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The Pilot has struggled to win over Canadian drivers, but the 2016 version should change that.

Honda

Canadians have generally shunned Honda's Pilot for half a decade. The Dodge Journey outsells the Pilot 4:1, the Ford Edge 3:1, the Ford Explorer 2:1.

Yet the outgoing Pilot is safe and reliable, has the best seats in its class and decent fuel economy. Consumer Reports says a 2005 Pilot is your best option in a used mid-size SUV.

However, Consumer Reports adds that just 68 per cent of Pilot buyers are willing to buy again – versus 82 per cent for the Toyota Highlander. Disastrous for Honda.

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The second-generation Pilot (2009-2015) has been a relative dud. Why? Over-priced, tight cabin, Hummer-like styling and a confusing array of instruments and controls. This was not to be repeated with the third-gen 2016 Pilot. Honda Canada vice-president of operations Dave Gardner concedes it may have taken a couple of generations to get the Pilot "just right."

Absolutely. The 2016 version is exceptionally good, one worth waiting for to test until the July on-sale date if you want a mid-size SUV.

The packing crate shape has been replaced by a sleeker, more aerodynamic look à la the CR-V and HR-V crossovers. The cabin is roomier, with more cargo space in back and seating for up to eight. The third row is still tight for adults, but a new backlit push-button feature on the second seat folds everything up and away easily. The step-in height is lower and once in, you'll find lots of available features, from Blu-ray disc capability to a panoramic glass sunroof to a ceiling-mounted TV screen you can still have with the sunroof.

The cabin's controls and features are smart and functional. A huge centre console has cup holders, space for two smart phones, hidden storage space for four iPads and up to five USB ports. The touchscreen has excellent resolution and there's a 115-volt power outlet and HDMI input.

This Pilot is a big, comfy cruiser at highway speeds. There's some roll in the corners, but nothing worrisome and certainly no more than rivals. This Honda has a stronger, stiffer and lighter body and chassis, with a new suspension and better steering. The drive is effortless. Of course, there's enough power from a thrifty V-6 (280 hp), and an advanced all-wheel-drive system is available. Thirteen years since the Pilot arrived, Honda has nailed it.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

You'll like this SUV if ... you want one of the best – if not the best – mid-size SUVs available.

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TECH SPECS

  • Base price: Nothing official until closer to July, but the 2015 starts at $35,400.
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6.
  • Transmission: Six-speed or nine-speed automatic.
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/9.3 highway for AWD with the nine-speed automatic using regular fuel.
  • Alternatives: Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia.

RATINGS

  • Looks: Though not gorgeous, this shape is fine and aerodynamic. Honda claims a 10 per cent reduction in wind resistance and a 20 per cent reduction in road load – a measure of all aero, mechanical drag, and friction taken by coasting from a specific speed down to zero.
  • Interior: The seats are outstanding and the cabin has more room than before and is a match for any rival. The easy-fold second-row gives way to the third row seating and behind that is more cargo room. The controls are sensible, the touchscreen has excellent resolution and the designers have accommodated all the gizmos we carry today.
  • Performance: The 3.5-litre V-6 never seems to struggle for power and the available nine-speed automatic gearbox is a gem of clean shifting.
  • Technology: The Android-based display audio is seamless for iPhone integration. The Sirius satellite system has more features than one can count. Garmin navigation has a 3-D display. The remote fob with engine start with climate control has a 44-metre range.
  • Cargo: The space is decent and competitive, not breathtaking.

The Verdict

9.0 (out of 10)

Honda now has the best mid-size SUV, period.

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