By on August 4, 2008

They must use the same grill designer as Acura.Growing up, I thought the Porsche 911 was hideous. Its bug eyes and lumpy lines made me wonder if the designer had accidentally knocked modeling clay off his drafting table and submitted the splatter. This notion persisted until I drove one. Some 130 mph later, I considered the 911 the most beautiful automotive form on earth. Driving the all-new 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L kinda sorta triggered the same type of perceptual realignment. Call it Zen and the art of "challenging" design.

That's not to say I hated the new Pilot's looks at first glance. The effete minivan-ish look of the first generation CUV needed beefing-up more than an anorexic body-builder. So I was ready for something radical. And boy, did I get it. The new Pilot's grill "features" a thick chrome double-D rotated 90-degrees to the right; an affectation that's more Tranformers than transformative. The Pilot's rear end demonstrates the classic SUV refrigerator-on-wheels look, easily confused with the new Liberty (sans trapezoidal wheel wells). Taken as a whole, the new Pilot is like the big-boned girl that people can't decide whether she's an ugly duckling or the next "it" girl (I'm looking at you Scarlet Johansson).

Sure it\'s all plastic, but it\'s nice plastic.The Pilot might not have turned out exactly as Honda's chief designer Dave Marek intended, but the look certainly projects greater solidity and presence than it's predecessor. Stylistically, the new Pilot harks back to a simpler time, when real men (and their wives) drove SUVs [kidding-ish]. If you think that the new Toyota Highlander looks like a contemporary example of Japanese design running awry of American taste,  and that futuristic CUV's such as the Ford Edge and Mazda CX-9 look more at home on the cover of a Journey album than rolling around U.S. highways, they you'll find Pilot's masculine simplicity a step in the right direction. If not, not.

The Pilot's inner confines are free from the pseudo-luxury pretenses that afflict nearly every other car on the road. Aside from the cowhide pulled tight over seats and steering wheel, all surfaces are fashioned from easy-to-clean durable plastic.  These are not brittle poor-quality polymers masquerading as chrome or wood, but proud durable materials that know that their primary role is to serve families with messy kids.

The Pilot's front seats are comfortable and supportive enough for non-track trekking. The second and third rows are little more than padded benches that fold flat. Kids are cool, but the Geneva Convention specifically prohibits adults from extended tours of duty. Parents that don't pony-up for the Touring Edition with satellite navigation still avoid smushed tikes and trikes via the Pilot's rearview backup camera, with a display conveniently located in the rear view mirror.

Cool, but will it pick up \"Mad Men\"?When I tested a Gen One Pilot about two months ago, I was shocked by how poorly it drove and handled. The crossover that once set the standard for SUV-driving dynamics had been thoroughly outclassed by the rest of the industry. Especially notable: the four-wheel independent suspension-equipped, front wheel-drive (FWD) trucklet's tendency to crab-walk its way over bumps. 

The '09 Pilot's handling dynamics now boast contemporary car-like excellence. Soccer moms and suburban dads can now schlep kids to school, fetch groceries and commute to work without wrestling with the tiller. The base Pilot's tendency to torque steer, introduced when Honda deleted all wheel-drive (in pursuit of mpg), hasn't been eliminated. But drivers are now unlikely to push the engine above 4800 rpm, where the twist wreaked havoc with the FWD model's steering. By 5500 rpm, the power steering boosts to counteract the torque, and all steering feedback blacks out.

Honda\'s usual engineering marvelAs you'd expect, Honda told their engineers to preserve the Pilot's performance while squeezing more fuel economy from the package. The '09 Pilot is powered by a new 3.5-Liter 24-Valve SOHC i-VTEC V-6 engine that's good for an adequate (i.e. faint praise) 250hp and 253 lb-ft torque. The minor power increase offsets the new truck's extra 84 lbs. (about two percent more), keeping the horsepower-to-weight ratio nearly identical to the outgoing model. In real world driving, anyone familiar with the old Pilots won't discern any difference.

