Think of the Pilot as the anti-Hummer. Where GM's military-themed brand is all about excess and flash, the Pilot is a highly useful, people-moving tool without the charisma. Many SUVs of this size offer a V-8; the Pilot makes do with a V-6. Other SUVs have towering ground clearance and huge rims and tires implying supreme off-road capability; the Pilot rides on humble 16-inch wheels and tires that are optimized for on-road comfort and performance. If you envision yourself herding bison up a mountainside, look elsewhere in the SUV segment. If, however, you want a well-rounded SUV for predominately on-pavement driving, check out the Honda Pilot.
The Pilot's styling conveys its functional honesty in Honda's trademark manner: clean lines neither excite nor offend, and short overhangs mask the Pilot's true size, making it look smaller than it is. Perhaps Honda intentionally made the Pilot's clothes extra plain so as not to lure away buyers of its considerably swankier, crisply styled upmarket cousin, the Acura MDX.
The Pilot interior's defining characteristic is that it's surprisingly huge, with its key dimension being its width. Roughly the same overall length as the seven-passenger Ford Explorer, the Pilot is five inches broader and seats one more passenger. And should you need to carry a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood, it'll fit between the wheelwells of the Pilot.
The dashboard features large, nicely laid-out analog gauges that look like they could've come from an Accord, and the steering wheel's hefty rim bespeaks maneuvers you probably wouldn't want to try in a 4,400-pound SUV. Last year saw the addition of a dead pedal, a nice ergonomic improvement. Seating capacity is eight, but the three people in the third row better have short legs, as that row gives up seven inches of legroom to the second row.
The base Pilot LX comes well equipped with power windows and locks, cruise control, keyless entry, and a CD stereo. The more uplevel EX adds a power driver's seat, a six-disc CD changer with steering-wheel-mounted controls, and front and rear automatic climate control. The premium EX-L adds leather, a power moonroof, and heated seats. In line with the Pilot's practical personality, the list of options is short, with the just a DVD entertainment system for rear-seat passengers or a satellite navigation system (they can't be had together) available only on the top-spec EX-L model. The navigation system has a tiny six-inch screen that looks like an afterthought; the newer Honda Odyssey minivan has an eight-inch screen--one we hope will appear on future Pilots. The Pilot's DVD entertainment screen is also modest at seven inches; third-row passengers will need binoculars if they hope to watch anything on it.
The driver and front passenger get front and side airbags, and EX-L models include electronic stability control with traction control and brake assist. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard on all models, as is tire-pressure monitoring. Front and rear side-curtain airbags are unavailable, representing the one glaring safety omission on this otherwise well-kitted vehicle. Some competitors such as the Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer offer head curtain airbags.