Honda's first entry into the SUV market in North America was not a Honda. At the time Honda had a reciprocal deal with Isuzu. Honda would supply Isuzu with cars, and Isuzu would supply Honda with trucks. Thus, Honda's first American SUV was a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. Called Passport, Honda offered it here from 1994 to 2002, when it was replaced by the Pilot.
Designed off the platform underpinning the Honda Accord, Pilot had the rugged, yet genteel good looks one would expect from a Honda suv, combined with road manners similar to the company’s top sedan. To date, there have been but two generations of Honda’s largest SUV since its introduction.
Honda Pilot: 2003 – 2008
As Pilot shared much with the more upscale Acura MDX, the 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 was the same one found in the Acura. It produced 242 ft-lbs of torque and was paired with a five-speed automatic transmission feeding all four wheels at launch. A front-drive Pilot eventually came to market with the 2006 model year.
Offering three rows of passenger seating, the 2003 Honda Pilot transported up to eight people, although the people conscribed to rearmost row had to be children, as legroom was at a premium back there. Installed such that each successive row of seats were placed a bit higher than the one in front of it, the Pilot offered “stadium” style seating. Additionally, the two rear rows folded flat to increase cargo capacity.
When it was introduced, the Pilot came in three states of trim; LX, EX and EX-L. The base LX model was nicely equipped and a good value, offering ABS, front seat side airbags, power windows, power mirrors and a decent audio system. Moving up to the EX got you a power driver’s seat and automatic climate control. The EX-L brought leather seating and an optional navigation system OR a rear-seat entertainment system to the party. Strangely, Honda made these options mutually exclusive. If you got nav, you couldn’t have the DVD entertainment system and vice versa.
For MY05, a power increase bumped the V6’s output to 255. Also, the EX-L got stability control as an option.
The mid-cycle refresh in ‘06 included a styling update. Changes to the exterior included a new fascia with a different grille insert and headlights, and taillights with clear lenses. The EX got new wheels, and the LX got the original EX wheels as hand-me-downs. Inside, the instrumentation was also refreshed and the center console got new chrome trim, redesigned storage compartments and cup holders.
For MY06, the SAE’s revised horsepower rating process reduced the quoted output of the Pilot’s V6 to 244, even though its performance potential didn’t change. Actual mechanical changes for 2006 included stability control for all Pilot trim levels as standard equipment. Additionally, a three-row side curtain airbag setup was added.
As is Honda tradition, for MY07, the inevitable SE model was slotted into the lineup just above the EX. If you follow Honda’s marketing tactics, you have no doubt observed the introduction of the SE version of one of its vehicles means Honda is about to introduce a reworked model.
In other words, anytime the company offers an SE trim package for a vehicle, within the next year or so, an all-new version of that vehicle debuts. Those who went for the 2007 Honda Pilot SE got a sunroof and a DVD player as standard equipment — in addition to all of the features of the Pilot EX.
Anyone shopping for a used Honda will find the best value in those SE models. Speaking of value, the Pilot LX was dropped in 2007, and replaced by the Pilot Value Package.
Honda Pilot: 2009 – Current Model
The 2nd generation Honda Pilot was larger and more powerful than the iteration it replaced. It got a new 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine making 253 ft-lbs of torque. Offered in both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive at launch, Honda used two different five-speed automatic transmissions specifically suited to each powertrain.
In addition to moving up in terms of size, the 2009 Honda Pilot also moved up in terms of standard equipment. The trim level progression carried over from the 1st generation Pilot with LX, EX, EX-L and Touring grades offered.
Standard equipment for the 2nd generation Pilot LX at launch included keyless entry, full power accessories, a seven-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, and 17-inch steel wheels. Alloy wheels (17-inch) graced the EX, along with a power driver's seat, an in-dash six-CD changer, tri-zone automatic climate control, and satellite radio. As the “L” in its nomenclature perhaps implies, the 2008 EX-L pampered its buyers with leather upholstery as well as heated front seats, a sunroof, and a rearview-mirror-mounted back-up camera. Sat Nav was an EX-L option in ‘08. If you sprung for the full-boat Touring model, you enjoyed a 10-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, a rear entertainment system, and a navigation system.
Thanks to the size upgrade, the 2nd generation Pilot’s third row was more habitable for grown-ups, but the Honda also gained weight. Many reviewers felt even though the 3.5-liter V6 was pumping 250 horses, those horses were considerably laden. Further, many reviewers were somewhat dismayed by the Pilot’s new look. They felt the “happy” was gone.
However, with that more serious look, came more genuine off road ability. Capable of wading through nearly 20 inches of water, four-wheel drive equipped ’09 Pilots featured hill-start assist to keep them from rolling backward when starting on steep inclines. Other hardy pieces of kit included a locking rear differential and a torque vectoring system—enabling the Pilot to transfer the engine’s output to the wheel(s) with the most traction. The Honda’s grade logic system senses steep terrain and holds its transmission in a lower gear to improve its climbing ability or maintain engine braking when descending.
Honda Pilot: Summary
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Honda Pilot is the fact it shares its architecture with a luxury SUV and a minivan, in addition a sedan. MDX, Odyssey and Accord are all built on the same platform as the Pilot. Capably demonstrating the engineering prowess of one of the most renowned auto companies, the Honda Pilot is versatile, as well as capable and reliable.
The mid-size SUV handles easily around town, is relatively fuel-efficient for its class of vehicle and the second-generation models have true off road capability besides.
These vehicles truly represent a remarkable value.
While recalls on Pilots have been few, they did happen. To find out which ones affect the model of your interest, run an Internet search for “Honda Pilot recall”, incorporating your model year of interest.
And, as always, make sure you have any used car you’re seriously considering purchasing subjected to a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic with specific competence in your vehicle of choice.
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