First-Class Travel: Honda Pilot test drive
Frequent travelers realize that the journey is just as important as the destination. For a one-hour jaunt to a local destination, the type of plane you take doesn’t matter so much. But for a nonstop flight that takes up the better part of an entire day, you would better hope that your ride is comfortable. So it is with cars. Honda launched two family-sized vehicles earlier this year, both with the journey in mind. The Odyssey MPV—the US market vehicle at that—would seem to be the luxury coach that families would enjoy traveling in. We discovered that the Pilot SUV likewise does an excellent job of transporting eight in supreme comfort.
The first thing we noticed, aside from the big hop required to get into the driver’s seat, is just that—the seat. Typically Honda, the seat is wide, comfortable, and supportive. The bottom portion provides proper thigh support, all the way to the back of one’s knees, one area where many seats fall short. The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake, and has intuitive switches on its spokes. Behind the wheel are three bright white analog gauges in the classic tachometer-speedometer-fuel/temperature layout. The design of the gauges, with red needles behind clear plastic cutouts, reminded us too much of the protractors we used in high school, but they come into their own at night, when they become hypnotically clear. There’s also a tiny trip meter with fuel economy readout below the gauges, but that’s a function best left to the screen in the middle of the instrument panel.
The 8-inch LCD screen does triple duty as trip computer, audio display panel, and monitor for the backup camera. The trip computer shows fuel consumption data for two separate trip meters, distance to empty, and elapsed time. It also features an animated bar graph showing instantaneous fuel consumption. The audio display is iPod-ready, showing all the requisite track information plus cover image. The backup camera is all but necessary for this car. The Pilot’s blocky styling, plus the presence of full-sized rear seats with headrests, gives a limited view of the rear when backing up. Thankfully, the rear-view camera is big and bright, and includes an audible proximity sensor, too. Honda thoughtfully provided sensors at the front corners as well, which come in handy when maneuvering the bulky SUV into tight parking spaces.
There’s plenty of storage for all seating positions, with the front seats having a small cubby beneath the aircon controls, a large console bin and another sizeable compartment with rolling-top cover that exposes a tray for small objects, cupholders, and then a space large enough to swallow an iPad or even a 13-inch Ultrabook or MacBook Air. The rolling cover clicks smartly at each stop. There are cupholders throughout the cabin, and small cubbies outside of the glove compartment.
The second row seating is wide and kneeroom is plentiful. The trademark Honda flat rear floor benefits the middle passenger, who gets his own three-point seatbelt. Likewise the third row, which has three full seatbelts. Third row room is tighter, with a slightly knees-up position, but this can be alleviated if the second row folks slide their seats forward. Access is via a manual knob that folds the seatback and slides the seat forward. All seats get aircon vents, with the middle and rear seating area getting their own temperature control. This is one area where the Odyssey will trump the Pilot, as getting out from the third row in a tight parking lot can be a challenge.
It’s in the details where the Pilot shines, from the way all storage bins are lit, to the smart click of the switchgear and compartment locks, to the sewn loop in the seatbelt that keeps the metal tongue in the right place. Standard equipment on the fully-loaded Pilot include motorized actuation for both front seats; moonroof; and front, side, knee and curtain airbags.
With such a full load of equipment, you can guess that the Pilot is not exactly lightweight, and it’s not, at 2087kg. Fortunately, the power plant under the hood is up to the task. Honda dropped in its 3.5-liter iVTEC V6, good for 250hp and 347Nm. The engine has the variable displacement technology that can cut the number of working cylinders from six to four to three, depending on engine load. The engine is well matched to the Pilot, allowing worry-free overtaking on two-lane roads even with a full complement of passengers. The engine doesn’t quite give the propulsive surge forward the way it does in the Accord, but the performance satisfies. Fuel mileage is surprisingly good for a vehicle of this weight and engine displacement, the high-tech engine eking out 6.8 to 7 km/liter in mixed city and highway driving, and 9 km/liter on a highway drive. Handling is car-like, with responsive handling and braking.
The Pilot exterior looks decidedly anonymous, nearly generic in its two-box structure. As with the interior, the good is in the details: the glass screen that opens independently of the hatch, the door strips precisely placed to help avoid dings, the discreet roof rails and tow hitch. The Pilot is a lot of SUV for the P2.6 million asking price; the only things we missed were paddle shifters, HID headlamps, and automatic wipers. We found ourselves reaching for its key quite often, for short trips as well as those long trips that became pleasant journeys in first class.