It now comes standard with a dual-overhead-cam design.
The 2023 Honda Pilot is finally available, but hardcore car nerds might be disappointed to hear the 3.5-liter V6 engine no longer features the famous VTEC system. Instead of carrying over the well-known single-overhead-cam (SOHC VTEC) system from the J35Y6 V6, the revamped V6 has a dual-overhead-cam design. As first reported by Car and Driver, the variable valves are gone, and as we found out during the launch drive, you no longer get that distinct switchover sound.
It might not seem like a big deal to the uninitiated, but this is the first time since the original NSX that Honda has deviated from the naturally-aspirated SOHC design. The changes to the engine were significant enough for an entirely new engine code, which is J35Y8.
The most significant change to the new engine is the DOHC heads borrowed from the turbocharged V6 Acura TLX and MDX Type S models. Honda incorporated the cam bearing caps into the valve cover, lobbing 1.2 inches of the head's height.
As for the rest of the engine, it's pretty much the same. The bore, stroke, 60-degree bank angle, and 11.5:1 compression ratio are the same as before. The power gain is just five horsepower (up from 280 hp), while torque remains the same at 262 lb-ft. Peak power now arrives 100 rpm later at 6,100 rpm, while peak torque has been pushed to 5,000 rpm. The average Pilot customer will likely not notice the difference.
Honda also carried the timing belt over, which needs to be replaced at the same 100,000-mile interval.
One of the biggest updates with the new motor design is that valve lash adjustments are also a thing of the past, thanks to new hydraulic lifters. The valves are depressurized when the load is low, keeping the car in the three-cylinder valve deactivation mode. Honda also boosted the injection pressure by 50%, which allows up to three fuel injections per cycle.
The new engine can also adjust the intake and exhaust timing continually in real-time. This means the engine complies with current US regulations until 2030, which means it will likely find its way into all upcoming models that continue to use the older engine. It'll do the job until Honda makes the inevitable switchover to EVs.
With the new cam and valvetrain setup, the customary VTEC switchover is no longer present. We love it in the Honda S2000, but in a relaxed car like the Pilot, we can see why the new system is preferable.
But given the insignificant gains in performance, why bother with such extensive changes at all?
The new Pilot has a Super ultra-low emissions vehicle (SULEV30) rating. This rating system was established in the USA and was primarily used in California. Since 2018, a minimum percentage of vehicles sold in the state must meet SULEV30 or SULEV20 standards. California has since implemented even stricter measures and will eventually ban all ICE sales by 2035.
The new V6 emits 40% to 50% less NOx, thanks to these changes, but is slightly less frugal. According to Honda, the new Pilot consumes 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined with FWD, 19/25/21 mpg with AWD, and 18/23/20 mpg in TrailSport guise. The old model used 20/27/23 mpg in FWD and 19/26/22 mpg in AWD.
Still, the new linear power delivery, combined with the new 10-speed automatic, results in a more relaxing driving experience on all surfaces and circumstances, including hauling an entire family or towing the maximum of 5,000 pounds.
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