Honda added the midsize Pilot sport utility vehicle to its lineup as an early 2003 model and billed it as not too big, not too small. Larger than the companys compact CR-V and new Element, the Pilot edged aside Hondas Passport, though it was not intended as a direct replacement.
Honda calls the Pilot the ultimate family adventure vehicle and promises the largest passenger and cargo-hauling capacity in its class as well as an abundance of storage compartments. The automaker claimed that the Pilots VTM-4 (Variable Torque Management 4WD) drive system combined the best of four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
Three models are available: LX, EX and top-of-the-line EX-L. Heated seats and mirrors have been added to the EX-L for 2004, and Hondas available navigation system gets an improved database. The Pilot is manufactured in Allison, Ontario, Canada.
Only modest bodyside cladding is used on the Pilot, which exhibits a clean look. 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 is flanked by wraparound headlights. 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.
Eight people fit inside the Pilot, which features 60/40-split seats in the second and third rows; both seats can fold down. Theater seating provides a better view for rear occupants. Leather upholstery is available 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. Cargo space totals 90.3 cubic feet with the second and third seats folded. The spare tire can be lowered without removing any cargo. Options include a DVD-based navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Under the Hood
Hondas 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine 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 full-time VTM-4 four-wheel-drive system includes an electronically locking differential; a transfer case is not used. The Pilot can tow a 4,500-pound boat.
All-disc antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard. An intelligent front-passenger airbag works with an Occupant Position Detection System. Seat belt pretensioners and headrests go in all eight seating positions.
Honda did just about everything right with its Pilot. Solidity and 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, and its response is quick, easy and seamless from the engine and automatic transmission. The seats are firm and very supportive, and a large speedometer is simple to read.
Drivers can expect a smooth ride on good roads and a satisfying experience on rougher pavement. The Pilot stays reasonably flat in curves, but its not quite as surefooted as some SUVs on narrow twisty roads. It seems a trifle uncertain through some demanding turns.
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