Debuted in 2003, the Honda Pilot is a full-size crossover SUV that replaced the Honda Passport. Attempting to establish itself in the SUV market segment for its own line of cars, Honda had created the Passport, which was basically a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. The compact CR-V, loosely based on the Civic was the only other SUV. With its roomy cabin and impressive three rows of seating that could hold up to eight passengers, the larger Pilot found a nice niche for itself in the automotive market. One of the first crossover SUV's to offer three rows, the Pilot helped to define a new segment aimed at buyers wanting plenty of seating and cargo options without buying a minivan or top-heavy SUV. With Honda's exceptional reputation for reliability and quality along with an efficient V6 engine, the Pilot quickly rose popularity and more than 100,000 models were sold by its second year on the market.
Mostly aimed at the North American market, the Pilots are currently manufactured in Lincoln, Alabama and produced in Alliston, Ontario, Canada until April 2007. In Japan and Australia, the Pilots relative, the MDX was sold instead. The Pilot is sold as the Honda MR-V in the Middle East. Russia and Ukraine have received the second generation Pilot.
When designing the Pilot, Honda took styling cues from the Accord sedan and the Acura MDX which itself was based on the Odyssey minivan. Perfect for light off-road use and towing the Pilot was a comfortable ride with excellent handling. Currently the Pilot is in its second generation and comes in base LX, midlevel EX, upper-class EX-L, and the top of the line Touring trims. All of these models come with a standard front-wheel-drive configuration, though four-wheel drive at each trim level could be added as an option. All of the trims featured power from a 250-hp, 3.6-liter V6 mated with a five-speed automatic transmission.
At the time, many other SUVs sat on truck platforms while the Pilot rode on a platform borrowed from the Odyssey, Accord and the MDX. This platform featured a comfortable car-like feel thanks to a unibody design and a suspension tuned to provide responsive handling. The original Pilot came on a 106.3 inch wheelbase and had an overall length of 188 inches. Though convenient for numerous passengers, the third row seat didn't leave much legroom for the average adult while the second row did provide abundant legroom for all but the tallest of adults. Able to fit cargo within excess of up to four feet wide, the Pilot rear seat split 60/40 and both rows could be folded flat to expand that cargo space. The seats in the Pilot are configured as stadium seating.
Originally the Pilot was available in LX and EX trim levels. Both levels were nicely equipped with numerous standard features like a climate-control system with rear vents, cruise control and power windows and locks. The EX also came with automatic climate control, keyless entry, multifunction steering wheel and a power-adjustable driver's seat.
Driver's that opted for the EX-L trim received a leather upholstery package to the EX trim level and had the option of navigation and DVD entertainment system.
Borrowing the engine from the Acura MDX, the first generation Pilot featured a 3.5-liter aluminum V6 engine that produced 240 hp and was mated to a five-speed automatic. It was able to achieve 0-6mph in just 7.6 second and managed a competent 16/22 mph for FWD trims and 15/20 for 4WD trims. With a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds, the Pilot featured an optional Variable Torque Management 4WD system that sent torque to all four wheels when a slippage was detected, but defaulted to front-wheel-driver operation during normal driving conditions. The system had a dashboard switch that locks both rear half-shafts to get the driver unstuck. It operates in first, second and reverse gears and unlocks at 18 mph.
Safety features included antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, rack-and-pinion steering and dual-stage front airbags. It also features 282° of outward visibility. A highly rigid unibody the Pilot foundation features reinforcing structures and energy absorbing crush zones and is designed to dorm progressively in front, side and rear end collisions. Receiving a top score of Good from the IIHS the Pilot also received from five out of five stars in both front and side crash tests conducted by the NHTSA.
For 2004 heated front seats were added as a standard feature for EX-L trims. The following year power was boosted for the Pilot's 3.5-liter V6 engine to 255 hp.
The Pilot underwent a halfway through generation refresh that included a variety of exterior updates. The front fascia and grille was updated and the headlights received halogen projector headlights while the taillights received clear lenses. On the inside a brand-new center console and instrument cluster were debuted. The 4WD system was updated to be more fuel-efficient and now featured variable valve management added to the V6 engine which shut down three of the six cylinders when cruising to improve the fuel economy. The updated V6 engine was now rated 18/24 by the EPA. The original EX wheels were moved to the LX trim while the EX trim level received newly redesigned wheels. Side airbags were now provided in the C pillar further protecting rear passengers. The center console now sported chrome trim; the gauge cluster was updated along with the storage compartments and cup holders.
In 2008 the second-generation of the Pilot was introduced. It featured a much more rugged appearance which was met with mixed reviews since some desired the boxier, bulkier look while others missed the smoother, rounded lines from the previous generation.
On the outside of the Pilot updates includes a tall oversize grille, bigger 17-inch wheels and a higher hood line. The headlights returned to standard halogen reflectors. On the inside numerous changes were made, as a new tri-zone automatic climate control system was introduced and new two-position memory settings for the drivers. Other updates included a new power tailgate and the relocation of the gearshift from the steering column to the center console between the front captain's chairs. The Touring trim now featured a new Satellite-Linked Honda Navigation System and a new 120-volt power outlet. The wheelbase was increased to 109.2 inches and the overall length spread to 190.9 inches. Thankfully this generation added more interior space by growing in length and now featured more legroom in the rear seat.
This generation was assembled at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, Alabama. This year also brought with it a brand new top-of-the-line Touring trim and a new 250-hp, 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 borrowed from the Accord. Transforming to more SUV and less sedan-like the Honda reduced the Pilots turning ratio to improve maneuverability in tight spaces like parking lots, and strengthened the Pilot's body to increase rigidity. According to the EPA, fuel economy is 17 mph city and 23 mph highway for front wheel drive transmission and 16 mph city and 22 mph highway for the 4-wheel drive transmission. Both of these transmissions are five-speed automatics. The Pilot was awarded the Best Resale Value Award in the Full-Size Utility Vehicle category in 2010 by Kelley Blue Book.
The Pilot was updated for 2012 and received a newly revamped front fascia. Other updates included all new alloy wheels, interior updates and changes to the bumper. The following year a host of great extras were introduced as standard on all Pilots and included a rearview backup camera, USB connector, Bluetooth hands-free calling and wireless audio streaming, tri-zone climate control and i-MID central dashboard 8-inch WQVGA LCD screen. The Pilot now uses Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering front bracket.
The Pilot features a proficient off-road system that included three individual systems: Hill Start Assist Control system, Grade Logic Control system and the Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive system with locking differential. When the system senses a loss of traction the Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system automatically engages. The driver can engage the system with its manually locking rear differential and the system will continue to stay engaged up to 18 mph, or is moved from first, second, or reverse gears, then unlocks and goes back to the automatic engaging. The Hill Start Assist system keep brake pressure when the brake pedal is released which gives the driver time to engage the accelerator. The Grade Logic Systems holds the engine in a lower gear when on steep incline for better hill-climbing torque and increased engine braking when traversing steep inclines. The Pilot's AWD system allows it to wade through 19 inches of water.
From 2003 through 2008 the Honda Pilot was awarded Best Large SUV by Car and Driver magazine. Intellichoice called it 'Best Value of the Year' while Edmunds.com claimed it was 'Most Wanted SUV'. AMI Auto World dubbed it the 'World Family Vehicle of the Year'.
The Pilots biggest competition comes from category contenders like the Nissan Murano, Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson