Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Engine Powers Honda Pilot SUV

It has always fascinated me that some cars have such distinctive personalities that I am convinced I could recognize them even blindfolded. This especially true of Honda products and that applies as much to the Pilot as anything else from the Japanese manufacturer.

The Pilot combines trademark conservative exterior styling wrapped around a unique size that is larger than a mid-size SUV like the Toyota Highlander but not quite as ponderous as a Chevrolet Tahoe.

Under the Pilot’s hood is an immensely flexible, powerful but comparatively economical V-6 mated with a five-speed automatic transmission to produce excellent acceleration and over-the-road cruising, plus relatively nimble handling and solid cargo capacity.

Best of all, the Pilot displays all of the trademark Honda traits that give the marque such an enduring reputation for superb quality, reliability and engineering. Body panels fit snugly, interior trim pieces match, switches and buttons function crisply and the doors close with a reassuring thunk.

The new engine for 2005 is a 3.5-liter unit that produces 255 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and, more importantly for folks who use their SUVs to tow things like boats and trailers, there is 250 lb-ft of torque available at 4,500 rpm.

Coupled with the five-speed automatic and a curb weight of just under 4,500 pounds, the 3.5-liter V-6, which is shared with the Odyssey minivan, moves the Pilot from 0-60 mph in 8.67 seconds. Mid-range acceleration in suburban and city driving is quite good.

Slide behind the Pilot’s steering wheel and you see an instrument panel that features large main gauges, a center console with mostly easy-to-use controls and a thick steering wheel with a variety of supplementary controls.

I still don’t care much for Honda’s single big knob to control a bunch of environmental functions, though, and I must admit to being a tiny bit surprised by the sliding cover for the center console looks a little chintzy. Rather un-Honda-like that.

But virtually everything else about the Pilot’s interior should look, feel and sound instantly familiar to anybody who has spent much time in any Honda of the past decade or two. Oh yes, you can also fold the rear two rows of seating flat and the Pilot can swallow oodles of stuff.

The Pilot shares its basic platform and drivetrain with the Odyssey and Acura’s wonderful MDX luxury SUV. The three vehicles display their own unique functional traits, but look closely and you can see the kinship. That’s why all three have attracted legions of loyal customers, just like so many other Honda products.