In an increasingly competitive and ultra-crowded midsize SUV segment, the Honda Pilot is celebrating its 19th anniversary with the 2021 model year. This is expected to be the last year of the Pilot’s current generation, which is likely why Honda released a new special edition — aptly named the SE for Special Edition.
While it seems that all-new and newly-redesigned SUVs are announced every month, the veteran Honda Pilot took a more low-key approach for 2021. It added a number of new subtle but very desirable features, while also keeping many of the things that drivers have come to love about Honda.
The brand that’s renowned for winning awards, including one from Kelley Blue Book for, well, winning awards, does an excellent job of making safe, reliable vehicles, loading them with standard safety and convenience features, and keeping them affordable.
True to form, the 2021 Honda Pilot will pleasantly surprise shoppers with several newly-added robust standard features at an extremely modest price increase.
The 2021 Honda Pilot: what’s new
The most notable change in 2021 for the Honda Pilot is the addition of a new mid-level trim, the SE. It slots in between the EX-L and Touring models and includes primarily cosmetic upgrades.
Because the Pilot wasn’t redesigned for 2021, there are no changes to the body, interior, color options, or engine. According to Car and Driver, there’s still just one engine across the lineup: a 3.5-liter V6 with 280 hp that’s capable of towing up to 5,000 pounds.
However, Honda did make a noteworthy drivetrain change, adding a nine-speed automatic transmission across all models. Previously, this transmission was only available on Touring models and above while lower-end Pilots had a six-speed transmission.
Interestingly, industry critics widely preferred the six-speed transmission. As MotorTrend wrote, “Even after Honda tweaked the transmission for the 2019 model year, it still remained not quite as smooth as we’d like it to be.”
Other new-for-2021 standard features in the Honda Pilot include dual-zone automatic climate control, an automatic engine start-and-stop system, and paddle shifters. The top-of-the-line Pilot Black Edition also got a new paint option, Platinum White Pearl.
Pick a Pilot, any Pilot
There are now seven Honda Pilot trims to choose from. All except the Elite and Black Edition come standard with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is an available $2,000 upgrade. With base prices ranging from just over to $33,000 to north of $50,000, the most similarly-priced SUVs in the segment are the Chevy Traverse and Toyota Highlander.
Although the SE trim is new for 2021 and includes many desirable features such as roof rails, wireless device charging, and 20-inch black wheels, critics seem to prefer the EX-L model. Edmunds called the EX-L “the best value,” citing its sunroof, hands-free power liftgate, leather seats, and second-row sunshades.
- LX – $33,370, an increase of $725 from 2020
- EX – $36,050, an increase of $525 from 2020
- EX-L – $39,480, an increase of $525 from 2020
- SE – $40,080
- Touring – $44,040, an increase of $325 from 2020
- Elite – $49,540, an increase of $325 from 2020
- Black Edition – $51,040, an increase of $325 from 2020
What about the 2020 Honda Pilot?
Despite the new changes to the 2021 Honda Pilot, the 2020 Pilot certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. It comes standard with Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced safety and driver-assist features including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and more. The 2020 Honda Pilot was also named an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Whether you buy a 2020 Pilot or opt for the 2021 Pilot with its newly added features is entirely up to personal preference, but ultimately you can’t go wrong either way.