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QUICK NEWS: 2021 Honda Pilot

QUICK NEWS: 2021 Honda Pilot

On June 3, 2020, Honda released the pre-delivery inspection instructions to dealers for the 2021 Honda Pilot which has not yet been officially announced. Noted on the instructions is the addition of an SE trim level. Traditionally, the addition of an SE (Special Edition) trim level for Honda denotes the last model year of a generation. The SE appears to be positioned above the EX-L and below the Touring trim levels and available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations.

The current, third-generation Honda Pilot was introduced in 2015 as a 2016 model. It was refreshed for the 2019 model year. An all-new, 4th generation 2022 Honda Pilot is expected to go on sale next year. An all-new Ridgeline and Passport may soon follow the Pilot considering the parts commonality between the three models.

2020 Honda Pilot shown – photo provided by Honda



Honda has stopped selling subscriptions to ServiceExpress – their service information website intended for use by owners and independent repair shops. ServiceExpress provided relatively low-cost access to repair information, owner’s manuals, accessory information, and a parts catalog and offered searches by subject or keyword. Subscriptions to ServiceExpress were $10 per day, $50 per month, or $350 per year.


Access to service information now requires a subscription to Honda’s Service Information System which costs $25 per day, $125 per month, or $1,250 per year – increases of 250% to 347% over ServiceExpress. The Service Information System was previously intended for use by Honda dealers, but could be purchased by anyone.


Honda states on their website, “In an effort to provide the best experience for our subscribers, American Honda has chosen to maintain one service information website – Service Information System (SIS). SIS offers users expanded search capabilities as well as Tool Integration. We will no longer be selling subscriptions to ServiceExpress.”

The cost of the Service Information System also increased from $20 to $25 per day, from $100 to $125 per month, and from $1,000 to $1,250 per year. The cost for the i-HDS diagnostic software subscription increased from $10 to $30 per day, from $133 to $200 per month, and from $1,547 to $1,800 per year. The i-HDS subscription is the required software component of the Honda Diagnostic System (the Honda-specific scan tool used by Honda dealers). A hardware interface is also required. Subscriptions for Vehicle Security Professionals such as locksmiths, insurers, and members of law enforcement increased by the same amounts.


Subscriptions including information such as removal/installation procedures, diagnostic procedures, wiring diagrams, component locations, specifications, system descriptions, and service bulletins are available here.

While these increased prices are still competitive with offerings from some other automakers, they represent a dramatic increase in the cost to obtain information necessary to learn more about or repair your Honda. Manufacturers continue to move from printed, one-time purchases of service information to subscription-only models. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the increasing cost of service information and the tools and equipment necessary to repair modern vehicles.




I’m dating myself here, but when I started driving, a vehicle that had an automatic transmission, air conditioner, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and a cassette player was considered “loaded”. Add in power locks and windows and you had a “hard loaded” model. If you had remote keyless entry and anti-lock brakes, you had a luxury car. These days, all of those features and more are ubiquitous. Most of us wouldn’t think about buying a new vehicle without air conditioning. Having to roll down a window by turning a crank is considered an embarrassing hardship!

I recently had the rare opportunity to experience a base model Honda CR-V. It hasn’t been too many years ago that a base model vehicle was equipped with only minimum levels of safety equipment and very few comfort or convenience items. The CR-V LX is a base model that I could actually enjoy.

Manufacturers typically populate their press fleets with the highest trim level of each model which gives the reviewers an opportunity to evaluate all of a vehicle’s features and experience the best a model has to offer. While the top trim levels may be the fastest, best looking, and have the most features, most buyers don’t choose those higher-priced trims. Instead, they opt for the lower-cost middle and lower trims.


From the outside, there’s little to distinguish a base LX from a top-of-the-line Touring trim aside from black door handles and some black trim pieces instead of body-colored or chrome. Even the LX has nice-looking alloy wheels instead of the plastic wheel covers that are common on entry-level trims. Unless a person is a Honda CR-V aficionado, they’re unlikely to identify the LX as a base model.


I’m accustomed to driving vehicles that automatically unlock when you grab the door handles, so it took me a moment to realize the CR-V LX isn’t equipped with such a feature. I had to pull the remote out of my pocket and push a button before I was granted access to the inside if the CR-V.


Once inside, the differences in materials and features become more apparent. I was expecting to see a boring, monochromatic interior filled with the same color and texture of hard plastic. To my pleasant surprise, I found a durable-looking and comfortable cloth seat material, with contrasting plastic textures and colors.

The next step was starting the vehicle. I instinctively reached for a start button, but there wasn’t one. I would need a physical key before getting any further. Unfortunately, I had placed the remote back into my pocket after unlocking the door and was now forced to dig back into my pocket for the magic key for a second time. One thing I like about the ”old” key-based system in the LX is that I can shut then engine off while still listening to the radio or talking over Bluetooth. On the higher trims with pushbutton start, you have to shut everything off then push the start button again without pressing the brake pedal to put the vehicle into accessory mode which drops the Bluetooth connection and reboots the audio system.


