As car-like crossovers replace truck-ish SUVs, manufacturers continue to combine the comfort and efficiency of a unibody platform with the capability of body-on-frame construction. Take our long-term 2019 Honda Pilot, for example. Despite its unibody construction, the boxy Honda can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, a figure that matches the body-on-frame Toyota 4Runner’s towing capacity.
Not every Pilot can manage 5,000 pounds. The optional all-wheel-drive system is a must (it comes standard on our Elite trim, but costs $1,900 on any other model), while a dealer-installed tow hitch and accessory transmission cooler are also necessary to max out the tow rating. Without them, the Pilot can only manage a modest 3,500 pounds. Properly equipped, though, the Pilot’s tow rating matches up with competitors like the Chevrolet Traverse, Subaru Ascent, and Toyota Highlander.
To test the Honda’s towing capabilities in a real-world setting, we took advantage of our southern Florida location and towed a pair of very special WaveRunners to our local boat launch to enjoy a day on the water.
Gallery: Honda Pilot Towing Test
Fellow Motorsport Network employee Amanda LeCheminant spends her weekdays as the company’s vice president and general counsel. But on the weekends, she trades her black blazer for a bright pink racing helmet and hits the water on a Yamaha WaveRunner.
Along with her boyfriend, George, the pair compete in endurance races on their RIVA Racing-powered toys, each of which makes over 200 horsepower. Racing at both the Amateur and Pro/Am levels, they travel to races all over the country – though, Miami’s coastal waters provide a more than adequate training ground to stay sharp.
Both watercraft (with full gas tanks), in addition to the double trailer they ride on, weigh somewhere between 3,700 and 3,800 pounds, or roughly 75 percent of our Pilot’s rated towing capacity. Taxing sure, but still far from the Pilot’s limit.
After hitching the trailer up and loading the rear cargo area with watersports essentials (extra life jackets, wet suits, and the like) we set off from Boca Raton, Florida to the ramps in Key Biscayne, a 52-mile journey. With a 3.5-liter V6 putting out 280 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, the Pilot reaches highway speeds with relative ease.
But the extra weight of the trailer and jet skis doesn’t go unnoticed. The Pilot’s V6 has to dig deeper into its rev range to make the most of its available power, which peaks at 6,000 rpm, when passing. Likewise, the 245/50 all-season tires feel overburdened as I turn onto the tight highway onramp that leads us onto Interstate 95.
The extra weight of the trailer and jet skis doesn’t go unnoticed.
On this particular Saturday, the Key Biscayne launch ramp is crowded with families and their watercraft. Once our turn at the ramp arrives, Amanda pops the Pilot’s tailgate open in order to help us back the trailer into the water with as little obstruction to our rearward visibility as possible. Even with all of its standard safety features, Honda does not include a 360-degree camera system with the Pilot, so relying on such technology to navigate down the ramp is not an option. The multi-view camera system would be a welcome asset in situations like this.
Those with boats or personal watercraft know that the launch ramp is not always your friend, as the surface is often slippery from algae. Fortunately, the Pilot’s all-wheel-drive system helps the crossover claw its way back up Key Biscayne’s ramp with ease. Although we didn’t max out the Pilot’s 5,000-pound towing capacity, our adventure leaves me confident in its ability to tow SUV-rivaling loads with little trouble. If you’re like Amanda and George and own a small boat (or camper), then the Pilot should be among the crossovers worthy of your consideration.