Exclusive First Look: 2003 Honda Pilot
Honda aims at the heart of the SUV market
Tapping into the bigger-is-better philosophy, Honda has made a late jump into the midsize sport/utility fray with an all-new model that seats eight and boasts the largest interior in its class. The Pilot replaces the Isuzu-sourced, body-on-frame Passport, combining the traditional sport/ute functionality with the quality, refinement, and efficient design that Honda is known to deliver. A mechanical sibling to the award-winning Acura MDX, the Pilot offers a natural progression for CR-V and even Accord owners looking for a larger, more versatile vehicle.
This honest-to-goodness Honda has a size advantage over its established competition, resulting in a cavernous interior, with two rear 60/40-split flat-folding seats. Thanks to its wide track, efficient suspension packaging, and flat load floor, the Pilot boasts among the largest cargo-carrying capacity in the midsize SUV class, and it can even transport four-foot-wide sheets of plywood. A multi-function center console holds a dedicated cell phone cradle and 12-volt power outlet. Parents will especially appreciate the second-row child's activity center that incorporates a cupholder and storage tray with a place for a pocket-sized game or PDA, crayons or markers, and other essential kid stuff.
The instrument panel features a three-gauge cluster with sporty beveled edges and a precision chronograph design. The silver-trimmed steering wheel houses controls for the cruise control, as well as the seven-speaker AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo. The center panel holds the air conditioning and stereo, as well as an optional satellite-linked navigation system or Honda DVD rear entertainment system. The seats are wide with generous passenger space all around.
Underhood, the Pilot shares a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine with the Odyssey minivan. It is expected that the Pilot will also have 240 horsepower, though production output has not been released. The all-aluminum engine will be backed by a five-speed automatic transmission, with power routed through a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Eight inches of ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, and electronically locking rear differential give the Pilot sufficient off-road ability to meet the light-duty needs of most SUV customers.
Its 3500-pound towing capacity means it could haul a pair of personal watercraft or small boat, but it won't challenge the more muscular body-on-frame SUVs. A rigid unibody structure with front and rear subframes and four-wheel, fully independent suspension system provides the foundation for a well-mannered ride. The core hardware package is rounded out with variable power-assist rack and pinion system and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.
"We think this vehicle strikes at the heart of what many people are looking for in a family-sized SUV," says Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda. "The Pilot delivers all the utility and versatility that people expect from their SUV with the added benefits of Honda's world-class quality, durability, and innovative design."
The Pilot is poised to take on the successful Toyota Highlander with a spec chart stacked in its favor starting this summer, when it goes on sale as a 2003 model.