Road Test: 2009 Honda Pilot
Despite the current economic conditions or fluctuating gasoline prices, crossover SUVs continue to be one of the hottest selling vehicle segments. Honda has been in the game just as long as most other automakers with the Passport and CR-V dating back to the mid 1990s, but it never had a solid competitor to compete with the growing size, luxury and customer demands required from a crossover until it launched the midsize Honda Pilot in 2002. Updated for 2009, the Pilot is now in its second-generation and offers a spacious interior, a smooth, refined ride quality and a powerful, yet efficient, drivetrain.
Built in Honda's Lincoln, Ala. plant, the 2009 Honda Pilot competes against other crossovers such as the Toyota Highlander, Ford Flex, Hyundai Veracruz and Chevrolet Traverse. Like the competition, pricing is very dependent on trim levels and option packages. A base 2009 Honda Pilot LX 2WD starts $27,895 but our top of the line Pilot Touring 4WD came fully loaded for $40,955 including destination.
2009 Honda Pilot Exterior
While the first generation Pilot looked like an oversized economy car, the 2009 Honda Pilot sports a design that is both rugged and attractive. Don't be fooled by the old school SUV styling, though, since the Pilot is a genuine crossover, sharing its chassis architecture with the Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup. Up front, large rectangular headlights flank Honda's new corporate grille, which is probably the most prominent exterior design cue. A single crease runs along each side of the Pilot from the front bumper to the D-pillar and noticeable bevels surround the side windows adding stylish touches and helping to prevent the Pilot from looking like a slab-sided minivan. The hindquarters of the Pilot continue the use of angular lines and subtle creases around the rear glass and taillights. The rear hatch also adds the convenience of a separately opening glass panel.
2009 Honda Pilot Interior
Matching the rugged exterior design, a new interior continues to improve the 2009 Pilot. The Pilot's boxy design makes room for three rows of seating with spacious seating for up to eight passengers blending luxury and practicality. While the interior dimensions of the 2009 Pilot haven't changed much compared to the outgoing model, the increased wheelbase and width have helped make the seating arrangements comfortable and more inviting. For the front passengers, Honda equipped the Pilot with a more truck-like atmosphere including large bucket seats, a massive center console and a tall, easy-to-use center stack. Our test model had soft, attractive leather seats that provided surprising support. There will undoubtedly be those who call out the Pilot for its use of hard plastic on the dash and door panels, but the mere versatility and user friendly nature of the Pilot's cabin makes the instrument panel materials easy to overlook. Aside from the reconfigurable cupholder area with an adjustable hard plastic cover, the Pilot hides some more useful features under the center console lid including a 12-volt power outlet, an auxiliary jack, a USB port and a 115-volt AC plug-in.
The second row bench is split 60/40 and provides fore and aft adjustment, the ability to recline and slides forward for easy access to the third-row seats. Our biggest complaint inside the Pilot is the location of the recline lever for the middle row of seats. The lever is mounted on the side of the seatback about mid torso making recline adjustments from the seated position almost impossible. Once adjusted, though, the rear seating positions provide extensive comfort and support, and with the optional rear-seat entertainment system, the only way a rear passenger can complain of boredom is if he or she picks out a bad movie to watch. Between the remote-controlled operation and the wireless headsets, front seat passengers are not distracted by the entertainment system designed for passengers relegated to second and third rows.
While most third-row seats are reserved for small children and spec sheets, the Pilot offers reasonable accommodations for guests six, seven and eight. The seat bottoms are a little flat and could get uncomfortable on long trips, but there is enough leg-, hip- and headroom to satisfy an average adult. Increasing comfort for third-row passengers, the Pilot offers vents for A/C and heat in the C-pillar trim. Taller passengers venturing back to the third row will welcome the high seatbacks and adjustable head restraints, but this comes at the expense of the driver's rearward visibility. With a full load of passengers, visibility out the rear and side windows is severely limited. Thankfully, the Pilot we tested came with the optional ($) rearview camera, as well as front and rear object detection sensors.
2009 Honda Pilot Performance & Handling
Despite the increase in size and weight, the new Pilot is more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the outgoing model. This is due to 2009 Pilot's 3.5-liter 24-valve SOHC V-6 with i-VTECÂ® and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM)Â®. Under full acceleration, the engine peaks at 250 horsepower, but during light driving, the VCM deactivates cylinders to operate on either three or four cylinders, which helps to improve fuel economy numbers. The transition from full power to cylinder deactivation on Honda's VCM is much less intrusive than other automakers using a similar version of the fuel-saving technology. The resulting fuel economy estimates for the Pilot is 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway (2WD version gets 17 city/23 highway).
Some may balk at the Pilot's off-road credentials since it shares its basic chassis architecture with the Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup, but the 2009 Pilot is designed to offer a smooth on-road ride without sacrificing its off-road capabilities. The 2009 Pilot Touring 4WD that we test drove came equipped with Honda's VTM-4Â® full-time four-wheel drive system that automatically transfers power to the rear wheels when traction loss is detected and adds the convenience of a low-speed, four-wheel drive lock mode for when road conditions get really messy. For those brave enough to take a $40,000+ vehicle off road, the Pilot's 8 inches of ground clearance, 27.8 degree approach angle and 24.5 degree departure angle allow the new Pilot to easily tackle rough terrain and off-road obstacles.
2009 Honda Pilot Safety
In addition to these convenient items that lead to increased safety, the 2009 Pilot is one of the safest crossover SUVs on the market offering a plethora of standard safety systems including anti-lock brakes, Hill Start Assist and Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control. Solidifying its record as a top pick in its class, the 2009 Honda Pilot received top scores from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in all categories and being named a 2009 Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.
For once, the 2009 Pilot not only gives Honda a vehicle that serves as sufficient transportation and respectable fuel economy, but it also has a design to help it stand out from the crowd. The rugged, boxy styling of the new Pilot is enough to make some people love it while others are criticizing it, but in the end, it's getting noticed. As for the steep price tag of the 2009 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD we tested, it may seem more in Acura's territory than Honda's, but it adds more than enough luxury to qualify its MSRP. Even in its base model, the 2009 Honda Pilot is one of the most accommodating, stylish and reliable crossovers currently available, so be careful when you're checking out the higher trim levels and upgraded option packages.