First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
2009 Honda Pilot. Click image to enlarge
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Honda Canada

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2009 Honda Pilot

Montreal, Quebec – According to a recent Honda Canada survey, Honda Pilot owners like their vehicles just fine, but would prefer them to have more presence; more character. They’d also like a bit more room inside for passengers and cargo, and some extra towing power. Other than that, they’re pretty good with their Pilots.

It’s true, I think, that the outgoing Pilot is not a particularly eye-catching machine. It’s not unpleasant, mind you; it’s just that it doesn’t stand out when you look at an array of competitive vehicles. The 2009 Honda Pilot, starting at $36,820 for an LX front-wheel drive model, changes all that.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
2009 Honda Pilot; photo courtesy Honda. Click image to enlarge

With a front-end treatment reminiscent of the company’s Ridgeline, the 2009 Pilot is all about visible capability. Chunkier and more muscular, the Pilot has attributes of an SUV and a crossover, but is more obviously the rugged, outdoors type.

Five trim levels are available, starting with the LX FWD, and progressing to LX 4WD for $39,820, EX 4WD at $42,220, EX-L 4WD at $44,520 and the new “Touring” version, 4WD of course, for $49,920.

All models are powered with a slightly more powerful version of Honda’s 3.5-litre V6 engine. Now rated at 250-horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque, city/hwy fuel economy is improved to 13.1/9.1 L/100 km for the 4WD models.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
2009 Honda Pilot. Click image to enlarge

The engine is a Tier 2/Bin 5 “ULEV” (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rated powerplant, and a key reason for the improved fuel economy is the use of Honda’s latest Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system, which enables the engine to run on six, four or three cylinders, depending on driving demands. Active engine mounts and Active Noise Control technology compensate for any extra vibration or sound in reduced cylinder mode. An aluminum hood and lightweight magnesium engine parts also contribute to fuel efficiency.

By increasing vehicle width and wheelbase, Honda has attempted to create an “equal experience” for its maximum eight passengers. Second and third row legroom is up by 25 millimetres and 50 mm respectively, and lateral room for rear seat passengers is up by 38 mm. Due to the increased wheelbase, entrance to the third-row seat is more easily accomplished, and Honda claims the Pilot is now “best-in-class” for interior volume in this vehicle segment.

Front-seat occupants receive an extra 20 mm of fore-aft seat movement, and the driver now benefits from a tilting/telescoping steering column. The shifter, by the way, has been moved to the centre stack (from the column) which adds to the feeling of spaciousness.

New for the Pilot is a glass hatch in the rear liftgate, which gives access to the top level of a two-tier cargo system behind the rear seat. A power liftgate is available on the Touring model, and second row seating is of the split-folding, 60/40 type. Both second and third rows fold flat to maximize cargo space.

On the road, the 2009 Pilot is vault-solid and very quiet. The Active Noise Cancellation technology is always on, so one doesn’t know if that’s the reason it’s so quiet inside. But body rigidity is up 41 per cent, and you do get the sense that this is a very stiff body structure. Once the doors are closed and windows are up, the interior environment is a very peaceful place, suitably enhanced by the pleasant interior colours and fabrics, and the all-new instrument panel. The standard 135-watt audio system features seven speakers with subwoofer, but EX and EX-L models get a 155-watt unit with six-disc CD changer, and the Touring is fitted with a 512-watt system with CD changer, 10 speakers and subwoofer. All audio systems are MP3/WMA compatible.

First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
First Drive: 2009 Honda Pilot  honda first drives
2009 Honda Pilot. Click image to enlarge

The Pilot will get down and dirty when asked. At Quebec’s Mecaglisse Driving School, the 4WD system (lockable) and high ground clearance enabled Pilots to easily manage trails far more challenging than most owners would experience at their cottages. There’s even a standard Hill Start Assist, to prevent the vehicle from rolling back on a steep incline. While not an off-road specialist (there’s no Low Range for example, and the suspension is comfort-tuned), the 2009 Pilot is tough enough.

All 2009 Honda Pilots come with comprehensive safety equipment, including side curtain airbags, front active head restraints, vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes, side impact beams and five LATCH enabled seats. The integrated trailer hitch is pre-wired, and the vehicle will tow up to 4,500 pounds. The turning circle is small, which makes the Pilot very maneuverable, and may obviate the need for three-point turns.

So, tougher yet more refined, with looks that represent a more adventurous lifestyle, the Pilot steps up, and wants to get noticed. There is a lot of competition in this segment, though, including the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, Hyundai Veracruz, Buick Enclave and Mazda CX-9 to name only some. Pilot owners should like the 2009 version, however, as it better focuses a product they already like.

Manufacturer’s web site
Honda Canada

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