Honda has spoiled us Americans shamelessly. It rarely misses when it designs a new vehicle, and we've come to expect Hondas to be easy to drive, pleasant to live with and built well, if not always the most exciting things on the road.
So, it's hardly a surprise that its new SUV, the Pilot for 2003, is easy to drive, pleasant to live with and not the most exciting SUV on the road.
Time will tell how well built it is, but Honda's reputation bodes well.
Larger and more expensive than Honda's other SUV, the CR-V, the Pilot replaces the Passport, a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo that was nothing to write home about and, according to Consumer Reports reader surveys, had crummy quality.
As do some competitors, the Pilot seats eight, in three rows. The second and third rows are three-place 60/40 split benches whose backs fold down to create a flat load floor. Honda says the third row was designed primarily for children; the seat is, indeed, cramped for an adult.
The Pilot is similar mechanically to the more expensive MD-X sold by Acura, Honda's luxury division. Both, in turn, share basics with the Honda Odyssey minivan and the Honda Accord. So, both the Pilot and MD-X qualify as one of the new breed of "carlike" SUVs that are winning many converts these days from the more trucklike models.
Just to give you a point of reference, the Pilot is about an inch shorter than a Ford Explorer, 4 inches shorter than a Chevrolet TrailBlazer and 5 inches shorter than a Dodge Durango. But the Pilot is about 4 inches longer than a Toyota Highlander and 6 inches longer than a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
With all three rows of seating in place, cargo room in the Pilot is a scant 16 cubic feet - enough for about eight grocery bags. But, with its two rear rows of seating folded, the Pilot carries more cargo than the Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota or Jeep. (There is, however, an extended version of the TrailBlazer that holds about 10 cubic feet more than the Pilot.)
The Pilot's engine is right for this vehicle - not underpowered, not needlessly overpowered. It's a V-6 that displaces 3.5 liters and produces 240 hp, enough for jackrabbit starts and easy passing. Car and Driver magazine said zero to 60 mph took 8.3 seconds in its tests - not bad for an SUV.
Mileage is a little better than the competition's but still typical of mid-size SUVs, which is to say you'll make no friends at the Sierra Club if you buy a Pilot; 22 miles per gallon is about the best you'll get, by EPA estimate. At least it uses regular unleaded.
If any SUV-hating friends give you grief about your choice, you can at least tell them that the Pilot has a bracket attached to its front frame that, according to Honda, would minimize the damage to your friends and their cars should you T-bone them at an intersection.
All aluminum, with 24 valves, the Pilot's engine has Honda's "VTEC" variable valve control system. The engine runs with the silkiness that typifies a Honda six-cylinder.
For extra tough going, a button on the dash engages the rear differential. The Pilot's brakes have impressive stopping power; they're four-wheel discs with antilock and electronic proportioning of fluid pressure to each wheel.
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