he began constructing automobiles.

The brand new, fourth-generation Pilot as soon as once more lives on a unibody platform, however it will get a serious stiffening for 2023 (Honda says 20% to 60% elevated rigidity, relying on space). The Pilot TrailSport’s suspension is identical as what can be discovered within the common 2023 Pilot, mechanically talking, although with an additional inch of floor clearance plus stiffer damping and sway bars. Tires are Continental TerrainContact A/Ts, allegedly pretty quiet in your native cul-de-sac, whereas resisting rock punctures within the wild. And there is a full-size spare, which is a good-to-have for tire issues within the bundóks. The 18-inch TrailSport-only wheels have inset spokes, to keep away from ugly scars from obstacles. The torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system has been rejiggered in order that within the new Path drive mode it can ship nearly all of torque to the wheel with probably the most traction. The Pilot’s exhaust system and driveshaft are tucked respectably out of hurt’s means.

Most importantly, the Pilot TrailSport will get a few bad-ass metal skid plates beneath, one defending the engine/transaxle pans and the opposite guarding the gas tank. Every can bear the complete weight of the car, which is sweet to have whenever you’re on the lookout for a jacking location. The entrance plate has a strengthened opening for a tow hook, which you will recognize if you happen to get caught someplace. One other equally sturdy restoration level is built-in into the trailer hitch.

How did all this gear work on a rocky path at 11,000 ft above sea stage? I’ve by no means been a truck man, although I’ve put some two-wheel-drive automobiles via not-designed-for-that path punishment on tenting journeys, which provides me about the identical off-road ability stage as most American SUV buyers right this moment.

Heavy rains the night time earlier than had made the going a bit slippery, which did not trigger any actual bother for the TrailSport’s enhanced all-wheel-drive system; I simply put the transmission in D, chosen Path mode, and went. At first, I feared going over watermelon- and dog-sized rocks at something however probably the most creeping tempo, however after a number of onerous (however innocent) hits to the skid plates, I gained confidence. The Continental TerrainContacts laughed off sidewall-squishing pokes from sharp rocks. The TrailWatch digital camera system proved amazingly helpful when threading between boulders and downed tree trunks; you hit the button on the tip of the wiper-control stalk to toggle the view between low-forward and either side, making it straightforward to place the wheels precisely the place you need them. I managed to beat on the exhaust a bit, however it dismissed the blows and let the skid plates bear the worst brunt of my off-road inexpertise.

In sum, the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is a cushty three-row SUV that appears to look pretty outdoorsy and permits an bizarre American driver to sort out easy-to-moderate trails on their strategy to locations unreachable by most commuter crossovers just like the common Pilot. After all, the complete story of that common 2023 Pilot remains to be to come back.

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