Honda retools Pilot for more space, luxury
Honda has beefed up the second-generation Pilot
sport/utility vehicle, adding horsepower, size and a tougher-looking front end
as it positions the crossover to compete with larger vehicles in the segment.
The Pilot goes on sale in May as a 2009 model, replacing the version that launched in 2002. Prices start at around $27,500 and reach $40,000 for a top-level trim with navigation.
The new Pilot looks and rides differently than its predecessor. Honda engineers say the vehicle shares few significant components with the first-generation model.
The new Pilot has the same chassis as the Acura MDX, though it's been heavily modified. The body structure also has been stiffened, and it rides on larger tires for better cornering.
The 3.5-liter V6 makes 250 hp--a slight 6-hp increase over the old Pilot--and is mated to a five-speed automatic. Torque has been boosted 13 lb-ft to 253.
The powerplant has Honda's cylinder-deactivation technology, which is similar to the system used on V6 Accords. It allows the Pilot to run on four or three cylinders in certain driving conditions, and a light flashes on the instrument panel when the engine is in fuel-saving mode.
Honda has hinted at adding diesels to its lineup, but engineers say the Pilot won't get one for now. They also wouldn't rule out a six-speed transmission, though that doesn't appear imminent either.
Other powertrain upgrades include a cold-air intake and active engine and noise control.
Two-wheel-drive versions of the Pilot are rated at 17 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. Four-wheel-drive Pilots are rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.
To position the Pilot to compete with larger competitors, Honda increased the vehicle's interior volume to 174.5 cubic feet, about four cubic feet more than the old model. The overall length of the Pilot has grown nearly three inches to 190.9, and the wheelbase was stretched about three inches to 109.2.
Honda expects the Pilot to be cross-shopped most often with the GMC Acadia, Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9.
The Pilot's front end gets considerable changes with a bolder aluminum hood, more prominent grille and circular headlights set in larger casings.
The theme was developed in response to consumers who told Honda: "Don't make the new Pilot look like a minivan,'' engineer Marc Ernst says.
The Pilot seats eight, and the cockpit has a slew of storage areas for spare change, cell phones, wallets and other small items. Honda added tilt and telescopic features to the steering column and moved the shifter from the column to the instrument panel. The Pilot also received a hill-assist starting function, which prevents it from rolling backward when starting on inclines.
Honda aims to sell 140,000 Pilots the first year. In 2007, Pilot sales totaled 117,146 units, down 23 percent from the year before.
Honda has added a high-content Touring trim level to the Pilot, looking to appeal to upper-market buyers.
The Pilot is built at Honda's plant in Lincoln, Alabama, and will go on sale in global markets later this year.