2009 Honda Pilot

Many Canadian consumers are shying away from large SUVs and opting for smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles because of the down turn in the economy and the high cost of fuel. Honda recently introduced its second generation midsize SUV. Obviously the folks at Honda must know something that we don’t know! None-the-less the all-new Pilot should sell well in these tough times – there is no thirsty V8 engine.

2009 Honda Pilot SUV

The exterior styling is now boxier and, certainly, more imposing, which gives it a more rugged truck-like look. According to Honda, previous buyers of the Pilot expressed a wish for something with more presence. The lineup consists of an LX, EX, EX-L and a new upscale Touring model. The LX model starts as a front wheel drive model, with a decent four-wheel-drive system being optional – the rest of the lineup gets this important safety feature as standard equipment. The good news is that all Pilots include dual stage front air bags, driver and front passenger side air bags, three-row side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability/traction control systems. Pricing for the LX remains unchanged from last year (2008) at $36,820. However, the up-level Touring stretches the sticker price to a lofty $49,920.

The new Pilot is also larger than the out going model. The wheelbase grows by 75 mm; width is up 26 mm and its 25 mm taller. The expanded dimensions and the squared-off styling bring a noticeably roomier interior – enough room, in fact, for eight passengers and a couple of golf bags with the three rows of seating upright. That stated, if you’re going to ride in the Pilot, reserve a spot in the first or second rows. The third row is somewhat tight and the high step up makes it a bit of a challenge to get back there. With the 60/40-split second and third rows seat folded flat the cargo area is huge at 87 cu. ft. The fact the rear glass opens independently of the tailgate makes it easy to deposit small packages.

The interior fit and finish is up to snuff, however, the use of a rather cheap-looking hard plastic on the Touring tester did not impress – remember, this ride will set you back 50-large. As for the rest of it, Honda has it aced. The gauges are logically laid out and most of the controls are readily reached and a snap to operate. The downside is the number of buttons, especially those packed onto the centre stack. It look is rather overwhelming and so some time with the owners’ manual is a must.

2009 Honda Pilot interior

The Pilot is powered by a 250 horsepower, 3.5-litre, i-VTEC V6 engine that is mated to an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission. Aside from delivering plenty of get-up-and-go, Honda’s latest generation Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) impresses. Depending upon vehicle load and speed, the engine cuts the number of functional cylinders from six down to four and, if the conditions are right, down to three. This technology is an improvement over the previous Pilot’s VCM system – it lacked the four-cylinder mode. When the cylinder deactivation happens, it is barely noticeable. Credit the active engine mounts and the active noise control technologies. The former damp the vibrations when the engine switches to three or four cylinder modes; the latter takes care of the change in the engine’s sound. Estimated city/highway fuel consumption is 12.7/8.7 L/100 km for the two-wheel-drive (2WD) model and 13.1/9.1 L/100 km the four-wheel-drive (4WD) model.

For vehicle that weighs over 4,000 pounds, it delivers a lively drive. The throttle response is instantaneous and there is ample punch at all speeds. The five-speed automatic transmission features extra-wide gear ratios, which improves acceleration and helps fuel economy. The transmission also features grade logic technology. This system automatically holds the transmission in a lower gear when climbing or descending hills, which does away with the usual hunting.

The fully automatic Variable Torque Management four-wheel-drive system (VTM-4) is fast to react to changing road conditions. Under normal circumstances the power is delivered to the front wheels. Under hard acceleration up to 70% of the engine’s torque can be transferred to the rear wheels or when wheel spin is detected. This setup is designed to deliver good all-weather traction and medium-duty off-road capabilities. Although the Pilot doesn’t have low-range gearing, a fairly challenging off-road course saw it perform competently. The other thing that impresses is the ride quality. Rather than mirroring its truck-like looks, the Pilot actually rides and drives like a good passenger car. The suspension is supple enough it absorbs rough pavement easily while providing a stable highway ride. The power steering is also noteworthy, as the feel and feedback is as it should be and the response to driver input is better than many other SUVs.

The Pilot’s combination of on-road performance, interior comfort, thoughtful design and the desired utility make it a vehicle to add to your shortlist if you are looking for an SUV that is more car like in its execution.