Honda’s mid-size SUV is more than just a family hauler

The Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally is a mid-size SUV that doubles as an off-road adventure marauder. Created to compete in the 2018 Rebelle Rally, the modified Pilot competed in the Crossover Class, finishing fifth overall behind the driving and guidance of the “Desert Dreamers” team that’s made up of Honda product planner, Ariel Jen, and senior fabricator, Melanie Morimoto. The Pilot Rebelle Rally is headed to the 2018 SEMA Auto Show where Honda plans to showcase the aftermarket possibilities that can happen with its mid-size SUV.

What makes the Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally special

2018 Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally Exterior
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The Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally isn’t your typical aftermarket build. It’s actually not even an aftermarket build, at least not in the traditional sense of the phrase.

The Pilot Rebelle Rally is a lightly tuned adventure racer that was created specifically for the purpose of competing in the 2018 Rebelle Rally, the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the U.S.

Honda fielded two teams in the race with women who work for the automaker in various capacities. The Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally was piloted by the California-based “Desert Dreamers” tandem of product planner, Ariel Jen, and senior fabricator, Melanie Morimoto. Using only compasses and paper maps, Jen and Morimoto piloted — no pun intended — the tuned mid-size SUV to a fifth-place finish in the Crossover Class of the race. Finishing one spot ahead of the Desert Dreamers was the Ohio-based “Ridgeline Rebels” that featured a 2018 Honda Ridgeline that was driven by engine test engineer, Maria Guitar, and vehicle safety test engineer, Michelle Klein.

2018 Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally Exterior
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The Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally did well for itself despite carrying minimal modifications. While it does look the part of a racer with the fancy color and matching graphics and decals, the Pilot Rebelle Rally featured a stock drivetrain that includes the factory engine, transmission, and the i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system.

The only upgrades it received were the custom skid plates, raised suspension, a new set of off-road tires, and additional storage in the interior to accommodate the spare tires and other safety equipment.

That’s the extent of the modifications received by the Pilot Rebelle Rally.

Even with an almost-stock Pilot and a number of obstacles along the way, Jen and Morimoto pushed through to its impressive finish in the Crossover Class of the racing event. "There would be times where I’d be absolutely terrified, but we just had to go for it and do something because there was no other option," Jen said in a statement after the race. "When it’s just you out there with nothing else, and things go wrong, you can’t dwell on the problem. You need to figure out a solution and move forward."

Ultimately, the Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally’s importance isn’t so much about the tuning bits it received as it is a testament to the challenges that Honda and its female employees are all willing to take.

"Participating in the Rebelle Rally showed me that there is freedom in taking risks, failing, and learning from your mistakes," Kleim said. "As Mr. Honda said, ’Instead of being afraid of the challenge and failure, be afraid of avoiding the challenge and doing nothing.’”

2018 Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally Exterior
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If you happen to check out the Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally at the 2018 SEMA Auto Show, you now know that it’s not there to showcase the SUV’s latest tuning chops. It’s there as a reminder that it successfully passed the Rebelle Rally with flying colors with two female Honda employees driving it.

Further Reading

5 Points Honda Had To Address To Make The 2019 Honda Pilot The Best Pilot Ever
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Read our full review on the 2016-2019 Honda Pilot.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert -
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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If Las Vegas is a city where anything goes, then the wild-looking Honda Rugged Open Air Vehicle Concept will fit right in. Joining the radical headlining vehicle, Honda’s other products on display will reinforce its commitment to on-road and off-road performance enthusiasts. Roadracing fans will get a thrill from the Honda Civic Type R TCR race car on display, recently driven by Ryan Eversley to Honda’s inaugural TCR Championship in the Pirelli World Challenge series. Off-road fans can take in the 2019 Honda Pilot recently driven more than 1,700 miles through the Nevada and California deserts during the Rebelle Rally. Also on display will be a fully accessorized 2019 Honda Insight, the Honda Ridgeline Overland Expedition, four motorcycles from Honda Powersports including the 2019 model year rebirth of the iconic Super Cub and Monkey and, for Honda’s youngest enthusiasts, the First Honda pedal car.

Honda Rugged Open Air Vehicle Concept
For information about this unique concept vehicle, attend the Honda press conference at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 at booth 24887 in the south-west corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall. Or, visit at the same time where a press release, images and video will be available for viewing and download.

Honda Civic Type R TCR
Honda driver Ryan Eversley piloted this Honda Civic Type R TCR with RealTime Racing to the inaugural TCR Championship in the Pirelli World Challenge series this year. Eversley and his Honda Civic Type R TCR dominated the series with five wins and 11 podium finishes in the 12-race season. Based on the immensely popular Honda Civic Type R, the TCR version boasts numerous upgrades, resulting in 340 horsepower from the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. The Type R TCR also features a sequential 6-speed manual gearbox with a JAS twin-disc sintered-metallic clutch and paddle shifters. Other race-only modifications were made for safety considerations and to suspension and brake components to turn the already impressive Civic Type R into an all-out racecar.

