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REVIEW: Honda Pilot ready to fly

On the upswing: the crossover segment. Sliding down the sales-chart banisters: the minivan market. Thus, where the two meet, a nexus is formed.
honda pilot
The Pilot is a big but surprisingly nimble all-wheel drive crossover that Honda expects will sell quite well, further evidence that sedans and minivans are no longer the choice for Canadian families. It is available at Pacific Honda in the Northshore Auto Mall.

On the upswing: the crossover segment. Sliding down the sales-chart banisters: the minivan market. Thus, where the two meet, a nexus is formed.

Meet the new Honda Pilot, bigger, longer, more CRV-like in appearance, and more capable of taking your family on an - ahem - Odyssey than ever before. It's still an all-wheel-drive crossover, but Honda has sanded the edges off their largest all-wheel-drive machine in hopes that it'll find favour with those who've been migrating over to the Korean competition.

It's a farewell to sliding doors, of sorts, a declaration that neither the minivan nor the mid-sized sedan is a staple of the Canadian family. According to market results, the Pilot should sell very well. The question is, has it landed at the right runway, or is it bound for turbulence?


Anonymously handsome. That seems to be the design brief of Honda's styling crew, and they've pulled it off for good and bad. Where once the Pilot was squared off and angular, this new car makes the outgoing model look like the shipping container for the new, curvier generation.

Except, of course, that the new one wouldn't fit inside the old one. The Pilot is now 20 millimetres longer than before, although 90 mm less tall, and you can certainly see the bump in interior space despite the smoothed-off appearance.

The front is essentially the same as the new CR-V, except embiggened. Honda's three-bar corporate grille is due to start making its way through the fleet, so you can expect an Accord coming shortly with this new look. It's not bad at all.

From the side, the Pilot's profile ends up being dominated by wheel choice. Twenty-inch alloys are part of the top-spec Touring, a trim Honda says sells in surprisingly large volume in the Canadian market. Eighteen-inch alloys are standard on the car, and while they don't quite have the flash, they're still a goodlooking, split-spoke, five-arm design.


Inside, the Honda is pure Honda. If you're seeking an upgrade from your CRV, this vehicle will offer a pleasant familiarity.

The seats are quite firm on first introduction, but bear up well under longer drives. The dashboard layout is conservative, not offering clever touches like the Highlander's built-in shelf, but the between-seat storage bin is large enough to house an elephant. Thankfully,

Honda's gone to a single touchscreen rather than its confusing multi-redundancy twin screen layout as found in the Accord.

This last has a tendency to smudginess, thanks to an ultra-glossy finish. However, it's so much faster than previous, and while there are a few menu quirks to get around (the audio-level adjustment is pretty deeply buried in sub-menus), it's overall a huge improvement for the brand. Look forward to this tech proliferating throughout Honda's lineup.

However, where the Pilot needs to deliver is not so much the front seats but the rear, and here it's very good. Both second and third-row space is big enough for even taller kids, and the higherspec cars have an easyfolding function that beats pretty much everything on the market. Instead of pulling a lever, just push a button on the side of the seat bottom, right in line for shorter kids, and everything slides easily. It even lights up at night.

Also clever is the rear cargo area when all seats are deployed. Ordinarily, threerow crossovers have little space when fully utilized, but the Pilot's two-stage rear floor drops down to create a bit more room. Official figures are 524 litres, about the same as most hatchbacks, but the size and shape of the space seems to handle larger strollers with ease.


Under its smoother snout, the Pilot carries a V-6 that'll be familiar in specification to any Honda fan: 3.5-litres in displacement, variable valve-timing (VTEC), 280 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m., and 262 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 r.p.m. No surprises here.

Perhaps a little more unusual are the transmission choices. A conventional six-speed automatic is the standard offering, but there's also an Acura-style nine-speed automatic, one that comes with paddleshifters for added theoretical sportiness. I can't imagine owners actually using these, but there they are.

Further surprises abound in the form of a selectable terrain system that's like a simplified Range Rover - choose from sand, snow, gravel, or tarmac. Wheelspin control, throttle response, and starting gear are all part of this easy-to-use setup. Additionally, the Pilot comes with a proper torquevectoring system to aid in cornering.

Add in a lightened curb weight and the Pilot turns in a surprisingly spirited performance. You won't be yanking and banking like a Honda S2000, but this big rig is actually light on its feet, driving much like the current Accord does. The performance envelope is set by the low-rollingresistance tires, but forward acceleration is better than average.

Roll into the throttle on the highway and revs come up quickly, with a hissing VTEC kick-in that helps you zip past a dawdling semi-trailer with ease. This is more than adequate power for this size, and a considerably sprightlier drive than you'll find in a Toyota Highlander.


Even more interesting than the Pilot's standard driving characteristics are its semi-autonomous features, which are all but standard. Lane-keep assist will nudge you back into your lane, and it's good enough not to pingpong between the lines. The automatic cruise control makes longer drives in heavy traffic a cinch.

Again, the new eightinch infotainment system looks great (when clean) and operates simply. Not so great is Honda's decision to only put navigation in the top model: people are starting to expect satellite navigation as a mid-grade feature, and if they wander over to the Nissan showroom, they'll find it. Perhaps we'll see that trickle down in a future update.

Pricing for the Pilot starts at $35,490, but Honda points out base-model sales are very low. Touring-spec will cost you a little more than $50K.

Official fuel economy figures for the Pilot are 9.3 (litres/100 kilometres) on the highway, and 12.4 in the city. Mixed-use mileage seemed to hover in the 11s, which is not really all that much worse than the current crop of four-cylinder crossovers.

Green light

Surprisingly nimble; quiet on the move; usefully sized; plenty of safety features.

Stop sign

Screen prone to smudges; satellite navigation only on top-spec car; very firm seats.

The checkered flag

A double dose of CR-V; Honda avoids any stunts, but sticks the landing.


Toyota Highlander ($32,775): Heavier-handling than the Pilot, Toyota's claymore of a sales weapon is a very clever machine with plenty of interesting features. Its dashboard storage shelf, for instance, is something to be wished for in all familyoriented machines. While it's a much slowerreacting machine thanks to a heavier curb weight, there are those who will like the Toyota's sense of solidity. It's excellent 3.5-litre V-6 also has little difficulty in pulling off a passing manoeuvre. Honda lightness or Toyota steadfastness - the classic contest.