The powerplant features Honda's improved Variable Cylinder Management system (previously only available on the FWD Pilots). While the resulting 17/22 mpg might make Civic drivers cringe, according to the fine folks at the EPA the system delivers up to seven percent better fuel economy in town and 10 percent on the highway. At the least the bump removes a psychological barrier for re-upping Pilots.

No pretenses here.The Honda Pilot may not have hardcore towing or off-road ‘wheeling machine skills, but it can do both in a limited capacity.  It's best to simply think of the Pilot as a slightly larger eight-passenger version of Honda's excellent CR-V. Rock solid. Safe.  Unpretentious. Practical. Reliable. Zen for families that appreciate the finer points of basic transportation.

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34 Comments on “2009 Honda Pilot EX-L Review, Take 2...”


  • avatar
    ms87

    Though I am sure it is practical and reliable, the Pilot’s styling is more GMC Envoy than worthy of positive comment. Meanwhile, the interior’s “easy-to-clean durable plastic” design and execution would be mocked in anything not adorning the giant “H” on the front.

    And though it is better than the previous generation Pilot, when compared to the other 3 row crossover’s on the market this Pilot is already overmatched even though it is the newest of the bunch.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I’m hoping somebody will come out with a Jeepish aftermarket nose piece for this baby. Then I could have a nice looking rig with Honda internals.

  • avatar
    rob

    An ugly grill does not an interesting or tasteful design make. So, we are to think of the Pilot as a slightly larger CR-V with eight seats, that cannot seat eight average sized adults. I wish people would get over the stigma and buy a damn minivan!

    Oh, and I really don’t care if you think Scarlett Johansson is an ugly duckling or the next “it” girl, but I wish that you would leave my girl out of your reviews ;=)

  • avatar

    The most impressive aspect of the new Pilot is the ratio between interior space and exterior dimensions.

    Otherwise, it at best ties the current leaders.

    I always thought the first gen Pilot handled poorly, even back in 2002. I recall driving an Odyssey immediately after driving the then new Pilot, and finding the minivan much less numb and squishy. So that bit isn’t just a matter of others leaping ahead.

    TrueDelta might have reliability information on the new Pilot as soon as November, though February is more likely. It all depends on how quickly owners sign up and participate.

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    Thanks to assistance from NICOClub.com and NissanMurano.org, we will already have a result for the 2009 Nissan Murano this month.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    I have never been a huge fan of the 911 styling. I cringe every time I see a 911 described as “beautiful”. I think the performance mystique has brainwashed generations of enthusiasts into thinking the 911′s Beetle-esque shape is something desirable. I’m glad to see somebody agrees with me

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Oh, and I really don’t care if you think Scarlett Johansson is an ugly duckling or the next “it” girl, but I wish that you would leave my girl out of your reviews ;=)

    A thousand apologies.

  • avatar
    klossfam

    09 Pilot >>>> Still unacceptable mileage and towing capacity vs the competition. This redesign (and LACK of a REAL power train redesign) drove me towards the 2008 Highlander Ltd (FROM a 2004 Pilot EX-L)…

    A) The HL looks a lot better (at least to 90% of the public)
    B) The HL achieves a true 17/23 mpg with AWD and 270 hp vs 253 hp in the 09 Pilot (and no need for cylinder deactivation on the Toyo)
    C) The HL out accelerates the Pilot by 2 seconds 0-60 mph (that’s an eternity in real life – and when stop light dragging Porsche Cayennes – yes, the HL holds it’s own – even against the Turbo)
    D) The HL tows 5000 lbs vs 4500 lbs (and it really DOES tow 5000 lbs with composure – I’ve done it)

    First Honda lost my Acura business (to Infiniti) and in April they lost the Honda truck business…Of course, Honda sales #s are up (thanks Civic and Fit)…but if if was still a $2.50/gal world, they’d be hurtin’

  • avatar
    jaje

    My in laws have a 1st gen Pilot. It already has 120k miles on it (2004 model) as they are retired and drive it to visit family and to / from vacation home. Outside of scheduled maintenance it’s been reliable and handles well for a minivan.

    It replaced a Jeep Grand Cherokee Larait that they replaced 2 a/c compressors, a/c evaporator core, 1 alt, transmission, rear and front differentials, front seat cushions, wheel bearings, radio, and the interior was falling apart and the passenger front door panel fell off! That truck only had 90k miles on it (mostly highway and they do not abuse their cars).

