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2009 Honda Pilot

Honda usually impresses me with its interiors, but this {{{Honda Pilot}}} test vehicle's cabin doesn't look or feel like a $30,000-plus SUV. All of the dashboard plastics are hard, and their shapes, grains, and colors don't look particularly well-thought-out. The clear gauges and center stack material are unique, if unimpressive, and the black LCD mpg display inside the gauge cluster is impossibly difficult to read. I also have problems reading the black radio display, which is located where the navigation system would be on more expensive models.

I do like the Pilot's driving position and feel particularly comfortable gripping the dashboard-mounted gear selector (very ergonomic). There is also plenty of space in the storage bin between the front bucket seats (you can actually lay a magazine flat across the entire space). Climate controls are simple and clearly labeled.

Honda's 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 sounds and feels solid when pushed, but I wouldn't mind another 20 or 30 hp. The 275-hp, 3.6-liter engine in our Four Seasons GMC Acadia (or the direct-injection 3.6-liter engine in the new Chevy Traverse) is the right amount of power for a mid-size SUV or crossover (although the Acadia and Traverse are a couple hundred pounds heavier than the Pilot). Driving dynamics are great for this SUV-awesome body control and very little understeer.

I would like to know why Honda/Acura cannot get the shapes of its grilles right these days!

David Yochum, Assistant Editor

I have seriously considered owning a Honda Pilot. Driving a 2009 Pilot over the past weekend only reinforced that thought. The front face is a bit heavy-handed, but it doesn't look as ugly to me as it does to some people. I'm much more interested in its abundance of usefulness. So rather than judge the quality of the interior's plastic, I look around and think that the person who designed this knows what it's like to live in your car, missing not a single opportunity to carve out another little spot of storage.

The inside doors don't just have a pocket at the bottom, they sport three levels of cubbyholes. There is a depression above the glovebox that has three compartments carved into it, each big enough for a toll-road ticket or similar doodad. Thanks to the space-saving dash-mounted shift lever, there is a fairly deep bit of stowage under the center temperature and sound system stack, to the left of a 12V power outlet that is perfect for a cell phone and adapter. Roll back the lid on the floor-mounted console and you find a bin with a coin holder, a deep storage box, dual cup holders, and another small raised bin. There is even more under the padded center armrest, including another 12V outlet and an MP3 port.

And I've just described the front seat area.

Both rear rows have cup holders and storage bins at the outboard positions, overhead lighting, and climate controls. All six rear passenger positions have three-point safety belts and headrests.

I crammed the back with supplies for a family reunion, so I became intimate with the one-touch seats that flipped forward to create a big, flat load floor. There is also a small trunklet built just inside the two-piece tailgate that was perfect for a few grocery bags.

The Pilot's fuel economy is nothing to write home about-16 city/22 highway-but I'd wager that it all evens out in the wash when you factor in Honda's reliability and legendary resale.

By the way, I do like the clear gauges; the small square gauge on the main IP with trip meter, average fuel economy, and ambient temp readouts; and the greenish plastic faceplate surrounding the sound system controls.

Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief

I had the opportunity to drive the Pilot only briefly, but I came away impressed.

First off, the Pilot's new front-end styling looks about ten times better on the street than it did back in January under the harsh lights of the 2008 Detroit auto show. Somehow, the whole "Tonka truck writ large" theme works for me better in natural sunlight, with the Pilot sitting in my driveway.

Second, I was blown away by the size and execution of the Pilot's cabin. It takes all the clever design, conveniences, and pleasing shapes of the Ridgeline pickup truck to the next level. There's no need for me to describe the myriad storage cubbyholes in the Pilot, since Jean Jennings has already done so. Let me just say that the biggest problem with the Pilot's interior is that there are so many places to stash things, you might find yourself misplacing small items like a credit card, or a receipt, or your sunglasses, simply because there are about twenty places that you might have stowed them.

Third, the Pilot goes down the road with authority, and the chassis feels very solid. The fuel economy isn't great, but if you drive conservatively you can manage to eke out more than 20 mpg on the highway, which isn't bad if you're carrying seven people and their gear. As with any big SUV, we predict that the Pilot's fuel economy will drop precipitously at speeds above 70 mph, when the laws of aerodynamics take over.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

If I needed a big vehicle with seating for up to eight people, the new Pilot would be near the top of my short shopping list (which would also include the Saturn Outlook, the Honda Odyssey, and the Dodge Caravan). The Pilot's exterior styling makes it look very big, whereas the previous Pilot looked deceptively small. There's a bit of Jeep Liberty in the rear side window, but its distinctive face helps set the Honda apart from other crossovers.

Jean wasn't kidding when she described the countless clever, useful touches in the passenger compartment, including those myriad storage bins. The lack of a transmission-tunnel hump really opens up the middle row, too. The driver's seat (the only one I sampled, unfortunately) is quite comfortable, and the Pilot offers a very nice, quiet ride going down the road. Get-up-and-go is acceptable but not overwhelming. Still, the Pilot handles in such a way that makes me think it could easily tackle fairly ambitious towing and hauling tasks, even though its V-6 clearly wouldn't tug like a diesel or a V-8. The trip computer indicated an average of 18 mpg for my round-trip commute of mixed city and highway driving-decent for a vehicle with such capacity.

Personally, I love how the needles are set behind the clear gauge faces-a very cool touch. I did find the interior plastics were a bit less impressive in their fits than typical Honda fare. The transmission lever is well-placed, freeing up space below, but I thought it felt loose and oversensitive: it's easy to slip it all the way down to "2" instead of "D."

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor