Honda has added another sport utility vehicle to its lineup, and another SUV will join the Japanese automakers roster in early 2003. The Pilot went on sale in early June as a 2003 model. The new Pilot is not too big, not too small, according to Richard Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda. We expect the Pilot to redefine the segment, he said during the Pilots unveiling at Detroits North American International Auto Show in January 2002.
Slotted between the compact CR-V and the larger Passport, the Pilot is not meant to replace either of these SUVs. But the Passport has been dropped from the lineup. The Pilot is designed more as a truck, Colliver said, adding that it is more rugged than the MDX offered by Acura, Hondas luxury division.
Target buyers are approximately 40 years old and likely to be married with three children. These customers want traditional SUV toughness and strengths, which include an active, adventurous image, says Project Leader Frank Paluch. Honda says the Pilot is the ultimate family adventure vehicle, which promises the largest passenger and cargo-hauling capacity in its class and an abundance of storage space and compartments inside. The automaker claims that the Pilots VTM-4 (Variable Torque Management 4WD) drive system combines the best of four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive.
Prices (including destination charges) start at $26,900 for the LX model and $29,270 for the upscale EX. Half of all Pilots produced will sell for less than $30,000. By adding a navigation or video entertainment system, the cost escalates to more than $32,000. The new SUV is produced in Allison, Ontario, Canada. Honda expects to sell approximately 80,000 units in the United States during the vehicles first year on the market.
Hondas other all-new SUV for 2003 is the Element, which is based on the Model X concept vehicle that appeared at auto shows in 2001. The Element is scheduled to reach dealerships in December 2002.
Only modest bodyside cladding is used on the Pilot, which exhibits a clean look. The company says the Pilots styling is based on Pelicans heavy-duty storage cases, and it follows a Pacific Northwest theme. So-called classic SUV proportions include upright roof pillars and a large greenhouse area that yields what Honda calls panoramic views for all occupants. The hood slopes down to a wide grille that contains an H logo, which is flanked by wraparound headlights. Honda claims that the Pilot is the most aerodynamic vehicle in its class, which would provide obvious boosts in both performance and fuel economy. All models have body-colored bumpers, and the EX adds body-colored side moldings.
Unibody construction includes front and rear subframes. Equipped with a fully independent suspension, the Pilot has an 8-inch ground clearance for offroad treks. Its also promoted for having the widest wheel track the distance between the left and right wheels in its class. The tires measure P235/70R16, and cast-aluminum wheels are available on the EX model.
Eight passengers fit inside the Pilot, with its 60/40-split seats in the second and third rows. Both seats can be folded down to yield greater storage capacity. Theater seating is used to provide a better view for rear occupants. Leather trim is optional in the EX edition.
Walk-in capability lets passengers easily access the interior next to the second-row seat. A 4-foot-wide sheet of plywood will fit flat on the floor in the cargo area. Cargo space totals 90.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The spare tire can be lowered without removing any cargo.
Honda says the Pilots interior styling follows a backpack concept. Laid out in what Honda calls a high-tech sporty style, the beveled, three-gauge instrument panel is based on the design of a chronometer watch. The front console contains a dedicated phone pocket, 12-volt power outlet and movable cupholder. A childrens Activity Tray goes in the second row.
Options include a satellite-linked DVD-based navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, but only one of these units can be installed in each vehicle. The navigation system includes a bread crumbs provision for offroad work, which guides the driver back to the starting point.
Under the Hood
Hondas 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine, which is also used in the MDX, produces 240 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque and runs on regular fuel. A column-mounted lever controls the five-speed-automatic transmission, which has Grade Logic Control. The VTM-4, full-time 4WD system includes an electronically locking differential that produces maximum traction in extremely slippery conditions; a transfer case is not used. The Pilot can tow a 4,500-pound boat.
All-disc antilock brakes and an intelligent front-passenger airbag that works with an Occupant Position Detection System are standard. Seat belt pretensioners and headrests are installed in all eight seating positions.
Honda has done just about everything right with its Pilot, and the company has yet another strong contender for the early 21st century. The Pilots solidity is evident from the first moments of driving. Carlike traits are immediately noticeable, and the vehicles slightly heavy feel is mixed with considerable overall refinement.
The Pilots performance is strong and confident, if not exactly blistering. But this is an SUV and not a sports car. The SUVs response is quick, easy and seamless from the engine and automatic transmission.
The firm seats are very supportive, but some drivers may prefer the seat bottoms to be a bit longer. A large speedometer is simple to read, and the tachometer sits to its left. The radio sits fairly high and is equipped with well-marked controls that arent in the traditional layout. The climate controls are low and more intuitive. In addition to the wide tapered glove box, theres an abundant quantity of handy holders and compartments, but some must be studied for a few moments before their functions become evident.
Drivers can expect a smooth ride on good roads and a satisfying experience on rougher pavement. As promised by Honda, the Pilot stays pretty flat in curves, but its not quite as surefooted as some SUVs on quick, narrow twisty roads. The Pilot seems just a trifle uncertain through some demanding turns.
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