Finally, the hard part was over! I turned the key and the CR-V’s venerable 2.4L non-turbocharged engine started breathing on its own with a familiar sound shared with Honda models of yore. It quietly and smoothly idled with refinement and precision as I familiarized myself with the other controls. The gauges are a combination of analog and monochrome digital instead of the color LCD display used on higher trims, but all the information you need is there – including a trip computer.

There are no power seats in the LX, but the driver’s seat is manually adjustable in all the normal ways including for height and recline. Most vehicles I’ve owned have had power seats and once I set them that’s where they stay…forever. Admittedly, I’m usually the only driver, but even in situations where there are multiple drivers, it’s actually faster to pull a lever and move the seat manually than it is to push a button and wait for electric motors to do the job.


Power door locks, windows, and mirrors are standard. The steering wheel adjusts for height and also telescopes. The cloth-covered center armrest slides forward. Although the vanity mirrors on the visors aren’t lighted, at least it has mirrors so you don’t have to yank down the rearview mirror or stare creepily into the side mirrors while picking spinach out of your teeth.


Once I found a comfortable driving position, it was time to set a comfortable temperature. The CR-V LX is equipped with automatic climate control so you just set your desired temperature and let it do the rest. It’s only a single-zone system, but as long as both the driver and passenger are warm-blooded creatures, that shouldn’t present too much of a problem. Besides, who wants to deal with a thunderstorm in the middle of a vehicle where the cold and warm fronts meet! There are A/C vents on the back of the center console and heater ducts under the front seats for rear passengers.


Next comes the audio system. With large touch screens and satellite radio being so common these days, the small color display in the CR-V’s AM/FM-only audio system felt neutered. Pairing my phone to the vehicle via Bluetooth was easy. Bluetooth works for both phone calls and music, so I was able to listen my music library and stream my favorite stations. After some adjustments to the bass, midrange, and treble, I was pleasantly surprised just how good the base-level audio system sounds. A pair of tweeters mounted higher up would be a welcome addition, but I found the sound quality to be more than adequate for phone calls, audiobooks, podcasts, and casual music listening.


One of the primary reasons for purchasing an SUV is cargo capacity. You won’t be fitting any 4×8 sheets of plywood in the back of a CR-V, but you could possibly shoehorn a 75” TV in the back at a creative angle. If you are interested saving money on a hotel, couples up to 6 feet tall can fit in the rear with the back seats folded down and the head rests turned around to serve as pillows. And, not that it’s necessarily related, but there’s an actual spare tire instead of an inflator kit back there! 



With everything adjusted to my liking, it was time for takeoff. I placed the dash-mounted shift lever in reverse and was greeted by a small, but clear rearview image on the audio system’s color screen. The guidelines are fixed rather than dynamic, but at least you can see what you’re about to back into. Once I had the nose pointed in the right direction, I shifted to drive and pressed the accelerator pedal. The CR-V’s continuously variable transmission brought the vehicle to cruising speed with no drama whatsoever. Unlike some, I’ve always appreciated the shiftless feel and efficiency of.a CVT – particularly for relaxed driving. Sure, I wouldn’t have one in a sports car or rock crawler, but that’s not what the CR-V is all about.

The 2019 CR-V LX is the last Honda model available with the 2.4L non-turbocharged engine, so if you’re not a fan of turbochargers, you better grab one while you can. Power and performance from the 2.4L/CVT combination is more than adequate for city driving and cruising on the highway at all legal speeds. However, passing at highway speeds results in less progress than the noise suggests, so allow yourself plenty of distance to overtake.

The ride is on the firm side, yet comfortable and far from harsh. Steering is precise and direct, although it’s slightly heavier than I would prefer in parking lots. The CR-V remains surprisingly flat in corners – almost…sporty.


Overall, the CR-V LX is a very comfortable compact SUV that is easy to live with even for a base model. It’s got everything you really need and even a few things that you don’t. I find a certain charm in its simplicity.

For the 2020 model year, all CR-V trims have revised front and rear styling and gain idle-stop technology which can be temporarily disabled. The 1.5L turbocharged engine, which offers better low-end torque and a 2 MPG increase in fuel economy, replaces the 2.4L engine in the LX. Honda Sensing and a color driver information interface are now standard for 2020 as well. 

The 2019 CR-V LX starts at $25,570 including destination. The 2020 CR-V LX starts at $26,170. That’s an increase of $600 – not bad for Honda Sensing with its adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking system, automatic high beams, and other safety features along with the color LCD driver information interface, turbocharged engine, and increased fuel economy.


Do you prefer the simplicity and lower cost of a base model, the luxuries and safety features on higher trims, or do you fall somewhere in between?



The refreshed 2020 Honda Ridgeline exchanges its 6-speed automatic transmission for a 9-speed unit and introduces paddle shifters and idle stop. A pushbutton shifter replaces a traditional shift lever and a traditional battery has been replaced by an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) model. The tailgate can be locked and the number of trim levels have been reduced. Honda’s 8″ Display Audio system is now standard on all trims. The rear doors open wider and Honda Sensing becomes standard across the board. Prices increase by as little as $100 to as much as $2,050 depending on model.


The RT and RTL-T trims have been dropped which simplifies the lineup. The RT trim allowed Honda to advertise a lower starting price for the Ridgeline, but despite this, it was one of the least-popular trim levels. The RTL-T was more popular than the RT, but the fully-loaded RTL-E model was arguably the better value with its list of additional safety, comfort, and convenience features. For 2020, the Ridgeline is available in Sport, RTL, RTL-E, and Black Edition trims.


The outgoing Honda designed-and-built 6-speed automatic proved to be smooth and reliable in many Honda models over the years. The ZF 9HP 9-speed automatic that has replaced it in the 2020 Ridgeline drew some criticism for shift timing and feel in other applications. Over time, Honda has made changes to address these complaints and based on my time driving 2019 Pilots and Passports equipped with the 9-speed automatic, I’d say these changes have been mostly effective.

One of the best features of the 9-speed automatic is the introduction of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters which allow for manual gear selection. Some situations where this feature comes in handy are engine braking, spirited driving, and downshifting while anticipating a pass. The 9-speed has a considerably lower first gear ratio and a higher top gear ratio than the 6-speed.

Routine maintenance on the 9-speed is more expensive than the 6-speed due to a more complex fluid replacement procedure and the cost of the fluid itself. Fortunately, transmission fluid changes are one of the least-frequent maintenance items. Honda recommends changing the fluid when prompted by the Maintenance Minder under normal conditions, but recommends changing it every 30,000 miles if you regularly drive at low speeds in mountainous areas or tow a trailer.

04 2020 Honda Ridgeline-1200x6452020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E with black leather interior


Another change to the 2020 Ridgeline is the addition of idle stop – a fuel-saving feature that temporarily stops the engine while the vehicle is stopped and restarts it as you release the brake pedal. I find that Honda’s latest models with idle stop restart quickly, quietly, and smoothly enough, although this feature can be disabled until the next time you restart the engine with the press of a button. An amber indicator light will illuminate in the gauge cluster when you have turned off the idle stop feature.


The 2017-2019 Ridgeline had a curiously-limited rear door opening. Many owners took it upon themselves to replace their rear door checkers with those designed for the front doors to allow the rear doors to open wider. Honda must have listened, because wider-opening rear doors are one of the improvements to the 2020 Ridgeline.


Previously, only the RTL-E and Black Edition trims were equipped with Honda Sensing which includes Lane Keeping Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Adaptive Cruise Control. For 2020, Honda Sensing is now standard on all Ridgelines. The Blind Spot Information System and Rear Cross-Traffic Monitor are still exclusive to the RTL-E and Black Edition trims. Honda’s LaneWatch camera which was standard only on the RTL-T is in no longer available on the Ridgeline since that trim has been discontinued. For 2020, the Collision Mitigation Braking System now turns back on every time you start the engine. Previously, the feature would stay off if turned off.

2017 Honda Ridgeline - 014-1200x800Honda Ridgeline In-Bed Trunk


Despite three more gears and the addition of idle stop, fuel economy estimates for the 2WD models are unchanged at 19 city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. AWD models improve by 1 MPG to 19 in the city, but lose 1 MPG to 24 on the highway for an unchanged combined rating of 21.


Previously, the lower trim levels were equipped with a Color Audio system that had a 5″ non-touch color screen, but did have a rotary volume knob. The upper trim levels were equipped with a Display Audio system featuring an 8″ touch screen, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. For 2020, the 8″ Display Audio system is installed in all trims, although navigation is included only on the RTL-E and Black Edition. The 8″ Display Audio system still lacks a rotary volume knob that has since returned to other Honda models.


When the second generation Ridgeline was introduced for 2017, there was no tailgate lock available from Honda forcing owners to seek aftermarket solutions. Since then, a genuine Honda tailgate lock accessory became available. The 2020 Ridgeline’s tailgate now has the ability to lock and unlock with the doors. This setting is disabled by default, but can be enabled through the touch screen.

2018 Ridgeline 143-1200x800Honda Ridgeline Dual-Action Tailgate


The two-setting rocker switches for the heated seats have been replaced by three-setting pushbutton switches. While a third heat setting may be of limited value, the seat heaters will now come on automatically during a remote start when it’s cold just like the heated steering wheel – you no longer have to leave the seat heater switch on when exiting the vehicle.


