First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot

Honda's UV Box Evolves

G.R. Whale
Apr 21, 2008
PowerPointing their way through the 2009 Pilot, the marketing folks at Honda used SUV and CUV interchangeably during the presentation and allowed that few of their customers know the difference. We do: The Pilot's a crossover. And while the new Honda is a thorough advancement of the first generation, it remains highly functional hardware for the masses.
Photo 2/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot steering Wheel View
One could argue styling is the biggest change. The 2009 has fewer, cleaner lines and a more upright stance (in the vein of Nitro, LR2, or even the Honda Element), simpler lights and appendages, and end views that are much broader than the inch of extra width implies. The rear spoiler and projector headlamps are gone and exhausts now exit one per side.
The basic platform architecture also underpins the Acura MDX, but their relationship is more distant than, say, GMC and Chevy pickups. Honda has gone to great lengths to make sure the Pilot and MDX are quite different. Pilot power comes from a new 3.5-liter V-6 derived from the Accord and its active noise cancellation systems, and, unlike most Honda engines, it makes more torque than horsepower. Neither the six-horsepower gain nor the 3-4-6 variable cylinder management will be noticed for the most part. However, the extra 13 pound-feet, 90 percent of peak torque from 2000-6000 rpm, shorter second and third gears, and weight gain of just 50 pounds will be felt. As a default front driver, the Pilot can deliver about 55 percent of full engine output to the rear wheels when necessary, the VTM-4 system works fluidly and transparently, and Hill Start Assist keeps the crossover stationary when moving your foot from brake pedal to accelerator.
Photo 3/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot engine View
With the tall overdrive in its five-speed auto, Honda couldn't justify a sixth gear that, in all likelihood, would add a lot of hunting because the engine wouldn't pull a taller gear under anything but the lightest load. In addition, the push for more midrange punch from a new trans lost out to if-it-ain't-broke thinking: the VCM gives similar fuel-economy gains that a six-speed would. Our lone complaint here is the lack of manual or sport mode; there's just an OD off switch.

Photo 4/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot front Three Quarters View
The suspension has been upgraded with aluminum front lower arms and rear hub carriers, hydraulic front bushings, tubular rear anti-roll bar, tighter steering, larger wheels and tires--Michelins are only available on the top model--and there's now more high-strength steel to make a more rigid foundation from which to calibrate. Eight inches of ground clearance, about the same wheel travel, and decent angles allow light off-roading but the "looks like it goes off road" philosophy applies only to bodywork and not the view underneath. On the other hand, DIY types will appreciate that the oil filter is level with the front axle shaft, and campers and extroverts will like the full-size spare option.
Photo 5/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot front Three Quarters View
Since GMC benchmarked the old Pilot for the Acadia when it came out last year, Honda was happy to compare it (and others) with the new Pilot. Back-to-back drives suggest the Honda matches the Acadia in basic road manners, offering a slightly gentler ride to the Acadia's somewhat firmer responses. The Acadia's 10 inches of extra wheelbase doesn't translate into more people room--even in the third row--but it carries more with seats folded and takes a yard more space to execute a U-turn, and when the road turns bad or to dirt, the Pilot's advantage is roughly 500 pounds less mass. When compared with the Highlander, the Pilot's neither as quiet nor as involving and is more utilitarian insde, but has less body roll and comes across as near equal on the highway.
The Pilot's cabin is almost as parent-friendly as an Odyssey's with its huge number of storage slots and bins. Typical crossover third-row access is never ideal for adults, but a lanky observer was able to sit in the right-rear seat with his head and knees in normal positions. The seat-release lever is at kid's-eye level, both back rows fold 60/40, the middle row slides fore/aft, there are four baby seat anchor positions, and each rear door has two cupholders in the armrest and two pockets below.
Photo 6/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot front Three Quarters View
Out back, a standard receiver hitch requires only a wiring pigtail for towing and the hatch glass now opens separately; since the cargo floor can be tilted up and a net strung across, it's not a deep drop. There's additional space below and to the side and a 4x8 sheet of plywood lays flat in the back.
"Bold" may be overused in design parlance, but the Pilot dash is definitely in your face, with the center stack's dark sides flanking a narrow center slice that mimics of Honda's tapering

Photo 7/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot rear Three Quarters View
Photo 8/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot rear View Mirror View

Photo 9/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot interior View
Photo 10/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot interior View

Photo 11/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot rear Interior Hatch View
Photo 12/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot front Interior View

Photo 13/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot dash View
Photo 14/14   |   2009 Honda Pilot front Three Quarters View

2009 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring
Location of final assembly Lincoln, Alabama
Body style 4-door, 4-pass crossover
EPA size class Special purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Airbags Front, front side, side curtain
Engine type 60° V-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.50 x 3.66
Displacement, ci/L 212/3.5
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Valve gear SOHC, 4 valves/cyl, VVT
Fuel induction SFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 250 @ 5700
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 253 @ 4800
Transmission type 5-speed automatic
1st 2.70:1
2nd 1.61:1
3rd 1.07:1
4th 0.77:1
5th 0.61:1
Reverse 1.89:1
Axle ratio 4.31:1
Final drive ratio 2.64:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Wheelbase, in 109.2
Length, in 190.9
Width, in 78.5
Height, in 72.7
Track, f/r, in 67.7/67.5
Headroom, f/m/r, in 39.3/39.8/38.2
Legroom, f/m/r, in 41.4/38.5/32.1
Shoulder room, f/m/r, in 61.5/62.2/58.9
Cargo vol beh 1st/2nd/3rd row, cu ft 87.0/47.7/20.8
Ground clearance, in 8
Approach/departure angle, deg 27.8/24.5
Base curb weight, lb 4499
Weight distribution, f/r, % 54/46
Max payload capacity, lb 1592
GVWR, lb 6091
GCWR, lb 9572
Max towing capacity, lb 4500
Fuel capacity, gal 21
Construction Unibody
Suspension, front/rear Independent, MacPherson strut, anti-roll bar/independent, coil link, anti-roll bar
Steering type Rack-and-pinion
Ratio 19.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.7
Turning circle, ft 38.6 feet
Brakes, front/rear 13.0-in vented disc/13.2-in disc, ABS
Wheels 17x7.5-in alloy
Tires 245/65R17 Michelin LTX
Load/speed rating 105T
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy, mpg 16/22
As-tested fuel economy, mpg 16.8 (trip computer)
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 1.06
Base price $30,000 (est)
Price as tested $40,000 (est)


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Honda Pilot

Fair Market Price
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $29,870
Mileage: 18 / 25
Engine: 3.5L V6
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