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Honda Pilot Seeks a Smoother Landing

26 Mai 2015 - Automotive News

2016 Honda Pilot

In 2008, the second-generation Honda Pilot crossover came to market with all the style and curves of a shipping container.

The timing was unfortunate. The Pilot's design had been frozen several years earlier, when gasoline was cheap and brawny SUVs such as the Hummer H2 were in their heyday. But by the middle of 2008, oil prices were surging and an economic crisis was looming. Not only was the Pilot's styling off-putting, but its boxy shape hid the fact that it was one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers in its class.

Between the Pilot's conception and launch, said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at KBB.com, "the market literally went in the other direction."

The redesigned 2016 Pilot, which goes on sale June 18, is a chance for a major course correction.

For starters, gasoline prices are back down, and the light-truck market is up 11 percent through April. Moreover, the Pilot no longer stands out for its ungainly design.

"We definitely knew where we needed to go in terms of design," said Ben Davidson, lead exterior designer for the third-generation Pilot. Davidson also worked on an early version of the second generation's design.

"It had been several years where it was kind of a mismatch between the design language ... and what everyone knew very clearly that we needed to be doing," Davidson said. "It was actually a very easy direction to determine."

With the redesign, the 2016 Pilot aligns itself more with the rest of the segment, as its shape now echoes that of the Chevy Traverse, Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

The fuel-efficiency message reflected in the Pilot's silhouette is reinforced on the window sticker. The high-end Touring and Elite models, which are fitted with a nine-speed automatic transmission, now tie the Nissan Pathfinder as the most efficient models in the segment. The redesigned model is about 3 inches longer, creating extra cargo and passenger space, but 266 pounds lighter.

"We're confident that the Pilot will ultimately become a new sales pillar in our lineup," alongside other top-selling nameplates such as the Accord, Civic, Odyssey, and CR-V, said Jeff Conrad, Honda Division general manager, at the Pilot's press launch here in early May.

Prices, including shipping, start at $30,875 for a front-wheel-drive LX model and go up to $47,300 for a loaded, four-wheel-drive Elite version, a new high-end trim line for the Pilot that will be the priciest Honda-branded vehicle sold in the U.S.

And Honda hopes to keep more of that purchase price for itself. With the previous generation handicapped from the start, Honda was supporting sales with uncharacteristically heavy incentive spending.

 

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