Honda's midsize Pilot crossover SUV has been redesigned for 2009 and changes include new exterior and interior styling, a new high-end Touring trim level and a more fuel-efficient V-6 engine. The eight-seat Pilot hits dealerships in May 2008 and competes against crossovers like the Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9 and GMC Acadia.
The new Pilot is very boxy and upright from most angles, and the SUV's new front-end features rectangular headlights that border a new six-sided grille.
The base LX trim level has standard 17-inch steel wheels but when you jump up to the EX and EX-L trims you get 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, heated side mirrors and roof rails. The top-of-the-line Touring model has 17-inch alloy wheels, too, but they have a different design. Additional Touring features include a power liftgate, trailer wiring and parking sensors.
The Pilot comes standard with three rows of seats covered in either fabric or leather upholstery; the Touring has power-adjustable, heated front seats with a driver's side memory feature. The second-row bench seat can slide and recline, and Honda says it has added more legroom in both the second and third rows.
The redesigned Pilot has a new dashboard design that, on Touring models, includes a navigation system; selecting one of the lower trims replaces the navigation screen with a less advanced display. The navigation system is operated by a knob on the dashboard.
Standard features include air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack. Optional features include automatic air conditioning, a backseat entertainment system, sunshades for the second-row side windows, a six-CD audio system and a USB port for connecting an iPod to the stereo.
Under the Hood
All Pilots are powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 250 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque. The engine drives a five-speed automatic transmission and uses Honda's Variable Cylinder Management technology in order to maximize fuel economy; VCM can dictate whether the engine runs on three, four or six cylinders. Gas mileage has improved slightly: front-wheel-drive Pilots get 17/23 mpg (city/highway) and all-wheel-drive models get 16/22 mpg.
The Pilot also comes standard with equipment for towing like a heavy-duty radiator and transmission cooler, and a Class III trailer hitch. The towing capacity for the 2WD Pilot is 3,500 pounds while the 4WD model can pull up to 4,500 pounds.
Standard safety features include all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats and active front head restraints.
The Pilot also uses Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering technology, which consists of structural elements in the front of the SUV that are designed to meet the frames of both smaller and larger vehicles during a collision and send crash forces away from occupants riding in the Pilot.
The Pilot managed to impress on the ride and handling front thanks to its ability to resist body roll when driven aggressively. I drove the Pilot on winding roads in the desert outside Palm Springs, Calif., and even when pushed hard through corners the SUV remained even-keeled. A number of competitors, like the Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9, aren't as successful in this respect and more easily succumb to the laws of physics.
The V-6 provides adequate acceleration and motivates the Pilot past slower-moving traffic on two-lane roads without drama. The five-speed automatic transmission kicks down readily when more power is needed to accelerate or pass. During the entirety of my drive, the transmission never made a harsh shift and always seemed to be in the right gear.
Making smooth stops isn't difficult in the Pilot; braking response is easily controllable, and it doesn't take much pressure on the pedal to quickly shed speed.
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