Chicken Point on the Broken Arrow Trail, set amidst Sedona, Arizona’s mountains and red rock formations, is among the most stunning vistas in the United States. Typically, you get there via Jeep — often a pink, ARB-accessorized one driven by an expert guide. The lookout is the last place you’d expect to find a squadron of three-row Honda Pilot family crossovers. But my colleagues and I got there — amidst several bemused looks from passersby — in relative comfort and ease.
Honda assured us that TrailSport would eventually be more than just a rugged styling package; we hear that story with every crossover. But after a day of testing it off-road and on in Arizona, the all-new 2023 Pilot TrailSport proved that point. It brings surprising off-road capability to the table without sacrificing its primary duty of being a practical, comfortable family SUV.
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‘TrailSport’ is no longer just a styling package
Honda debuted TrailSport on the Passport, where it was an appearance package. On the 2023 Pilot, the TrailSport trim offers enhanced off-road capability. It gets all-terrain tires, a one-inch lift to 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a unique off-road-tuned suspension. It brings optimized stabilizer bars, steel skid plates, a terrain camera system and front and rear recovery points. The AWD has a special Trail Torque Logic system designed to quickly shift power away from and return power to wheels that lose traction. Hill Descent Control also comes standard on all Pilots.
How does the Pilot TrailSport drive off-road?
As noted, we drove the Pilot TrailSport up the Broken Arrow Trail, a noteworthy Jeep path. We did skip the Devil’s Staircase, which Honda PR said was due to the slickness (conditions had closed the trail in the morning after snow overnight). But it was still more rigorous than the dirt roads manufacturers typically let us test crossovers on — and more than 99 percent of what Pilot owners will put their vehicles through. The Pilot TrailSport handled it with gusto.
Granted, it’s not a Wrangler Rubicon. 8.3 inches of clearance in the Pilot TrailSport is less than even a non-Wilderness Subaru Forester. The approach, departure and breakover angles of a three-row family SUV isn’t optimal. But the Pilot TrailSport did very well given those limitations. It displayed a lot of flex getting over obstacles. And even fully inflated, the tires were soft enough to spread the tread for added grip. It was powerful and nimble enough to get the job done, with no sweating from the driver.
We did do some banging on the bottom of the vehicle over particularly tricky obstacles. But the steel skid plate — rated to hold the vehicle’s weight — is designed to take it without damage. We also hit what Honda said was likely the tow hitch on the way over a few times, but the car was no worse for it. And Honda did not do an obsessive amount of trail spotting to avoid us making contact or have a panicked chase vehicle ready to extricate us.
I particularly enjoyed using Honda’s multi-view terrain camera. It seemed higher-res than many other terrain cameras I have experienced, making it legitimately helpful. It comes on automatically when you enter Trail mode, stays on through 15 mph and comes right back on when you dip back below 15 mph.
How does the Pilot TrailSport drive on road?
Honda let us drive the Pilot TrailSport on road, along with the top-tier Pilot Elite model. The Pilot won’t challenge the Mazda CX-9 for the sharpest driving dynamics in the segment. But it’s smooth and competent and handles its body decent in corners. Honda calls it an “all-new” 3.5-liter V6 with about five more horsepower than the outgoing model. Like most powertrains in this segment, it won’t inspire anyone. But it does shift quite smoothly with a new 10-speed automatic transmission.
Performance suffers slightly at the margins on the road with the TrailSport. The all-terrain tires are a tad noisier than the all-seasons. It’s not quite as precise on turn-in, with a higher ride height and softer suspension as the Elite. And the steering is too light for getting your hard cornering on.
But no one will approach those margins in their three-row family crossover. And the quality most people will experience in typical driving around town is that it’s very comfortable. Bumps don’t make it to the seats. And even accidentally coming in too hot on an inexplicably-placed speed bump barely registered.
The Pilot TrailSport’s software reacting to situations can feel abrupt. The car downshifts sharply before you even register you’re on a slight hill. And I felt the torque vectoring kick in really hard when I lost traction for a split second on a small patch of ice. But over-eager is better than slow.
What’s the Pilot TrailSport interior like?
Honda doesn’t do superfluous or showy. The Pilot gives you the family-friendly features you want (like one-touch second row seats) and need without ladening the car with costly items you don’t. It’s spacious in and behind all three rows. It has a simple, clean layout with physical knobs for the buttons and climate controls. My favorite features were the nifty storage compartments (fit your massive water bottle in the door) and big rubberized ledges (like the passenger side above the glove compartment) for keeping your phone in place while off-roading.
Tech is — pleasantly in my view — pared down to the essentials in the Pilot TrailSport. The 9.0-inch touchscreen is big enough, with easily paired Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation? You have your phone with Google Maps. Rear seat entertainment? Your kids have their phones and tablets. Here are some USB ports in the 2nd and 3rd rows.
The TrailSport specifically uses a more durable synthetic leather rather than the leather-trimmed seats in the other higher-level Pilot trims. But I would not have noticed that if I had not looked it up. You also don’t get the foldable and removable 2nd-row middle seat that can stow beneath the trunk found in other Pilots.
Safety will be a definite appeal for the Pilot TrailSport
I’ve attended many car launches. Manufacturers don’t often bring the specific vehicle that went through the crash testing (some for obvious reasons). But Honda brought that crash-tested Pilot — with its frame still pretty much intact after a simulated side impact test.
It’s one thing to read about safety technology and how the 2023 Pilot is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and has a five-star NHTSA rating. It’s another thing to see it. And as a parent with two small kids, it’s a huge selling point.
How much does the Honda Pilot TrailSport cost?
The 2023 Honda Pilot starts at $39,150. The TrailSport, the second most expensive trim, begins at $48,350. The $1,345 destination charge brings you to $49,695. It’s $455 if you want a paint color that isn’t Black or Silver; our testers were all Diffused Sky Blue Pearl or Sonic Grey Pearl. That’s pretty much it, unless you want racks or floor mats.
What are some Honda Pilot TrailSport alternatives?
The Honda Pilot TrailSport: The Verdict
Honda did an outstanding job with the Honda Pilot TrailSport. It’s handsome to look at. It’s pleasant to drive on road. Its off-road capability may be a potential differentiator in the segment. Its safety is a strong selling point.
My one quibble with buying one would be fuel economy. Honda did not address it. In fact, the Pilot is slightly less efficient than the last generation at consuming fuel, falling to 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway if you go with the TrailSport. It’s hard to feel like getting 18 mpg in city driving from a naturally-aspirated V6 meets the moment in 2023. And it will get harder every year the Pilot TrailSport is on the market.
The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6; 10-speed automatic; AWD
- Horsepower: 285
- Torque: 262 lb-ft
- EPA Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
- Seats: 7
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