2009 Honda Pilot
Flying Higher In A Downdraft Segment

We Like: Refinement, bigger interior, thoughtful cubbyholes, and sophisticated cylinder-deactivation technology.
We Don't Like: Easy-to-ridicule grille, still mediocre mileage, old-school SUV visage.

While some of our contestants were busy stretching the precepts of the SUV like taffy on a hot August day, a photo of Honda's all-new Pilot could be printed next to the SUV's dictionary definition. The Pilot's got all the telltale SUV visual cues-boxyness, copious ground clearance, and rough-and-ready-looking rolling stock. Which in today's SUV-fleeing marketplace, basically amounts to three strikes against it. For numerous other manufacturers, three strikes might mean you're out, but, remember, we're talking about Honda here, which, almost as a self-imposed rule, never, ever, produces inefficient or one-dimensional vehicles. Think of the Ridgeline among its truck peers. Or the defunct NSX against its supercar brethren. Just because the Pilot matches the characteristic template for SUVs, don't jump to conclusions.

For instance, compared with its predecessor, the 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood has gained six horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque, while simultaneously improving its mileage by one mpg in the city, and either one or two on the highway, depending on the number of driven wheels. How? The Honda touch: Among other tweaks, its cylinder-deactivation protocol has added a four-cylinder mode to its previous three-cylinder option.

And that better mileage is despite a bigger footprint on the road; it's 2.9 inches longer and an inch wider and taller, providing respectable room for eight inside. However, being a Honda, its weight is virtually unchanged, despite gaining the effective ACE body structure and reductions in chassis flex. How? Again the Honda touch: Its hood is now formed of aluminum, and a considerable percentage of the rest of it is high-strength steel. Among the new Pilot's most notable new features are its rear glass, which can be separately lifted from the hatch, hill-start assist, and humidity control built into the A/C system.

So what keeps it from wearing this year's crown? The complicated dash has drawn mixed reactions (one driver finds the high-mounted shifter position problematic, others don't), and the Tonka-toy grille has been lambasted. However, its biggest obstacle is simply being pretty good in a field that's universally pretty good.
- Kim Reynolds

2009 Honda Pilot
Base price range $28,265-$39,065
Price as tested $40,665
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/250-hp/253-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 4607 lb (55/45%)
Wheelbase 109.2 in
Length x width x height 190.9 x 78.5 x 72.7 in
0-60 mph 8.4 sec
Quarter mile 16.6 sec @ 83.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 149 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
MT figure eight 29.1 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 16/22 mpg
MT observed fuel econ 14.9 mpg
CO2 emmisions 1.06 lb/mile
Engineering *****
Design **
Interior/functionality ****
Performance ***
On-road refinement ****
Off-road ability *****
Value ****
A better Pilot (grille excepted), but Honda needs a Lindbergh to handle this turbulent SUV environment