Trail Treking & Overlanding in a 2019 Honda Pilot Elite

I recently got a great opportunity to accompany the Trail Trek Tour on a trip to the Overland Expo East. Because of some scheduling conflicts, I didn’t get to head out on the trail with the rest of the TTT invitees to sample the Honda Passports modified by JSport. Instead, I took a road trip down to Arrington, VA to attend the event in a 2019 Honda Pilot Elite. I’m not just posting this review because I have to, the Pilot was legitimately a fantastic road tripper and makeshift lodging for the weekend.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite

As I described in the accompanying article, it’s surprising how much of this cool stuff you can do in your average AWD crossover. So let’s find out how average the Pilot is.

Pilot Overview

For the 2019 model year, Honda will sell you one of five different Pilot trim levels.

2019 Honda Pilot Trim Levels

I’ve got to hand it to Honda, their trim lineup has stayed massively consistent. The last new Honda I bought was in 2005, and with the exception of the Elite trim, this was the Honda trim lineup. It’s super easy to remember, LX is the base, EX has nicer stuff, EX-L adds leather, Touring is the best. Well, it was the best before the Elite showed up. The as-tested trim in this article is the top of the line Pilot Elite. Here’s a sampling of what you get:

  • Standard variable torque all-wheel-drive (AWD)
  • Panoramic roof
  • Wireless phone charger
  • Heated 2nd-row captain’s chairs
  • Mobile hotspot capability
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Perforated leather front and 2nd-row seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • 590-watt premium audio system with 10 speakers
  • Multi-zone audio
  • Auto-dimming, power-folding side mirrors
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
  • Illuminated front and second-row beverage holders
  • LED front-row map lights

That’s a lot of kit, but it comes at a price. The LX will start you at $31,450, whereas the fancy Elite will run you $48,020. That $16,570 can buy you a new Honda Fit (used to buy you a Civic, but times change).

2019 Honda Pilot Elite

The cool part of the Elite is that you don’t need to add any options. The as-tested price of my loaner was…$48,020 (plus destination, blah blah, etc.). So this is the equivalent of walking into the Honda dealer and saying “I’ll take the best Honda Pilot you’ve got my good man”.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite

Tons of Room

This is normally the spot where I would evaluate the exterior and interior in detail, but there’s no need. It’s a midsize crossover, so it looks largely like the other midsize crossovers. Which is why the midsize crossover is the new minivan. Which makes sense, since the Pilot shares its platform with the Honda Odyssey.

At some point, manufacturers figured out that minivans weren’t cool, and people wanted something different. So they took a minivan, lifted it a bit, rounded off the back, and sold it as something new. And holy crap it worked.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite
Just starting to pack for my overland expo camping excursion.

The real trick, from a practicality standpoint, is adjusting the interior space to ensure that 3rd row occupants could sit comfortably while retaining cargo space aft of the rear seats. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever seen the rear cargo area in a Chevy Tahoe, it’s non-existent with the 3rd row seats in place. Which is why people leave at least one of them down, or just buy a Suburban.

Honda have figured this out. Previous generations of the Pilot and its cousin, the Acura MDX traded legroom for cargo room. Likely because of ever-expanding wheelbases, they no longer have to do that. When we weren’t camping, there was plenty of room for my 6’0″ 15 year old (who thinks he’s cool because he’s almost taller than me) to sit in the 3rd row, while my 5’something” 12 year old daughter hung out in the 2nd row. Naturally they couldn’t be in the same row.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite

When it was time to pack up for the Overland Expo, we dropped the 3rd row and they had to coexist in the 2nd row. But they had BluRay DVD and wireless headphones, so things stayed relatively peaceful.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite
Time to go!

Our packing was complete, well mine was, they didn’t really help. As you can see, there was plenty of room for a weekend away, plus 4-5 people.

Road Trip

Arrington, VA is, on paper, only a couple of hours from Washington, DC. That is sans traffic though, so when I fired up Waze to head out, it was more like 4.5 hours. So I broke the news that the 2-hour drive was now a 4+ hour drive and we were off.

The Pilot is pretty comfortable to spend time in, up front you get heated and ventilated seats, even the 2nd row gets heated captain’s chairs. That’s handy for keeping teenagers away from each other.

All Pilots get a 280 horsepower 3.5L V6 that is ubiquitous across the Honda larger-vehicle lineup. It was pretty solid on the highway, easily keeping up with the faster traffic.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite
And now it’s a tent.

“Overlanding”

So overlanding, by definition has an off-road component to it. The notion is that your vehicle can go anywhere and when you stop, you have everything you need. It’s basically a mobile campsite. In this instance, the Pilot was just that for me. If you have never slept in the back of your vehicle, you’re missing out.

While the Pilot isn’t a hardcore offroader, it’s AWD (standard or optional on all trims) is reasonably capable on most dirty trails and campsite situations. In this case, it navigated the unpaved roads of the Overland Expo East and pulled up at our campsite well after dark. This is normally where I would have cursed life and started setting up our tents in the dark.

Except I didn’t, our hosts had their rooftop tents and SUV-tents set up on their Honda Passports, and I was left with the Pilot and a couple of pop-up tents for the kids. Which was great for me. I tossed our bags into the front seats and slid an air-mattress into the back and it was time to sleep.

2019 Honda Pilot Elite

Summary

So the Pilot really is a do-anything SUV. It’s big competitor is probably the Toyota Highlander, and they both have a ton of features and options. If you are in the market for a midsize crossover SUV, it’s hard to not look at the Pilot. It’s a little vanilla, but it really has a bit of everything. Go check it out.

Also, sleep in your car on purpose. It’s great.

Bonus Pics

2019 Honda Pilot Elite
2019 Honda Pilot Elite
2019 Honda Pilot Elite
2019 Honda Pilot Elite