Honda Pilot Ground Clearance: What to Know

in Model Info and Features
Honda Pilot parked in a lot

Honda Pilot (third generation) by Alexander Migl CC BY-SA 4.0

For the 2016 model year, the Honda Pilot dropped its rugged, coarse exterior in favor of a more aerodynamic, modern crossover look. But even though the looks don’t scream SUV so much anymore, the capabilities of the Pilot haven’t given up their roots.

It is still a strong SUV with seating for up to eight, a powerful V6 engine, and a suspension that may have gotten a little lower than it used to be, but still stands high enough off the ground for most situations. The Honda Pilot’s ground clearance is 7.3 inches, which we’ll compare to other SUVs and crossovers in its class and help you know what that means.


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What Can You Do in a Honda Pilot?

The Honda Pilot is often seen as an alternative to minivans with its three rows of seating, but it offers more power, nimbler handling, and crossover styling that avoids the stigma associated with driving a minivan. On top of that, the Pilot can tow a respectable 3,500 pounds with its 280 horsepower V6 engine, though you do trade that off with only 20mpg in the city and 27mpg on highways.

The advantage though is that the Honda Pilot’s ground clearance and strong engine means you can take the SUV further off road than any minivan. While 7.3 inches might not be high ground clearance for its class, you should be able to traverse most unpaved paths you find as long as you aren’t trying to blaze your own through thick brush or over large rocks.

The Pilot is mostly meant to stay on the road by design. But you know how rough roads can get if they aren’t well maintained, especially in environments with distinctive seasons subjecting the asphalt and concrete to harsh conditions year-round. And while you should still try to avoid nasty potholes and rippling road surfaces while driving your Pilot, the 7.3 inches of ground clearance and soft suspension should comfortably go over any roads you encounter.

The 7.3 inches also offer enough give for the Pilot to load up its ample cargo space with a heavy payload, or even tow a decent amount. You probably won’t be able to pull a pontoon boat, but a fully loaded 5’x8’ trailer, some ATVs, or a couple of jetskis shouldn’t give you any problems.


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What Can’t You Do in a Honda Pilot?

If you want a Honda car with better off-road capabilities, you might want to look at the Honda Passport. It has a higher ground clearance and is designed to handle rougher terrains. The Pilot can drive on unpaved roads, but you can’t do so without paying close attention to the trail ahead of you.

Small rocks or unkempt vegetation can pose a risk to the undercarriage of the car, so you can’t just blindly take this baby onto the wild side. You should also avoid big slopes as much as you can, especially if you have a rear-wheel drive Pilot, not an all-wheel drive model. The 280 horsepower V6 is no slouch, but you don’t want to find out the hard way that you can’t get enough power to your wheels when you’re going up a steep hill.

You should also know that heavy-duty off-roading is off the table with the pilot. That means no hill climbs or river crossings. You would need a car with more ground clearance and a suspension system and design made for those purposes. Doing so in a 3-row SUV isn’t going to go well.

The Pilot isn’t rated for any fording depth, and Honda advises to avoid deep water. If you’ve seen hurricanes in person or even in a newsreel, you’ve likely seen how little water it takes to sweep a massive SUV away and also heard that you should never cross water that you don’t know the depth of. That advice rings true in cities or in the country, where you don’t want to get stuck in the mud and have your engine flooded or be swept down the river by a deceptively strong current.


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How Does it Compare to the Competition?

In the midsize SUV segment, the Pilot’s ground clearance is on the lower end. Its stands notably lower than its competitors like the Kia Telluride (8 inches), Toyota Highlander (8 inches), the Hyundai Santa Fe (8.2 inches) and Palisade (7.9 inches), its fellow Honda Passport (8.1 inches), and the Ford Explorer (7.9 inches). It is far closer to the ground than the category leaders like the Subaru Ascent (8.7 inches), and Mazda CX 9 (8.8 inches).

It does have a similar ride height to the Chevy Traverse (7.5 inches), but no other cars in the class go as low as 7.3 inches. Its even lower than most compact SUVs. The subcompact SUV class is actually closer competition for the Pilot, as most cars in that class have ground clearances around 7 inches. But even there, options like the Subaru Crosstrek (8.7 inches) and Jeep Renegade (8.7 inches) blow the Honda Pilot ground clearance out of the water.

It is also significantly lower than previous Pilot models. Before the redesign for the 2016 model year, the second generation of Pilots had a ground clearance of 8 inches. So, if you still want a Honda with seating for eight and better off-road capabilities, you can look for a 2015 or earlier Pilot. But the downside to that is the older, worse engine, with only 250 horsepower and a now dismal 18mpg city and 25 mpg highway rating.

The only way the Pilot’s ground clearance compares favorably is if you look at it as an alternative to minivans thanks to its eight seats. It does do way better than the 4.5 inches of ground clearance from the Honda Odyssey, the 5.1 inches of the Chrysler Pacifica, the Nissan Quest’s 6.2 inches, or even the 6.6 inches of ground clearance on the Toyota Sienna. So if a minivan seems too tame to you but a Suburban seems too unwieldy to you, the Pilot might be a good option as long as you aren’t expecting to rough it too much.


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