Honda launched the midsize Pilot sport utility vehicle for 2003, billing it as "not too big, not too small." Larger than the company's compact CR-V and youth-focused Element, the Pilot replaced Honda's Passport.
New for 2005 was a 255-horsepower V-6 that operated via a drive-by-wire throttle system. Upper gear ratios in the five-speed-automatic transmission were modified to yield smoother transitions. All trim levels added a tire-pressure-monitoring system.
More standard features, including a Maintenance Minder and three-row side curtain-type airbags, go into 2006 models. For the first time, a two-wheel-drive version with Variable Cylinder Management is available. The VCM system can automatically switch the Pilot's 3.5-liter V-6 between six- and three-cylinder modes to improve fuel economy.
Under new Society of Automotive Engineers testing standards, Honda's V-6 engine is now rated at 244 hp and 240 pounds-feet of torque. Actual performance is the same.
Three versions are available: LX, EX and top-of-the-line EX-L. Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist electronic stability system and XM Satellite Radio are standard on the EX-L. A new rear camera is integrated into models with the navigation system.
Headlights and taillamps have been revised for 2006. Only modest bodyside cladding is used on the Pilot, which exhibits a clean look. A large greenhouse yields what Honda calls "panoramic views for all occupants." The hood slopes down to a wide grille that is flanked by wraparound headlights. All models have body-colored bumpers, and the EX adds body-colored side moldings.
Unibody construction includes front and rear subframes. Equipped with a fully independent suspension, the Pilot has 8 inches of ground clearance for offroad treks. Fog lamps have been added to EX and EX-L models for 2006.
Up to eight occupants can fit inside the Pilot, which features 60/40-split, folding seats in the second and third rows. Theater seating provides a better view for rear occupants. Leather upholstery is standard in the EX-L edition.
Cargo volume totals 90.3 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded. A 4-foot-wide sheet of plywood will fit flat on the floor. Options include a DVD-based navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Under the Hood
Using SAE's new standards, the Pilot's 3.5-liter V-6 produces 244 hp and 240 pounds-feet of torque and runs on regular unleaded gasoline. A column-mounted lever controls the five-speed-automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system includes an electronically locking differential.
All-disc antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard. New driver position and passenger weight sensors control front-airbag deployment. Seat belt pretensioners and headrests are installed for all eight seating positions.
Honda did nearly everything right with the Pilot. Carlike traits are immediately noticeable, and the vehicle's slightly heavy feel is mixed with considerable overall refinement.
Performance is strong and confident, if not exactly blistering. Response is quick, easy and seamless from the engine and automatic transmission. The seats are firm and very supportive, and a large speedometer is easy to read.
Drivers can expect a smooth ride on good roads and a satisfying experience on rougher pavement. The Pilot stays reasonably flat in curves, but it's not quite as surefooted as some SUVs on narrow twisty roads. It seems a trifle uncertain through some demanding turns.
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