Review: 2009 Honda Pilot
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2015.
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
In a market jammed with overtly stylish SUVs, the Honda Pilot stands out as the thinking person’s all-weather, all-function transport. An “intelligent adventure vehicle” according to Honda, the much-improved 2009 Pilot returns with all of its class-leading utility, plus more electronics, a stronger, better-handling chassis, enhanced safety features, improved fuel economy and better interior efficiency. This Pilot is now an ace.
Thus the 2009 Pilot line begins with the LX, aimed at utility-oriented buyers on a budget. Next, the EX fits the “nicely equipped” market bulls-eye, offering the features a majority of Pilot buyers want. Leather seating is not one of those, however, so the hide-bound must opt up to the EX-L. Topping the line is the Touring, which adds mainly electronics such as rear DVD entertainment, a navigation system with voice recognition and a rearview camera.
Every Pilot offers four doors plus a liftgate with separately opening glass. On Touring trims the liftgate is motorized while retaining its manual function. Just under the liftgate, the standard Class III tow hitch can haul 4,500 pounds on all-wheel-drive (AWD) versions, or 3,500 pounds on front-wheel-drive machines.
All Pilots share the same SUV-like sheet metal, especially the bold new grille. Wheel design is one of the few trim cues, with the entry-level LX sporting 17-inch steel rims and P245/65R-17 tires. Cast alloy 17-inch wheels are standard on EX, EX-L and Touring, with the Touring’s differing in design.
Under the Hood
Wide ratios and smooth-shift technologies highlight the Pilot’s 5-speed automatic, which is the sole transmission choice. Front-wheel drive is standard, but two thirds of Pilot buyers opt for the nifty AWD option due to its inclement weather traction and medium-duty off-road ability. Computer-controlled clutches can shuttle up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels whenever wheelspin is encountered. Under normal acceleration, the torque split is 50/50 for added stability. For “unsticking” in slippery conditions, the Pilot offers a lock button to positively engage AWD, which automatically disengages at 18 mph.
Other gains are tilt and telescoping steering, along with moving the shift lever to the dashboard. The shifter placement is another Honda out-of-the-box detail that works. Credit also a contemporary design theme that skillfully avoids trendiness nor strains for luxury. It complements the extensive available features, including satellite navigation, DVD entertainment, auxiliary audio input, plus the standard 7-speaker or optional 10-speaker, sub-woofed audio systems.
In Touring trim, as we drove the new Pilot, the details take hours to explore. Cubbies and power points abound, as do sunshades for the rear passenger door windows, two-tier cargo loading, cargo nets and wells, plus enough drink holders to open a soda fountain.
On the Road
Most impressive is the absolutely seamless operation of the variable cylinder management. Try as we might, only once did we think we caught the system in action — but likely not. Paint VCM invisible. Equally in the background is the AWD, even though it was switching on- and off-line with each heavy acceleration.
Fault-finding on the Pilot is near futile. Poking around only uncovers 110V power outlets and USB ports in the center console, or tri-zone air conditioning and seatbacks that fold flat without removing the head restraints. We’ll say the rearmost seating is “adequate” for normal folks, but the truly full-grown will want to avoid extended treks, and we really don’t need the bulky grille to remind us of the Pilot’s capabilities.
Right for You?
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson’s credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.
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