Renewed fears of floods and clever pricing from car manufacturers have breathed new life into the midsize SUV segment. Not surprisingly, the new Ford Explorer is stirring up a lot of interest. While it’s doubtlessly a good choice, another car worth looking into is its competitor, the Honda Pilot.
Like the Explorer, the Pilot is one of the new-generation smart SUV’s. The model was formerly exclusive to the US and is capable of seating 7-8 people. True to Honda’s character, the Pilot was designed to address the need for larger SUV’s capable of seating more people while still being as driveable and as fuel efficient as a car.
Unlike many of its competitors, the Pilot is still quite proud of its boxy form. This large vehicle shows off every straight edge it has with the only curves being the wheel arches. It certainly helps it stand out from the competition as if its size and height weren’t enough.
The interior of the Pilot is quite the opposite, being very expansive but still quite welcoming. The dashboard is a mix of black and cream with a large portion of it dipping down in the middle. This center stack features an 8 inch multi-information display screen with the stereo and three-zone climate control stacked below it. The left side features the engine start button as well as the dash-mounted gearshift. This helps free up room on the center divider, making for some very large storage compartments, enough to store an SLR camera and accessories.
Over in the driver’s side, three bright white dials display the tach, speedometer and fuel and temp gauges. Enclosed in its own casing is the trip meter with a built-in real time fuel economy meter. Just beside it is a little graphic of the car to indicate which door is open, as well as the outside ambient temperature. Up above, there’s a power moon roof with shade to let more light and air in.
The second row features a number of toys even for the passenger. For one, there’s the separate set of air con controls for its own unique climate. A power outlet is there to recharge any cell phones or gadgets. For a bit of privacy, window blinds can be brought up to shield the light from the outside. Handles on the side of the seats help you move them forward or fold them down flat.
After making room, passengers can get right into the third row seats that fold up from the flat cargo floor. Passengers here will be delighted to find a deep footwell, armrests and even cup holders and storage compartments. Each seatback also has deployable hooks to hang light items from. Even with all the seats up, there’s still some room in the back for some bags. The cargo area floor has a false bottom that opens up to reveal even more space. No tire and jack here, they’re stored out of sight and free up a remarkable amount of room.
Finally, if you just need to get something from the back, the rear glass can open separately, allowing you to reach for something without having to open the entire tailgate.
Hauling all of this along is the same 3.5 liter V6 found in the Accord. Like the Accord, it also features the Variable Cylinder Management system that shuts off cylinders when they’re not needed. This gives you all six cylinders when accelerating to four or three while cruising, minimizing fuel consumption. On full bore, the engine produces a total of 250 ps, routed through a 5-speed auto to the front wheels.
Being designed for the American market, it returns a delightfully lofty ride, seemingly floating over bumps and extremely quiet even at highway speeds. None of this seems to affect handling as the steering wheel is very light, and the vehicle is very responsive, despite its size. It may weigh in at 2 tons, but the car feels as agile, zippy and easy to drive as a Jazz.
If that weren’t enough, there’s still a load of tech toys to make the drive even more enjoyable. First off is the multi-media system that allows you to connect an iPod of MP3 player to the car. The USB port is hidden inside the console box. Controls on the stereo let you select the desired playlist while controls on the wheel let you skip track or adjust the volume. On the screen, it displays the track name, artist and even album art.
It’s configured to connect with phones too. Honda’s Hands Free Telephone system lets you hook up a phone via Bluetooth. The controls on the center stack let you select contacts in the phonebook while controls on the steering wheel let you answer and end calls. Audio will be routed through the car’s speakers while a microphone in the ceiling picks up your voice.
Then there are the numerous parking and driving aids. Hill start assist and stability control come as standard. Sensors all around the vehicle detect any nearby obstacles. Finally, a camera at the back helps you reverse as well as better gauge parking spaces and distances.
It may come across as a large and unwieldy vehicle, but the Pilot is remarkably easy to drive on a daily basis. Sectioned pockets, recesses and storage compartments cater to obsessive compulsive storage micro managers. You could literally sort out your change by value with the number of pockets here. Folding down seats was easy and intuitive, allowing us to fit some extremely bulky items you’d only try with a pickup.
On the road, with the airconditioning on auto, 2 passengers and some groceries, it will return 7 km/L in the city and a much lower 12 km/L in the highway. It even waded through shin-high floods quite easily. It’s quite a wide vehicle and could be a tight fit in some parking spaces, but thankfully is not as long as a pickup. And the sensors and camera helped a great deal.
The Pilot may not have drawn much attention the last time it was for sale. Yet its new look and even more impressive features make it a car keenly aware of today’s needs, and dare I say it, a practical car. It may not have the 'wow' factor of the new Ford Explorer, but its smart design and features certainly grow on you.