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Chicago Auto Show: 2016 Honda Pilot SUV

The new Honda Pilot at the Chicago Auto Show gets away from the boxier, minivan look with new styling.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Ever since the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show (actually the first USA show of the 2015 calendar year) the small SUV or crossover category has been buzzing. Honda is getting on that momentum with the 2016 Honda Pilot arriving at the Chicago Auto Show this week.

That small SUV class dominated LA, with more new models debuting in Detroit at NAIAS 2015. Now, the Pilot is Honda’s shot at snagging some of that urban sports utility dollar, designing a people carrier to get around town comfortably — even if it’s not designed for serious off-roading.

The new Pilot upgrades to a new 3.5 liter direct injection V6 engine with cylinder deactivation technology that Honda shares with sister company Acura. It’s good to see Honda going with the V6 here as other automakers might opt for a four cylinder version amped up with a turbocharger. There’s less risk of the new Pilot to feel underpowered.

Related: Chicago Auto Show: 2016 Acura RDX

That engine  connects to a one of two new transmissions, depending on options and trim levels. A six speed automatic serves the entry level, while a nine speed unit shifts to the high end.

In addition to the  cylinder deactivation system that kills two of the six cylinders in low demand driving to save fuel, the Pilot includes a start-stop system for engines on high trim levels.

The most significant news for the Pilot is the new styling. The older version was boxy, giving the SUV more of a minivan feel. Now, the lines have been lowered and extended, getting away from that van look. In fact, from same angles, the Pilot looks like it has ambitions to be a Land Rover when it grows up someday.

For now, the Pilot is a step forward in aesthetics for Honda and an ambitious shot at keeping the automaker in the hot small SUV business.