Introduced as a 2003 model, the Pilot was Hondas first big SUV. Its actually called a mid-size SUV but it still dwarfs its stable mate, the Honda CR-V. The (relatively) compact Pilot features exceptional space utilization, space that can be easily configured for either passengers or cargo. It comes standard with a 240hp V-6, a 5-speed automatic and an effective, electronic-control 4WD. MSRP for the base Pilot LX is $27,100; MSRP for the loaded EX-L is $32,870. Warranty: 3yrs; 36,000 miles.
First Glance at the Honda Pilot
Under its attractive, somewhat business-like skin, the Pilot is identical to the glitzy (and more expensive) Acura MDX. Both come with a drivetrain featuring Honda Motor's wonderful aluminum alloy 3.5L V-6, 24valve VTEC engine, 5-speed automatic transmission and electronically-controlled 4WD system (VTM-4). A word about the VTM-4 system: When slip is detected, an electronic control unit instantly transfers torque to the wheels that have grip. In exceptionally slippery conditions the driver can depress a button to allow maximum torque transfer to the rear wheels. Remember though, this system is designed for steep, snow-covered driveways rather than ancient southern Colorado sand dunes. The Pilot has eight seats, all of which can actually be accessed by adults. But an NFL defensive lineman would not want to spend much time in the third row, which is in truth probably designed with young children in mind. The second and third row seats are slightly elevated, theatre-style. Second row passengers have an glorious 290 degree view of the world. If you need more space for cargo, the third row can be folded easily (honest!) into a space under the floor. You can also tow a 4,500 lb boat trailer - 3,500 lbs for all other trailers.
In the Honda Pilot Driver's Seat
The LX is the cloth-seat, de-contented Pilot. A loaded EX-L model with leather, DVD system, a Navi system and so on is available for an extra five grand. However, the base LX has everything I want in a vehicle of this sort with one glaring exception - there is no remote for the power door locks. At least, there wasnt on my test car. I had to (gasp!) actually use my key to open the door. This may be a not-so-subtle hint on the part of American Honda to get cheapo's like me to spring for the full-load EX model. Come to think of it, the driver's seat had a manual adjustment as well. I didnt mind that at all either since the controls worked so easily. One even provides height adjustment. Nor did I mind the LX's manual air conditioning and heat system. In fact, I generally prefer manual to automatic climate control. I find can usually tailor the interior temperature better to my personal preferences. Particularly impressive is the short (38 feet) turning radius. This allows the Pilot to be turned 180-degrees in two easy stages on a standard 33 ft wide street. Although nominally an eight-passenger vehicle, at least three of those passengers better be of modest dimension or else youd better restrict your trips to less than one hour.
On the Road in the Honda Pilot
The Pilot dwarfs the CR-V, itself considered "full size" in Europe. It's six inches longer and wider than the CR-V, which translates into more room for passengers and stuff. Is all that extra space actually useful? Is it more useful than the supremely practical CR-V? Again, that depends very much on how much stuff (or how many passengers) you want to carry. Cargo carrying capacity is optimized with regular shaped objects that can be stacked like boxes. Two bicycles will fit but it's a hassle. Ditto eight people. Handling is excellent for such a large vehicle. But because it's so tall, almost six feet, the Pilot is somewhat more susceptible to strong crosswinds than a conventional passenger car. Probably no more so than the average minivan though. The Pilot is very quick - maybe as quick as so-called performance sedans of the early '90s. With this kind of horsepower and torque on hand (240hp and 242 lb ft of torque), even a 4,400 lb chunk like the Pilot will scoot. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD (look it up) that can stop you on a dime are standard. The Pilot is also a safe place to be in a crash - well, safer than most. It has been awarded a NHTSA 5-star rating for front and side impact protection.
While the Pilot looks a lot like the smaller CR-V, it's actually more like the Acura MDX. It has the same engine and drivetrain as the MDX and is similar in size and weight. Like the MDX (but unlike the CR-V), it also features three rows of seating. And like all Hondas (and Acuras) from the beginning of time, the quality, fit, and finish, are nothing short of superb. The difference between the two brands - Honda and Acura - boils down to purchase price, gadgetry and perhaps a bit of cachet. The Acura brand is definitely more upscale. However, if I were personally in the market for an SUV and had to choose between the MDX and the Pilot, I'd take the Pilot LX with the cloth seats. I like the Pilot LX's more utilitarian shape and features. I also like the fact that I can get it several thousand dollars cheaper than the MDX (or the leather-clad Pilot EX-L). The respected IntelliChoice car buying guide rates the Pilot the best overall value for mid-size SUVs. Automotive Lease Guide rates it as the SUV having the highest retained or residual value. Though operating any automobile - especially an SUV - is not an inexpensive proposition these days, the Pilot seems to represent excellent overall value.