Next-gen Honda Pilot range likely to see inclusion of Hybrid tech [Update]

Update: ‘Electrification on the next-gen Honda Pilot’ section updated.

Introduced in June 2002 as a 2003 model, the Honda Pilot has lived through three generations and over nineteen years in the market. After over two million units sold worldwide, “the Ultimate American Family Adventure Vehicle,” developed on a car-like unibody platform, will be reinvented for its fourth generation this year.

Engineers started road-testing the next-gen Honda Pilot last year, spy pictures published on carscoops.com revealed. Unlike the current model, it is likely to hit dealer showrooms with an optional hybrid variant. The first-ever Honda Pilot Hybrid would make the midsize SUV appealing for fuel economy- and environment-conscious customers.

Exterior

Honda’s midsize SUV will continue to be made exclusively in North America. Compared to the current Pilot, the next-gen model appears to have a bolder and striking design. The redesigned model should feature an upright front-end with the nose set straight up and a flatter hood. The rear-end would have a contrasting styling with a steeply raked windscreen like the much smaller Toyota Venza, lending it a modern appearance.

2022 Acura MDX side profile
The next-gen Honda Pilot will likely mimic the new premium “cab rearward” proportion of the 2022 Acura MDX (pictured) with an extended dash-to-axle ratio. Image Source: Acura

As for the dimensional changes, the fourth-gen Acura MDX provides clues, as the new Pilot would be its technical cousin or the mainstream derivate. Compared to its predecessor, the 2022 Acura MDX is 2.2 inches longer, exactly an inch wider, 0.6 inches taller, and has a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase.

Interior

The next-gen Honda Pilot interior would embody the new design philosophy that debuted in the new Civic – Simplicity and Something. Expect a clean interior styling with a slimmer and simplified dashboard that frees the cabin of visual clutter. It would be roomier than the old model. The steering wheel and the center console would have a neat design and underline the minimalist styling. A 12.2-inch HD full-color LCD instrument cluster and a brand-new touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto will likely make the midsize SUV more attractive for tech-savvy customers.

2022 Honda Civic Sedan interior dashboard
The next-gen Honda Pilot interior would embody the brand’s new design philosophy that debuted in the 2022 Civic (pictured) – Simplicity and Something. Image Source: Honda

Honda has struck a deal with Google to offer the latter’s in-vehicle connected service into an all-new model it plans to launch in North America in the second half of the year. That could be the 2023 Honda CR-V, but future Honda models in the region will also have Google services built into their infotainment systems. Native Google Assistant, Google Maps, and Google Play will allow customers to use the Google services they usually use on their smartphones directly from the vehicle. From Google Play, they will be able to download their favorite apps, audiobooks, music, and podcasts to their vehicle.

Safety

Honda may expand the Pilot’s list of ADAS with the upcoming full model change. However, the company is unlikely to offer Level 3 autonomous driving features with the Honda Sensing Elite safety system.

Offering Level 3 autonomous driving functions in the U.S. involves a lot of regulatory complications. While it might be technically possible to make the Pilot L3 autonomous-ready, Honda may not do so just yet. According to a report from autonews.com, Jay Joseph has said that the infrastructure in the U.S. is not compatible with the Honda Sensing Elite system that allows hands-free autonomous driving in the Honda Legend (Japan’s Acura RLX). Joseph is the Vice President of Marketing & Customer Experience of Honda’s American subsidiary. The different regulations in different states, and the policies of insurance companies, could keep the company from introducing hands-free autonomous driving stateside unless the environment changes.

In the Acura RLX, Honda Sensing Elite features a ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’ function, an L3 autonomous driving technology as per Japanese authorities. In a traffic jam, and when certain conditions check the box, the driver can delegate the car the core vehicle tasks of accelerating, steering, and braking. The driver can take their eyes off the road and watch TV/DVD on the infotainment system or do something else that relaxes them during that time.

Electrification on the next-gen Honda Pilot

The Honda Pilot has traditionally come with a large gasoline engine, but there’s no evading electrification this decade. The new midsize SUV is likely to come with a hybrid powertrain as an option soon after the launch. Note that Honda has not dropped any hints about the new Pilot but has promised hybrid variants of core models in the near term.

Our strategy is focused on introducing a higher percentage of hybrids in core models in the near term, making a committed effort to achieve higher volume leading to the introduction of our Honda Prologue.

Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations, American Honda, announcing the Honda Prologue in June 2021

Previously, rumors about a Pilot PHEV appeared in the media, but recent developments indicate no plans for a Pilot plug-in hybrid. Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations, American Honda, talked about the planned Honda and Acura launches for 2022 with the media (via The Detroit Bureau) recently. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a single PHEV in the pipeline. Gardner said that the company will move from internal combustion engine vehicles to hybrid electric vehicles, but then, it will “jump directly” to battery electric vehicles. The first of these BEVs is the 2024 Honda Prologue.

The Pilot competes with the Toyota Highlander, Kia Telluride, VW Atlas, Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, and the Chevrolet Traverse. It has an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 19 city/26 highway/22 combined in the AWD variant. The Toyota Highlander AWD and the Ford Explorer AWD achieve better fuel economy, thanks to the availability of a hybrid. EPA estimates the hybrid variants to deliver 35 city/35 highway/35 combined and 23 city/26 highway/25 combined, respectively. Honda would have to make its midsize SUV equally efficient in the next generation to maintain its competitive position.

Honda Pilot sales rebound in 2021

The Honda Pilot sales in the U.S. fell from 135,008 units in 2019 to 123,813 units in 2020, the year when the COVID-19 pandemic jolted the car market. In 2021, sales recovered, to beat 2019, despite the shortage of semiconductor chips. Honda sold 143,062 units of the midsize SUV last year, recording a 15.5% year-over-year growth.

2022 Honda Pilot introduced in the U.S.

In July 2021, the third-gen Honda Pilot received its MY2022 update, likely its final model year update. The 2022 Pilot packs more standard features, including LED headlamps and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The LX and EX entry trim levels are no longer available, and a new Sonic Gray Pearl exterior color later joined the options.

Honda Pilot Special Edition
The MY2022 Honda Pilot should be the last model year for the third generation Pilot. Pictured is the 2022 Pilot Special Edition. Image: Honda

In October 2021, Honda rolled out an update for the 2022 Pilot, introducing a new base trim called ‘Sport’ (USD 38,055 onwards) and a new off-road-oriented trim called ‘TrailSport’ (USD 44,785). The 2022 Pilot TrailSport shows off its greater off-roading capabilities with a rugged-design sidewall, black trim, fender flares, exclusive 18-inch black alloy wheels, and an orange-on-black Trailsport badge on the tailgate. The TrailSport trim provides 0.6 more ground clearance, and thus, is more suitable for the road less traveled. Inside, it features leather upholstery with orange TrailSport branding and contrasting orange stitching.

It is safe to assume that the next-gen Honda Pilot we’ve detailed in the story will arrive as an MY2023 model. Prices should start at under USD 40,000, and the TrailSport trim would also be part of the new model family.

Honda’s electrification strategy

Honda, which sold the most electrified vehicles in its history in the USA in 2021 (topping 100,000 units), aims for a 40% EV/FCV unit sales ratio in North America by 2030. The company has said that it will increase this number to 80% by 2035, and by 2040, it would discontinue gas-powered vehicles to become a 100% zero-emission brand. A strong performer like the Pilot, which sells in the millions of units, should be among the initial set of cars to be electrified for Honda to reach its interim emissions target.

Featured Image Source: Honda H7X Concept front-end via YouTube/Honda