While the wheel designs remain the same, the RTL-E’s wheels are now solid gray instead of the two-tone black and machined finish. The Sport trim is now also available in Modern Steel Metallic while Pacific Pewter Metallic replaces Forest Mist Metallic. Platinum White Pearl continues as a replacement for White Diamond Pearl following a running change during the 2019 model year.


Price increases are reasonable for the Sport trim at $510 for the 2WD and $850 for the AWD considering the addition of paddle shifters, a touch screen, the Honda Sensing suite of safety and convenience features, and a locking tailgate. The RTL trims increase the most by $1,800 for the 2WD and $2,050 for the AWD. The RTL-E and Black Edition increase by only $100 – that’s less than the price of a tailgate lock alone. The 2020 Honda Ridgeline starts at $34,995 including destination and tops out at $44,615 for the Black Edition.

All photos courtesy of Honda

2018 Honda Civic Type R – The R is for RIOT!

2018 Honda Civic Type R – The R is for RIOT!

At the 2018 Texas Auto Roundup I had the pleasure of driving menagerie of great cars around the track at Eagle’s Canyon Raceway in Decatur, Texas. As the day wore on and the laps added up, I made a short list of the cars which were most exciting to drive. The 2018 Civic Type R has to be among the top three.


In a previous article, I said the 2017 Civic Si could be the best Civic yet. Well That was before I had a turn in the 2018 Type R. I drove it and the 2018 Golf R practically back to back. Honda’s Type R is the clear winner for fun. However, the Golf may be a better choice for those who appreciate a less shouty aesthetic. While the Type R is $10k more than the Civic Si, it seems like a bargain when you put your foot down or chuck it into a corner. The $13k separation between the Golf GTI and the Golf R is a little less dramatic.

The in-your-face looks are a departure from the typical understated Honda styling. Its brash appearance almost beg for descent from on-lookers. The canted LED headlights glare at on-comers as if to say, “I look wild as hell, what are you gonna do about it?” It’s the vehicular equivalent of a punk rock band.  It’s fast, it’s loud, and until you understand it you may not like it. This car makes zero apologies.


Photo Credit: Kevin McCauley 


The crazy looking exhaust makes a little more sense when you understand what’s going on with the triple tailpipes. The center pipe is fitted with a resonator. At lower RPMs you’ll hear more exhaust noise. However, when the exhaust pressure increases at higher speeds, more of the exhaust gasses are routed through the mufflers to each side. This eliminates drone on the highway.

I’d still like a pair of tips or maybe a big central outlet like the one on the Si. The over-the-top aero bits affixed to the back back of the car look garish at first glance, as if e a 17 year old boy had final say at the design meeting. But Honda is quick to assure us that all those wings and gills add up to some real downforce.



Inside, the high-bolstered, bright red, Type R front seats are plenty comfortable for a long commute. Drivers are rewarded with quality materials like a leather wrapped wheel and aluminum shift knob. Below the shifter, mounted in the console, there’s a metal plaque with the car’s serial number printed on it. There’s ample trunk space behind the rear seat which can be folded forward to almost double the cargo area. What other is so much fun to drive and has this level of practicality? Driver and passengers can both appreciate the dual-zone automatic climate control and 540-watt stereo with Apple CarPlay controlled with a seven-inch touchscreen in the dash.


Honda engineers manage to wring 306hp out of the 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder. This power makes its way to the ground through a six-speed trans, and limited slip differential. Stirring the gears in Honda’s excellent six-speed manual is a treat. When shifting down to power out of a corner, the Type R automatically blips the throttle to rev match for the down shift. The sprint from zero to 60 mph is a brief 4.9 seconds. Thanks to oversized Brembo brakes, you can brake deep into corners .


Photo Credit: Kevin McCauley 

Unlike the all-wheel-drive Golf R, the Type R puts down all that power through the front wheels exclusively. Typically, when front-wheel drive systems are forced to cope with this kind of power they become difficult to manage. Honda engineers must have worked some kind of magic under the front of the Type R because torque steer is all but absent. There was only the slightest waggle in the wheel when accelerating hard over uneven surfaces. This is not a knock against the Type R, I think it’s what known as feedback. 


In my heart, there’s a tie for most fun drive. I drove this car and the Dodge Hellcat Widebody on the same day. It’s like picking between lovers. They’re both a whole lot of fun in different ways. The Hellcat is certainly the winner for horsepower and downright insanity. Insanity can be fun for awhile, but you don’t marry crazy. Deep down, I know which one we’d put a ring on.

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting older, but if I had to take just one home, it would be the four-door Civic Type R. It’s half the price of the Hellcat at $35k, it’s hilariously fun to drive, I can get a carseat in it and it gets great gas mileage. Oh yeah, and it probably won’t kill me in my sleep.