THR-W Honda Civic Type R
Following last year’s successful run in showroom stock form, the Team Honda Research West (THR-W) racing team returns to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. This year however, their Honda Civic Type R benefits from numerous race-bred upgrades, upping the ante with more horsepower and race-ready brakes and suspension. With engine modifications that include a custom intake system from Injen, ECU tuning by Hondata, and a racing down pipe and custom titanium exhaust system by RV-6, the THR-W Type R now puts out 380 horsepower. The suspension has been race-prepped with H&R racing springs and HPD World Challenge-spec adjustable dampers, new Paragon 6-piston brake calipers and 355mm rotors, and BF Goodrich R1 tires. Aerodynamic enhancements include a THR-W front splitter, a Honda Genuine Accessories full carbon rear wing, and carbon fiber hood and hatch from Seibon. Following a strict grams-counting diet plan, this year’s Type R comes in 200 pounds lighter compared to last year’s car.

Team Honda Research West is the West Coast arm of Honda’s grassroots road racing team. Founded in 1996 as a club team, THR-W embodies the Honda Racing Spirit while advancing associates’ technical skills and knowledge.

F3 Americas Race Car
Powered by a special version of the Civic Type R’s 2.0-liter DOHC VTEC® Turbo engine, Kyle Kirkwood has driven his Abel Motorsports Liger Crawford JS to the winner’s circle in almost every race this season. The Formula 3 America series follows on from the Formula 4 United States Championship, allowing competitors and other aspiring racers the next level of open-wheel competition. Combining affordability, modern technology, and the ability to obtain FIA Super License points, the F3 Americas series aligns with the global FIA development ladder philosophy of using common components to provide a cost-efficient, reliable, and powerful racing structure as drivers ascend through the levels on their way to North American, or Global, racing success.

Honda Pilot Rebelle Rally
Honda R&D Americas (HRA) associates Ariel Jen and Melanie Morimoto recently completed the Rebelle Rally in this lightly modified 2019 Honda Pilot SUV. The all-women navigation rally runs 1,700 miles and 8-days across the deserts of California and Nevada, with driver and navigator only allowed a compass and a map as their guide. The 2019 Honda Pilot featured a stock drivetrain, using the factory engine, transmission, and i-VTM4™ all-wheel drive system for the duration of the journey. The only modifications made were for additional durability and safety performance, including custom skid plates, extra ground clearance, off-road tires, and an interior modified for additional storage of spare tires and other equipment.

Honda Ridgeline Overland Project
The Honda Ridgeline Overland Project incorporates multiple upgrades and modifications to turn the 2019 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition into the ultimate overland adventure vehicle. Working with Honda outfitter Jsport Performance Accessories, the Ridgeline Overlander’s extensive modifications are meant to bolster Ridgeline’s off-road and overlanding capability, without compromising its on-road comfort, and will soon be available for purchase. The additional skid plates, off-road wheels and tires, and leveling kit are all designed to help Ridgeline make the most of its i-VTM4™ four-wheel drive system when driving off-road. JSport sidesteps make it easier to access the versatile new Plateau roof rack system, while the Mesa bed rack maximizes cargo flexibility. Mounted in the Plateau roof rack is a lightweight, quiet and powerful Honda EU2200i generator for powering any electrical accessories your overland excursions require.

2019 Honda Insight
The all-new 2019 Honda Insight hybrid offers a superior driving experience, comfortable interior, and high-end looks, all while receiving up to a 55 mpg city rating1. Like all Honda products, Insight is available with a long list of dealer-installed accessories, many of which are showcased on the Insight on display this year at SEMA. Included on the Insight are various additional interior lighting, such as door sill, door panel and foot illumination for a more custom look. The display Insight also includes 17-inch SBK wheels, fog lights, front and rear chrome bumper trim, and black front bumper trim. All accessories are available from Honda dealers nationwide.

First Honda Pedal Car
Inspired by the Honda Project 2&4 concept race car shown at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, the First Honda pedal car concept explores ideas to inspire kids to be enthusiasts for the Honda brand. The pedal car is compact, about 47 inches long, 24 inches high and 22 inches wide, and incorporates carbon fiber construction in its floor and rear "diffuser." Though pedal powered, the First Honda also contains a rechargeable lithium ion battery to power lights, and even recharge a cell phone in the snack compartment under the "hood." Built by Honda Accessory America, the First Honda also uses 18-inch alloy wheels from the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.

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