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November 18, 2009 > Auto Review: Honda Pilot

Auto Review: Honda Pilot

The 8-passenger Honda Pilot turned out to be bigger than I expected. I had not driven one before, and assumed it was a "mid-size" SUV, but I was wrong. It isn't a huge vehicle, it is "just right" to quote Goldilocks. Honda completely redesigned Pilot for the 2009 model year, so the 2010 models do not have any major changes. It has a third row seat in the back, somewhat cramped for large adults.

Our "top of the line" Touring 4-wheel drive Pilot with navigation system and rear entertainment package rode very smoothly, but still responded to steering changes without being overly mushy. It had plenty of power and could get up and go if necessary.

All Pilots use the same aluminum 3.5-liter, V-6 engine. It produces 250 HP and 253 pound-feet of torque. One of the interesting features of this engine is Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system. VCM technology continuously monitors many measurements and makes decisions on how many cylinders to use. Depending on all those factors, the engine can run on 3, 4 or all 6 cylinders to make efficient use of every drop of gasoline.

A 5-speed automatic is the only transmission used in the Pilot. Using regular unleaded gas, the 2-wheel drive versions achieve 17/23 mpg in EPA testing with a 1 mpg reduction for the 4-wheel drive models in both tests.

There are three basic trim levels offered on the Pilot: the LX, EX, and Touring. The least expensive Pilot starts at $27,695, and our test Pilot listed for $40,245. As you move up the model range, you get things like a navigation system, better sound system, rear seat entertainment system, steering wheel mounted controls, heated front seats, and other items.

One of the unique features of the interior was that the shift lever stuck out of the dash, not the center console. It might be just a gimmick, but I liked it. Front bucket seats were comfortable and the center console was very well done. The white-faced instruments were easy to see and read at any outside lighting levels. Outward visibility and headroom were also very good. The Pilot's engine also uses Honda's Active Noise Cancellation technology to help produce a very quiet driving experience.

On the down side, we found the climate and audio controls confusing. Even at the end of our week with the Pilot, it was a guessing game to use them. The location of the navigation screen was also a bit distracting. Another big issue was really unusual; we had never found this on any other vehicle. The bottom of the glove box on the dashboard in front of the passenger was very low, enough to interfere with the passenger's feet and made that seating position uncomfortable for tall adults.

Pilot is crammed full of safety features. Dual-stage and dual-threshold airbags are mounted in the steering wheel and dash with front side airbags in the seat backs. Side curtain airbags protect occupants of all three rows. Active head restraints are standard on the two front seats. Stability control, traction control, ABS, and tire pressure monitoring are standard on all Pilots.

If you are interested in towing, the Pilot's standard equipment list includes an integrated tow hitch, a transmission cooler, a power steering cooler, and it's pre-wired for a trailer wiring harness. The Pilot is a good choice for a wide variety of reasons.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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