Honda Pilot, 2009: Weidel on Wheels

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When Honda came out with the Pilot six years ago the Japanese automaker quickly had another hit. The Pilot became one of the forerunners in the eight-passenger midsize crossover segment. It’s a sport utility vehicle whose car-like qualities and hauling capabilities were lauded.

Despite the accolades, one aspect of the Pilot got exposed – third-row seating was lacking. It wasn’t accommodating and the guess is in many Pilots the third row lay flat and it was left unused.

The weakness remained, but the popularity of the Pilot grew with sales rising more to than 152,000 by 2006. But one year later, the competition caught up; Honda sold only 117,000 Pilots in 2007. Obviously, something had to be done.

Have you checked out the new 2009 Honda Pilot? There should be no surprise the third-row seating and other problem areas have been improved. Honda did a smart thing, it asked previous Pilot owners what they wanted, and it went to work on the 2009 redesign.

Let’s examine the third row first. Don’t get the idea eight adults are going to pile into the new Pilot for a road trip and that everyone will be happy. The third row is much improved, but there’s room for only two adults — and someone won’t make the trip. The improvement comes with the entry, where the second row slides forward for easier access. And three younger kids will be fine in row three.

Also new for 2009 is a more rugged exterior, another component Pilot owners sought. The SUV now features a more angular design some car reviewers refer to as “Jeep-like styling.” Interior refinements and a few more subtle changes highlight the redesign. But how well the changes are received will probably hinge on whether the more boxy and upright exterior look wins approval. The Pilot is now leaning more toward truck than crossover.

If the new Pilot, priced between $27,595 and $39,995 (Touring model), doesn’t receive a thumbs up, there are many option for crossover SUV enthusiasts: Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Chevrolet Traverse, Saturn Outlook. Dodge Journey, Ford Flex and GMC Acadia.

All four Pilot trims come with the 3.5-liter, V6 engine, with 250 horsepower and 5-speed automatic transmission. Performance is not overly impressive and doesn’t match some of the competition. Still, for everyday use the Pilot provides basic necessities. Although now more truck-like in appearance, don’t plan any off-road adventures. Towing capacity]]> is 3,500 pounds (two-wheel drive) and 4,500 pounds ( four-wheel drive).

Some car-like Pilot qualities remain, so it continues to deliver a comfortable ride on most road surfaces. Braking is solid and the Pilot scores near the top in many safety aspects, another key issue for family-minded buyers.

Storage rates high in the Pilot. The third row can fit a couple of golf bags or accommodate plenty of baby-type gear like strollers and other items. Both the second and third rows can be folded flat and really open up the cargo area for big-ticket items. A glass liftgate is another plus.

FAST FACTS: 2009 Honda Pilot

Power — 3.5-liter, V6, 250 horsepower.

Gas mileage estimates — 16-22 mpg.

Standard features — antilock disc brakes, stability control, brake assist; traction control, tilt steering, Center console, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, power windows, locks, mirrors; keyless entry, CD/MP3 player, digital-media player connection, compass.

Warranty — Powertrain 5 years/60,000 miles, 8-years/100,000-miles (hybrid battery); Bumper-to-bumper 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion 5 years/unlimited mileage.

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