2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2008 Honda Pilot

Ottawa, Ontario – The Honda Pilot was the company’s first mid-sized SUV when it was introduced in 2003. While the segment has moved along somewhat since then by embracing the smoother lines of the crossover genre, the Pilot carries on into the new model year looking much like the blocky truck it’s always been.

Doing the math, 2008 will mark the Pilot’s sixth year in production. That makes this a pretty old vehicle for Honda, which tends to redesign its models every four or five years. The typical tack is to make small styling changes to keep things fresh. But, having done that in 2006, Honda had to take a different approach to stave off stagnation for 2008. To that end, there is now no more EX model – it’s been replaced with the SE trim level. Still, at six years old, a second-gen Pilot can’t be far off, particularly considering that the Acura MDX – which the Pilot is based on – got a comprehensive redesign for this year.

2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L. Click image to enlarge

My tester was a 2008 SE-L model, the “L” denoting that this one has the optional leather interior. The Pilot SE starts at $43,990 and includes all-wheel drive; opting for leather seats (which also adds heaters for the front seats and leather wrapping for the shifter and steering wheel) adds $1,530 to the bottom line. Add in freight and you’re looking at $47,060 plus taxes.

That seems like a pretty good deal: the Pilot SE gets fog lights, a power sunroof, automatic-off headlights, automatic climate control, a 155-watt, seven-speaker stereo with six-disc CD player, rear-seat DVD player, exterior temperature indicator, and power driver’s seat, plus a number of other little things.

2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L. Click image to enlarge

The Pilot was my ride the weekend of my brother-in-law’s bachelor party. There were no strip clubs involved, but one of the groomsmen got pretty excited when he saw the DVD player, so we made a quick pit stop at his place to pick up his “favourite” DVD. (Don’t ask. No really, don’t.)

The Pilot comes standard with eight-passenger seating, with space for three in the third row where most three-row SUVs can only accommodate two. We packed five guys into the Pilot for a 40-minute drive up into west Quebec for a day of paintball; the two in the second row had no complaints (the seats there are spacious and comfortable); the single guy in the third row said he was fine there, too, but I suspect that was the visual stimulation from the DVD player doing its work, as the third row is really no place for adults. Not only that, but he really got the short straw when we had to fold part of the third row down to make room for some paintball gear.

The front seats are typical Honda comfortable and spacious. As is often is case, the sunroof cuts into headroom, but the Pilot’s high roof ensures that there’s decent space for all but the unusually tall.

The Pilot’s controls are all easy to use, but I don’t like Honda’s choice of placement for the sunroof controls – on the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I prefer these buttons up on the headliner. Thankfully, Honda seems to be moving this way in its newer models.

2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L. Click image to enlarge

One complaint I logged (as did James Bergeron in his Day-by-Day Review) was that the backlighting of the buttons on the dash is quite dim. Look down at the radio or HVAC controls after fighting oncoming headlights in night driving, and the dash lights are all but invisible for a few seconds, which is a few seconds too long to have to look away from the road. The instruments, however, are very well lit.

The Pilot’s centre console houses a catacomb of useful storage compartments, many of which can be closed or covered, making it easy to hide away valuables that must be left behind.

The 2008 Pilot uses the same 3.5-litre V6 that the original employed; it was originally rated at 240 horsepower, but rose to 255 until new horsepower calculation techniques knocked it back down to 244, where it stands now. That’s less than you’ll get in a GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook/Buick Enclave, but the Pilot’s lower curb weight (2,056 kg in SE form; an all-wheel drive Outlook weighs 2,234 kg) means it actually feels quicker than the more-powerful General Motors trio. The Pilot handled the hilly roads up to Perkins, Quebec without trouble; while the all-wheel drive system here is the reactive type (power goes to the front wheels only until they slip and some torque is sent to the rear axles), we had no problem navigating the several kilometres of muddy, rutted roads leading from the highway to the paintball park.

2008 Honda Pilot SE-L
2008 Honda Pilot SE-L. Click image to enlarge

The Pilot’s ride is just soft enough to keep things comfortable, yet handling is surprisingly good despite the tall body and high-profile 70-section tires. The comfort level is good for a vehicle with a suspension geared toward handling more than 600 kg of stuff inside, and a 2,045 kg towing capacity. Engine and wind noise are nicely muted; the all-season tires (you might want to upgrade these to light truck rubber if you plan to tackle serious off-pavement excursions) keep road noise to a minimum, too.

The all-wheel drive Pilot’s fuel consumption ratings are 14.1 L/100 km in the city and 9.7 on the highway; in a mix of city and highway driving, I managed about 13 L/100 km.

The Pilot’s looks are beginning to get a bit old, but as a lighter-duty mid-size SUV, it should have no problem holding its own until the second-generation model is launched – whenever that will be.

Pricing: 2008 Honda Pilot SE-L


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