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Redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot is roomier, plusher, better

Honda did extensive consumer research before embarking on the redesign of its popular full-sized crossover SUV, the Pilot. Debuting in 2002, the Honda Pilot was an immediate hit and has stood out from its competition with good looks, great handling and very smart packaging. In fact, Car and Driver has honored the Pilot with six of it Best Trucks Awards in the past eight years.

The pilot comes in both two and all-wheel drive , with three trim levels — the base model LX, upscale EX, and top of the line EX-L, which also comes in a new Touring model. Our test vehicle was a AWD EX-L.

Walkaround: The typical boxy SUV shape of the Pilot is carried forward and actually accentuated slightly with a sharper chiseling of its exterior lines and some added visual aggressiveness courtesy of a slightly wider stance and new bar grille. An aluminum hood is used for weight savings.

The bold six-sided bar grille is framed by large headlights, and the doors have a more truck-like design, with extra steel body gussets around them and the liftgate. The rear doors also open wider than previously.

Interior: The Pilot offers three rows of seats and provides a high degree of flexibility for people and cargo. The comfortable, supportive front bucket seats give a commanding view of the road. Controls are simple and functional with minimal complexity, while instrumentation, switches and warning lights are all thoughtfully positioned and well labeled.

The wide center stack allows convenient access to the entertainment and climate-controls as well as the optional navigation system, which utilizes a center-mounted screen incorporating all the control functions and does double duty for the available back-up camera. The large center console, which is almost twice as large than most others, is coupled with clever and thoughtful storage areas for convenient access for items as small as sunglasses and cell phones, as well as larger items like beverage containers and purses.

Available technology options include the newest generation of the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System, Bluetooth, an available DVD entertainment system with DTS surround sound, a USB jack for iPod and MP3 players, and XM satellite radio. The rearview camera is standard on the Pilot EX-L and EX-L Touring models.

The 60/40 split second row seat is more spacious than before and slides further forward for easier access to the third row. The 60/40 split third row has enough knee room for an above-average-sized adult to sit comfortably, and each side of the second and third row independently fold down for cargo. A flat floor is created when the second and third rows are folded down.

Other notable new features include a telescoping steering wheel, a hill-holder function, and rear glass that flips up separately from the liftgate, as well as an optional sunroof and power liftgate.

Safety: The Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure adds frontal collision compatibility with different size and bumper height vehicles, and a pedestrian injury mitigation design helps absorb energy in the event of an accident. Additional standard safety equipment includes electronic Vehicle Stability Assist , side-curtain airbags, front side airbags with passenger-side occupant position detection, active front seat head restraints and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution. Four Lower Anchor and Tether for Children positions — more than any other SUV in the segment — provide room for four child seats.

Under The Hood: The pilot comes with only one engine — an upgraded version of its previous 3.5-Liter, aluminum-alloy, 24-valve, SOHC V6. It puts 250 ponies to the pavement with 253 ft.lbs of torque at 4,800 rpm. It’s mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

The new version features multi-point fuel injection, drive-by-wire, and variable cylinder management — an upgraded cylinder-deactivation system. The previous V-6 had an inline-three deactivation mode. It’s now a V-4 mode — with the opposite outer pistons on both banks turned off. This fills the previous power gap and increases the time the engine runs with inactive cylinders.

Before, the three cylinders deactivated only under light throttle and at lower speeds. Now, says Honda, with only two cylinders asleep, the Pilot can run to freeway speeds.

Behind The Wheel: The redesigned crossover SUV platform allows more refined handling and ride comfort than the previous model, with all-weather and medium-duty off-road capabilities.

Thanks to a two-stage magnesium intake manifold and an increase 10.5:1 compression-ratio, the V-6 delivers better than average acceleration, while burning regular unleaded at the rate of 16/city and 22/highway in AWD mode. Add another mpg to each for 2-wheel drive. It boasts a ULEV-2 emissions rating, and does the 0-60 drill in 7.6 seconds. It also boasts a 4500-pound towing capacity, with a hitch receiver standard.

Whines: One major annoyance — not just in the Pilot, but others as well — are automatically locking doors that don’t unlock when you shift into Park or shut the engine off. Finding the setting to change this was unintuitive. I finally gave up, and just got annoyed every time I parked.

Bottom Line: While the Pilot still sports its classic SUV proportions and clean design, the press material says, “Honda designers used the three-dimensionally beveled lines of an ultra-rugged laptop computer as inspiration to convey an active and intelligent vehicle design theme.” I’m not really sure what that means, because it still looks like an SUV to me, not a laptop.

Overall, the 2009 Honda Pilot is a significant upgrade to an already great SUV.

 
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