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

Introduced in June 2002 as a 2003 model, the Honda Pilot has lived through three generations and nineteen years. 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 next year.

Engineers have started road-testing the next-gen Honda Pilot, spy pictures published on carscoops.com have revealed. Unlike the current model, it is likely to hit the market 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 brand-new (12.3-inch) touchscreen infotainment system and a (12.3-inch) fully digital instrument cluster with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto would 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

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 2021 Honda Legend (Japan’s 2021 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 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. Moreover, instead of a basic self-charging hybrid system, reports say that a more advanced plug-in hybrid system could be a part of the powertrain mix. 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 American Honda, announcing the Honda Prologue in June 2021

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 pick up in 2021

The Honda Pilot sales in the U.S. were steadily rising from 2017 till 2020, the year when the COVID-19 pandemic jolted the world. This year, it looks like Honda is on the path to recovery, despite the semiconductor shortage. Honda sold 102,437 units of the Pilot between January and August 2021, at an average of 12,805 units. In comparison, during the same period in 2020, the company moved 79,359 Pilots, converting to monthly sales of 9,920 units. The year-over-year growth between January and August 2021 is an impressive 29.1%.

2022 Honda Pilot introduced in the U.S.

Honda Pilot Special Edition
2022 Honda Pilot Special Edition. Image: Honda

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, but a new entry-level trim will arrive this fall. A new Sonic Gray Pearl exterior color option will also become available this fall.

It is safe to assume that the next-gen Honda Pilot we’ve detailed in the story will arrive as an MY2023 model, next year. Prices should be similar to the current one, falling between USD 40,000-52,000.

Honda electrification strategy

Honda, which sold the most electrified vehicles in its history in the USA in 2020, 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 emissions target.

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