  • avatar
    danms6

    In what ways is this new Pilot superior to the Flex? Having yet to drive either, I was wondering if someone could chime in.

  • avatar
    zintradi

    now, what honda needs to do is take that v6 and put it in the CR-v and Element.

  • avatar
    blautens

    zintradi :

    now, what honda needs to do is take that v6 and put it in the CR-v and Element.

    I would respectfully disagree. I applaud Honda for sticking to 4 cylinder engines in those models and continuing to develop them into class leading powerplants.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    danms6:
    In what ways is this new Pilot superior to the Flex? Having yet to drive either, I was wondering if someone could chime in.

    One drives like an SUV and looks like a Scion, the other drives like an SUV and looks like one too.

  • avatar
    phil

    @Klosfam

    the highlander does not “hold its own” vs a cayenne turbo. the facts:

    from Car and Driver: “As you’d expect, the new Turbo is quicker than the outgoing model. The 0-to-60-mph run takes 4.8 seconds (versus 5.0″

    from Car and Driver: “The new Highlander proved to be reasonably quick on our drive along the high-speed, placid mountain roads between Portland, Oregon, and Washington’s Mt. Adams, as well as in our acceleration testing—0 to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds”

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    While i thought it was unattractive in pictures, i found it downright ugly in person. and torque steer? there really is no excuse for that these days

  • avatar
    klossfam

    phil – I never said the Cayenne Turbo driver “KNEW” he was racing or that it was some 85 year old guy with especially bad reaction times…but you are correct…I should not have over stated the quickness…

    Faster than 80% of the SUVs on the road is probably more accurate…Plus what am I doing worrying about SUV 0-60 times – especially when my daily driver is a 2008 G35xS (which is a real world mid-to-high 5 sec machine)…I rarely drive the wife’s 08 Highlander and when I do, I’m usually pulling a boat.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    A) The HL looks a lot better (at least to 90% of the public)

    I find both of them were uglified with the latest resign.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Plastic interior hell.

    But because it’s a Honda, it’s functional and intentionally Spartan.

    I don’t think so. Just say it like it is. The interior is cheap, the engines aren’t really strong, and the only design element is the grill, which makes you look like a twat.

    And unpretentious? It’s trying to look like a macho SUV but it’s not!! What could be more pretentious!!! Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

  • avatar
    klossfam

    Dave M – You are, of course, entitled to your opinion…I like the HL because Toyota made an effort to add some character lines and made a nice cross between the typical unibody SUV look and the pure CUV designs (Mazda CXs, Hyundai Veracruz, etc)…The Highlander looks good in person (IMO)…I liked the 2002-2005 Pilots as well – some say boring but it had a true, designed from scratch, unified look…the 2006-2008 looked like the Frankenstein it was and the 2009…horrendous!

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    the 2009 [Pilot]…horrendous!

    Agreed. I liked the early HL – I thought the lines were simple but expressive, and the size just right. We have a 4 cyl version….the V6 was too nose heavy I thought…..and it’s perfect for what we need it for.

    I don’t know what the hell Honda/Acura is drinking lately but the CRV is about the only decent design (IMO) they’ve released. It seems they go in phases, with every-other generation decent. The last gen Accord, RSX, CL, and current TL are pretty classy…their replacements not so much.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The ‘new’ Pilot’s interior is about two clicks better than a Jeep.

    And no…. that’s definitely not a compliment.

  • avatar
    James2

    Memo to Dave Marek, Honda chief designer: some talented dude over at CarSpyShots.net (see link) redesigned your CR-V into something rather more tasteful:

    http://www.carspyshots.net/showthread.php?t=15174

    Hire him ASAP to redo the Pilot, unless you like competing with Toyota for the title “Who Makes the Ugliest Full Line of Cars?”.

    Aside from that horrific snout the Pilot is little more than a rolling refrigerator, which is functionally OK, while the Highlander is Toyota at its best (worst?) with all kinds of Bangle-esque lines, angles and slashes torturing ill-proportioned sheetmetal. It competes with the 4Runner for sheer hideousness.

