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by Richard Russell
Amidst all the hoopla about new and exciting crossovers and SUVs, the Honda Pilot keeps plugging along. The Pilot competes in one of the most crowded segments in the market, bringing with it competitive pricing, exceptional interior space and all-season traction. That’s the good news; the bad news, for Honda at least, is that quite a few others bring those same qualities.
It takes a lot to stand out in such a crowd and the Pilot doesn’t do it based on its looks. The styling is conservative, although it manages to remain current, and that can be a plus for many moderate buyers who don’t like to have everyone staring at their vehicles. Where the Pilot does stake out its own territory is with its Honda quality, engineering and reliability.
Although my tester was the top-of-the line model, it did not exude luxury. It was extremely well-equipped, including leather upholstery, but you got the feeling it was meant for continuous use without fear of damage. What it did showcase was world-class fit and finish worthy of much more expensive vehicles. I played with the rear seat DVD entertainment system and found it to be bright and legible. The wireless earphones eliminate the mess of cables usually associated with these systems.
The instrument panel is simple, with the centre reserved for a dual-purpose display for audio or heat and ventilation. The column-mounted shift lever continues that same weird Honda design idiosyncrasy of slotting into D3 instead of D4. With an engine this smooth and quiet, it is easy to drive around in third instead of top gear, using more fuel than necessary.
The seats are wide, supportive and comfortable. There are nooks and crannies everywhere and those regularly toting small folks will appreciate the thought that went into their presence. The second-row seats recline slightly and can slide forward and backward to adjust legroom in both second and third rows. Both second- and third-row seats are split and can be folded down separately. The seats fold flat in simple one-handed moves and when all are down there is a canyon back there bigger than that of most competitors.
The entire driveline is silky smooth and thoroughly refined, like a tall Accord.
The Pilot is fitted with Honda’s full-time VTM (Variable Torque Management) all-wheel-drive system with an electronically-locking rear differential. The majority of the power goes to the front wheels unless you are accelerating. In this respect, the system is more proactive than competitive “slip and grip” systems, since VTM does not wait for a loss of traction before diverting power to the second axle. This is critical since under acceleration, the vehicle’s weight transfers from the front wheels to the rear ones. A switch on the instrument panel can be used to lock the rear differential and ensure both wheels get power in poor conditions.
Although it lacks a transfer case and the low range necessary for serious off-roading, so does pretty much everything else in the class. Few people even attempt to take an SUV beyond the capabilities of these modern AWD systems, and we didn’t either. But I did get to sample and appreciate the Pilot’s prowess in some pretty nasty winter conditions. The Pilot is surprisingly capable in such conditions, more so than almost all competitors.
Within reason, it will get you anywhere you need to go. More importantly, it takes the worry out of winter while using far less fuel than many similar-sized SUVs I’ve sampled over the past few months.
Like practically everything in its class, the Pilot provides the tall seating position preferred by most SUV drivers. Using the same platform as the Honda Odyssey and Acura MDX, it’s primarily designed for on-road work where it handles and rides accordingly well.
Instead of having a lengthy options list that forces dealers to stock a huge variety of models, Honda offers the Pilot in four trim levels, each equipped and priced accordingly. The base model starts at $39,000 which includes the V6, five-speed automatic, air conditioning, 16-inch wheels, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, front and side air bags, heated mirrors, cruise control, keyless remote entry, power windows and locks – hardly worthy of the designation “entry-level.”
My tester was the line-topping EX-L RES version complete with DVD entertainment system, automatic climate control, power heated seats, leather trim, power moonroof and Vehicle Stability Assist included in the $46,200 tag.
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This is a Honda, so it comes as no surprise that the engine is a jewel. Displacing 3.5 litres and producing 255 horsepower, it is ideally suited to this vehicle. There is more than enough poke to make passing and climbing grades a breeze, even with passengers aboard this 2,100 kg truck. Combined with a five-speed automatic and drive-by-wire throttle, the integration between the gas pedal and contact patches is such that the engine goes virtually unnoticed, regardless of conditions. It is always in the right gear and the meat of the power range when needed, yet does not gobble fuel at the prodigious rate of some of the competition.
Competence in a plain brown wrapper, the Pilot is capable, reliable, better-equipped for poor conditions than most and endowed with Honda engineering and quality.
Technical Data: 2005 Honda Pilot EX-L RES
|Price as tested||$47,725|
|Type||4-door, 8-passenger mid-size SUV|
|Layout||Front-engine, full-time all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.5-litre SOHC V6, 24 valves|
|Horsepower||255 @ 5600 rpm|
|Torque||250 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm|
|Wheelbase||2700 mm (106.2 in.)|
|Length||4775 mm (187.9 in.)|
|Width||1963 mm (77.2 in.)|
|Height||1793 mm (70.5 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||461 litres (16.2 cu. ft.) behind third row|
|2557 litres (90.2 cu. ft.) with two rows folded|
|Fuel consumption||City: 14.2 L/100 km (20 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.9 L/100 km (29 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|