The Canadian vehicle marketplace offers an incredible degree of choice, but if you're the owner of one of Honda's original-generation Pilot crossover sport-utes and are still a happy camper, or skier, or cottage owner, or soccer mom, you might not have to make one.
The second-generation Pilot, introduced for 2009, is everything the follow-on to a successful model should be. It holds true to the premise that made it a success, while incorporating a comprehensive list of improvements in technology, safety, style and, in the line-topping new Touring edition tested, a lavish level of luxury.
When it was introduced as a 2003 model, the Pilot was Honda's first go-round with a mid-size unit-construction (no separate frame) crossover and it pretty much nailed the concept, although it kept the styling conservatively familiar.
It was still surprisingly off-road capable, in the sense of worst-case cottage access roads, not serious mud-to-the-door-handles boonie-bashing.
But more importantly it was capable of doing much of what makes those charmless minivans such sensible family vehicles, while hiding the fact its owners were also basically being practical under trendy SUV-look-alike styling.
That first-gen Pilot was an easy vehicle to live with and this new one should be even more so - with its increased power and improvements in handling, steering and braking, plus more interior room and a general raising of the bar in terms of the visual and touchy/feely stuff inside.
The Pilot is available as a base two-wheel-drive LX starting at $36,820 and ranges up through all-wheel-drive versions starting with LX, then EX and EX-L before winding up at the $49,920 Touring. The only addition to the test vehicle was a $400 trailer towing package, with which it can tow 2,045 kg.
The 2009 Pilot's styling isn't as big a departure as I'd have expected and perhaps it should have been, as it still has a very angles-and-edges traditional SUV look, particularly the boxy rear section.
Everything is now much more smoothly integrated, though, into a shape that's more modern and cleaner over all. Up front, the large headlights and the grille treatment are obviously different from, but also reminiscent of, those of the previous generation.
It now rides on a wheelbase stretched by 75 mm; it's 76 mm longer over all, 26 mm wider and 25 mm taller, with the result that overall interior volume is up 116 litres.
The increased room has been employed to improve passenger comfort - although the only people who will be happy if you load it to its maximum capacity of eight will be the two up front - along with storage. The second-row bench folds easily and the third row disappears into the floor.
You can now fit 589 litres (which includes 79 litres of under-floor storage) behind the third-row seat, up by 128 litres, and 1,350 litres behind the second-row seat. Overall cargo space is down an essentially insignificant 17 litres to 1,463 litres.
Honda says its interior designers drew inspiration from laptop computers and, although my untrained eyes fail to see a connection, the layout is obviously modern-looking - the pale green art-deco style inserts aside - and quite attractive. New materials raise the tone a bit, too. The shift lever now sprouts from the left side of the centre stack where it's convenient to reach and doesn't clutter the console.
The front seats are a bit short under your thighs but hip-to-shoulder bolsters hold you in place comfortably. The leather-wrapped wheel, with audio, Bluetooth communication and cruise controls, now tilts and telescopes.
Careful work in the wind tunnel has virtually eliminated wind noise, while making the vehicle 2 per cent more aerodynamic. What's left is just a fairly low level of background noise that isn't pronounced enough to really affect your enjoyment of the excellent audio system. A reversing camera is included in the Touring model's extensive equipment list and a DVD system is optional.
Outside mirrors are large, the headlights illuminating, the washer system effective, the step-up isn't too high, the Touring's power rear hatch handy and the doors open wider.
The V-6 engine's capacity remains the same at 3.5 litres, but it features an improved Variable Cylinder Management system. This employs all six cylinders when power is required, but can now operate on four or three cylinders depending on demand.
It also now produces 250 hp at 5,700 rpm (up by six) and 253 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm (up 13). A five-speed automatic you'll barely notice in operation transfers this to the full-time, all-wheel-drive system. It's odd that Honda didn't opt to offer a six-speed automatic to take this high-tech powertrain a step higher on the evolutionary scale.
The Pilot cruises Highway 401 at an easy 2,400 rpm and I couldn't detect the cylinder management system in operation on upgrades. Fuel economy is rated at 13.1 litres/100 km city and 8.1 highway.
The revised independent suspension system produces a comfortably firm ride that muscles you around a bit over lumpy bits of road, but also lets you corner with confidence, as long as you don't get carried away. It is a big, tall and heavy (1,967-kg) vehicle, after all.
The ABS disc brakes, incidentally, are now the largest installed on a Honda passenger vehicle and electronic stability control is standard; inside, there are front, side and side-curtain airbag systems and it has a top rating in crash tests.
Lower-level Pilots will obviously make more sense for the majority of family vehicle buyers, but the Touring version does add a seductive level of luxury features for those who can afford them.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
2009 HONDA PILOT TOURING
Type: Mid-size crossover SUV
Base Price: $49,920; as tested, $50,311
Engine: 3.5-litre, SOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 250 hp/ 253 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.1 city/9.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Cadillac SRX, Chrysler Aspen, GMC Acadia, Infiniti FX, Land Rover LR2, Suzuki XL7, Ford Flex, Buick Enclave, Toyota Highlander, Acura RDX, Hyundai Veracruz, Lincoln MKX, Mazda CX-9, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Murano
- A pleasant, comfortable, well-equipped and useful interior
- Very clever powertrain from engine to all-wheel-drive system
- The still-too-traditional SUV styling
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