Is the 2020 Honda Pilot Safer Than Its Previous Models?

By Scott KingLast Updated Nov 4, 2020 9:40:16 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Kevauto/Wikimedia Commons

Honda vehicles have a reputation for safety and reliability. However, the Honda Pilot, which first appeared on salesroom floors in the early 2000s, has had a more mixed record. The 2003, 2005 and 2016 models in particular had some dissatisfied customers, and they didn’t always live up to the standards set by the car’s manufacturer.

With the release of the 2020 Honda Pilot, you may be wondering if the latest incarnation of the SUV stays true to its brand or disappoints like its black sheep predecessors. There are a few advantages and disadvantages you should understand before committing to buying the latest model.

Comparing 2019 to 2020: What’s Different?

In 2019, Honda refreshed the Pilot inside and out. The powertrain remained unchanged, but the nine-speed transmission and start-stop system were revised significantly. The exterior was also upgraded with new wheels, grille, bumpers, LED headlights and taillights. A hands-free tailgate was also available, and the interior looked similar to the Honda Odyssey.

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Photo Courtesy: Bull-Doser/Wikimedia Commons

On top of that, the infotainment system was updated to fit with the latest HondaLink software and now comes with the CabinControl app, a 4G LTE hotspot, CabinTalk and new rear entertainment. Instead of a volume slider, there is now a volume knob. The rest of the replaced features mimicked the design of the Odyssey, along with Honda Sensing.

Overall, the 2019 Pilot received strong reviews, and the only major difference between the two is a new Black Edition trim with extra gadgets and features. That’s a solid point in the 2020’s favor.

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The Best and Worst Honda Pilot Model Years

Of course, many buyers are likely to opt for an older pilot to save money. In that case, you should know which years to avoid. Number one on that list is the 2003 Pilot, which received over 260 owner complaints over at CarComplaints.com, the most of any year. Considering that the 2003 Pilot was the first model of its line, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s also the worst of its kind. Common complaints have to do high repair costs and the frequency of problems. Even so, the 2003 Pilot’s safety record has been fairly middle-of-the-road — poor compared to the best Hondas, but not particularly bad.

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Photo Courtesy: order_242/Wikimedia Commons

After the 2003 model, the 2005 Honda Pilot has the most complaints at 150+, followed by the 2016 Honda Pilot at 130+ complaints. However, few complaints have anything to do with safety features or reliability. The most common complaints are about interior accessories. Overall, the ignition switch and transmission failure are common problems in Pilots, but neither is overwhelmingly frequent.

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Besides the newer models (2018, 2019, and 2020), which receive little to no negative reviews, the 2008 model is possibly the safest, most reliable Honda Pilot Model. Even after many miles on the road, it tends to perform well. Overall, Honda often receives five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and WhatCar? consistently ranks Honda as one of the best manufacturers, giving them a reliability index of 41 — better than the industry average.

How Does the 2020 Honda Pilot Stack Up?

The 2020 Honda Pilot saw a significant "uh-oh" moment after a recall was issued by the NHTSA due to an issue with the frame not being wholly welded to the unibody, which could mean occupants wouldn’t receive enough protection in a crash. Before the recall, however, the NHTSA rated the 2020 Honda Pilot crash test a five out of five. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ranked both the 2020 and 2019 model as a Top Safety Pick due in part to the driver-assisted safety technology features. Compared to other Honda Pilots, the 2020 model is just as reliable as the previous (2017, 2018, 2019) modern Pilots.

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Overall, the Pilot is comfortable to ride in and responsive, but it may be considered awkward to handle due to its size. On the upside, however, the model saw Honda’s previous transmission issues with other Pilot years finally resolved while keeping the six-speed automatic standard.

How the 2020 Honda Pilot Is Showing its Age

Much of the context we use to evaluate a vehicle comes from the rest of its class. Although the 2020 Honda Pilot is incredible in many ways in a vacuum, it isn’t impressive compared to the rest of its vehicle class. While Honda’s focus on safety and reliability is a plus for many consumers, in the case of the Pilot, it comes at the expense of additional features that many other SUVs have.

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Photo Courtesy: IFCAR/Wikimedia Commons

The Pilot isn’t a bad vehicle, other SUVs, like the Volkswagen Atlas or the Kia Telluride, come with extra creature comforts and are sometimes just as safe and reliable as the 2020 Honda Pilot. Whether those extra features are worth more than the Pilot’s relative safety and distinct reliability depends on which you value more.