Honda launched the midsize Pilot sport utility vehicle for 2003 and billed it as "not too big, not too small." It is larger than the company's compact CR-V and youth-focused Element and replaces Honda's Passport SUV.
A new 255-horsepower V-6 operates via a drive-by-wire throttle system for 2005. Upper gear ratios in the five-speed-automatic transmission have been modified to yield smoother transitions. A new fuel tank boosts the Pilot's range by more than 40 miles, and the driver gets a footrest. All trim levels gain a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Three versions are available: LX, EX and top-of-the-line EX-L. Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist electronic stability system is standard on EX-L models.
Only modest bodyside cladding is used on the Pilot, which exhibits a clean look. A large greenhouse yields what Honda calls "panoramic views for all occupants." The hood slopes down to a wide grille and 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.
Up to eight occupants can fit inside the Pilot, which features 60/40-split seats in the second and third rows. Both rear seats can fold down. Theater seating provides a better view for rear occupants. Leather upholstery is standard in the EX-L edition.
Cargo volume totals 90.3 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded. A 4-foot-wide sheet of plywood will fit flat on the floor. Options include a DVD-based navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Under the Hood
The Pilot's 3.5-liter V-6 produces 255 hp and 250 pounds-feet of torque and runs on regular unleaded gasoline. A column-mounted lever controls the five-speed-automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system includes an electronically locking differential.
All-disc antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard. New driver position and passenger weight sensors control front-airbag deployment. Seat belt pretensioners and headrests are installed for all eight seating positions.
Honda did about everything right with the Pilot. Carlike traits are immediately noticeable, and the vehicle's slightly heavy feel is mixed with considerable overall refinement.
Performance is strong and confident, if not exactly blistering. Response is quick, easy and seamless from the engine and automatic transmission. The seats are firm and very supportive, and a large speedometer is easy 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 it's not quite as surefooted as some SUVs on narrow twisty roads. It seems a trifle uncertain through some demanding turns.