What it Is
Honda Pilot Prototype Preview – Detroit Auto Show: Oh, what a problem Honda has. On one hand, the current-generation Pilot still sells well. It’s also well-regarded, garnering accolades and awards a full six years after its introduction. Yet on the other hand even Hondas get old, and if the Pilot stays the same, well, the competition isn’t sitting still. The Honda Pilot Prototype concept the company showed off in Detroit is a thinly-veiled version of the production car, in fact, a production car that has been turned into a prototype. Just replace the grille, headlights and maybe a few other pieces here and there and you've got the production version.Why it Matters
The Pilot helped to define expectations in the large crossover category, so there's a lot riding on its replacement. Honda's initial press release said little more than a prototype would be in Detroit. Now that we've seen the actual vehicle, Honda's let loose with a few more nuggets of info, but not much. Either way, the new Pilot has the difficult task of attracting new customers while retaining the old, a tough challenge for any automaker, and one that Honda tackles by building on the Pilots strengths of clever interior packaging and advanced technology for safety, fuel efficiency and convenience, and also by adding a new premium Touring trim level.
What's Under the Hood
Exactly what will power the new Pilot is not yet known, as Honda wasn't forthcoming with much information. What we do know is that the V-6 returns, this time with the latest version of Honda's Variable Cylinder Management technology. This allows the Pilot to run on six, four or three cylinders depending on conditions such as throttle position, load, etc. It's the same system that's in the Accord, where we found it to be seamless in operation. All-wheel drive will return, of course, but we don't know what power or size the engine will be. Considering that the Pilot is mechanically similar to the Acura MDX, we suspect a 3.7-liter V-6 producing somewhere in the 280-300 horsepower range is reasonable to assume.
What it Looks Like
Imagine a current Pilot with all the creases sanded smooth. That's more or less what the new Pilot looks like. The concept's headlight and grille treatment is unlikely to make it to production (thank goodness), but the overall profile and proportions are production. It's a good looking truck in an inoffensive way, although judging from the rearmost side window treatment, we're pretty sure the designer either drives or parks near an Isuzu Trooper.
The interior is also concept, and we were told that some of the elements - like the blue-backlit center stack treatment - will not make it to production. Still, it's a nice evolution from the current truck, with a very car-like interface. Honda says the Pilot's utility remains, and from what we could see there appears to be a good amount of room behind the third row for cargo. That third row is said to be bigger as well, with Honda vice president John Mendel saying that even he fits back there, a good boast since Mendel's not a small guy.
What Honda Says
Speaking of Mendel, his outlook on the new Pilot is understandably sunny. "The Pilot's pioneering formula improves for 2009 by enhancing its combination of refinement and efficiency with even more traditional SUV strengths," he said. "A powerful exterior design communicates strength and allows more space inside."
What We Think
Honda's Pilot, even as the first generation makes its final drive, remains a tough competitor. The new one will likely be one as well, and we're confident that Honda will sell every single one it can make. We'll have a fuller report on the Pilot in a few months, so stay tuned.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo Credit: Vernon Heywood