    P.S. Every time I see a 911, I only can think of Jeremy Clarkson as he dismisses it as a “Super Beetle”.

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    James2

    “competes with the 4Runner for sheer hideousness”

    Just goes to show that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I love the look of my new 4Runner – it looks exactly like what it is with few if any pretensions. The interior is of much higher quality and the leather seats are far more comfortable than the EX-L.

    The 4Runner has bullit-proof reliability and can easily handle any reasonable off-road situation. It is not a daily commuter so the gas milage (16/20) is not a big deal to us. The wife and I both love it.

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    Sorry about the bold print on the previous post. Either the “Edit” function has a glitch or I do (certainly possible).

  • avatar
    capeplates

    Why so much emphasis on the style and looks of a vehicle. I sit inside the damn thing not on the bonnet. If it’s interior is comfortable and the vehicle is reliable and economic why worry about the exterior.

  • avatar
    nudave

    I’ve always been a Honda fan, in part because of the traditional of ‘man maximum, machine minimum’. However, this monster seems to pander to the American taste for ‘ass maximum, machine maximum’. I know they’re in business to make a profit, but Soichiro must be turning over in his grave.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    What is with some of the latest Japanese styles? The Camry, the Accord, now this. Mechanically I am sure it is excellent, but sure wouldn’t consider owning one. By the way, IMHO the power output and performance is fine for this class of vehicle. But, alas, even Honda, once the master of taking weight out of vehicles, sees a weight increase. Just think of 300 lbs out of the old one, a bit smaller engine, a bit of a gearing change and two more MPG…something that is important in a machine like this.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Hey I rather buy that Kia Borrego(on the right side of your screen) it has everything.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    And I should buy this instead of an Odyssey because?

  • avatar
    davey49

    The best part about the Pilot is that the cargo area is a box. I guess that the appeal of the Pilot amongst the crossovers is the styling (looks more like an SUV) and the Honda name/reputation.
    The Pilot is in the middle for me. I could go for the Dodge Journey if I wanted a CUV with an occasional use 3rd row ,it costs less,
    or I would go for a BOF SUV (Explorer, TB, Pathfinder, 4Runner) for the 6-7000# tow capacity

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    capeplates :
    August 5th, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Why so much emphasis on the style and looks of a vehicle. I sit inside the damn thing not on the bonnet. If it’s interior is comfortable and the vehicle is reliable and economic why worry about the exterior.

    are you serious? you want to pay that kind of money for a vehicle that you’re going to see in your driveway for then next 4 or 5 years, and not care what it looks like?

  • avatar
    Dragophire

    This thing has a sea of plastic on the inside and looks like crap on the outside. You cant convince me that these are the same folks who dont like the Maxima that much but are drooling over this mess.

  • avatar
    Mj0lnir

    So… we have an oddly styled SUV with a hard plastic interior, uncomfortable rear seating, and absolutely average statistics, dynamics, and usefullness.

    What, exactly, earns this thing 4 stars?

    Is it a great value?

  • avatar
    Mike658

    Well, I just leased a 09 Pilot. I agree that it’s challenged from a styling perspective. In fact it wasn’t my first choice. It was my wife’s. However, it’s such a sweet machine that the sides and front of the car are forgiven. The fact is, there’s a lot to like about the Pilot. The seats are terrific. Interior is typical Honda – controls are well thought out and intuitive. The gas mileage is about what you’d expect: teens in town and 20/21 on the highway. We’ve had it a few weeks and it grows on you. Oh and it was the best deal in the segment – at for a lease.

  • avatar
    judy

    I have a 2007 Honda Pilot and would like to trade it in for something newer. Based on the 2007, I don’t think that I would consider another Pilot. While I know that Hondas are reliable and I have had no problems with it, I am very dissapointed in how noisy it is. The road noise on the highway is awful. The air-conditioner sounds like a jet engine and you cannot carry on a conversation while its running. I hate the air vents on the console – there’s no way to close the middle ones, only the side ones. The display on the radio/clock is impossible to see when wearing sun glasses.


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