2009 Honda Pilot Review

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
2009 honda pilot review

Honda was the first automaker to offer Americans a car-based SUV with a third row of seats. It didn’t matter that an Odyssey minivan was more fun to drive. Families wanted a third row without the stigma of a minivan or the bulk of a conventional SUV. The Pilot outsold all other midsize car-based SUVs. Then new competitors piled into the segment: Hyundai Veracruz, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9 and more. Honda lost its place at the head of the class. For the 2009 model year, Honda has responded with a fully redesigned Pilot. Have they done enough to reclaim their supremacy?

The original Pilot was a blandly inoffensive box on wheels. The new Pilot sports a bulkier nose, a higher beltline, more Hummeresque side windows (let us not speak ill of the dead) and a chrome butt strip. The formerly cute ute looks much more like a conventional SUV– except for the clunky grille. (Honda designer Dave Marek says the new design will grow on you; so can fungus.)

The same, more massive aesthetic has been applied to the Pilot’s interior. The center stack, the center console, and the door panels all have the chunky forms typical of a conventional full-size SUV.

If this were a Chrysler, we’d be saying that the interior plastics look cheap. Since it’s a Honda, we’ll say they look “affordable.” As in cheap. Surfaces display the sheen you’d expect from budget grade rock-hard polymers, while the instrument panel includes far too many prominently located cut lines. Want something nicer? Honda invites you to pick up an MDX. Alternatively, you could buy a competitor’s product.

Like a conventional SUV, the Pilot’s windshield is downright upright. The instrument panel isn’t minivanishly deep and visibility is excellent. Although the Pilot’s front seats are larger and cushier than those found in smaller Hondas, there’s less lateral support than Hillary Clinton affords Barak Obama. Also on the downside, the Pilot’s shifter has moved to the left side of the center stack. It’s an improvement over the old column shifter, but the cog swapper’s positioning isn’t ideal for anyone who likes to drive.

The new Pilot has all the width of a full-size SUV. In terms of length and wheelbase, both dimensions have increased by about three inches; remaining about ten inches shorter than competitors. Legroom in the second row is up an inch, third row limb accommodation is up nearly two inches. The second row adjusts a few inches fore-and-aft, but adults will want it all the way back.

Humans up to six feet tall can now fit into the Pilot’s third row, with little room to spare. The wayback seats are positioned above the first two rows, providing occupants with a pleasantly unobstructed view forward. But the chairs are still too close to the floor to provide adults with enough thigh support to prevent Restless Leg Syndrome.

The Pilot’s relatively short exterior length also compromises cargo volume. The Honda can carry eight people or their luggage, but not both at the same time. As with the third row, you’ll find more room elsewhere.

Honda’s secured an extra six horses for the Pilot’s 3.5-liter V6, for a total of 250. The i-VTEC system makes the most of what’s there, stumping-up 253 ft. lbs. of torque. Unfortunately, there’s no noticeable difference in performance. Why would there be? The Pilot’s curb weight has increased to 4500 lbs. (with all wheel-drive). To compensate for the heft’s effect on gas consumption, the powerplant now runs on three or four cylinders while cruising. The resulting 16/22 EPA numbers are competitive, but hardly qualify as a unique selling point.

The Pilot’s automatic five-speed gearbox remains. (Most competitors have a sixth ratio, which enables a shorter first gear for stronger acceleration off the line.) The Pilot’s steering feels a bit firmer than before. Thanks to improved suspension tuning, the Pilot no longer leans like a boat through the turns. But the not-so-cute-ute is about as much of a sporting machine as the [only slightly less expensive] Panasonic EP3005 massage chair.

Disappointingly, the Pilot’s new underpinnings don’t deliver markedly improved ride quality or a vast reduction in noise levels. If you’re looking for a bargain-basment alternative to premium-branded products, this ain’t it.

The new Pilot doesn’t change the game the way the original did. There’s not a single area in which it excels, in a field crowded with excellent products. Of course, the same could be said of the old Pilot, of which Honda sold quite a few. Much like the previous model, the new Pilot is a vehicle for those who will only consider a Toyota or Honda, and want something roomier than the Highlander. Honda bunted. The Pilot’s a base hit.

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  • Marstons Marstons on Aug 20, 2009

    I've owned my 09 Pilot Touring for about two months now. While I agree with some of the points made in this article, I've found it to be a very good vehicle thus far. We researched and test drove for many months before deciding on the Pilot. One thing you have to remember when comparing here...its a mid-sized SUV, not comparable with an Armada or a Tahoe in heft, but much bigger than a CR-V, Escape or Forester (which is really a wagon if you ask me). Anyhow, my wife really found the people hauling the most important and the Pilot can haul 8 (3 small folks across the back) and the Highlander, CX-9 and MDX cannot...period. The rear seat is unlivable in the Highlander and MDX, so-so in the CX-9, but still not as big as the Pilot. The Pilot is not a minivan, so don't compare it to the Odyssey (our last vehicle) for interior room. No comparison, the Ody wins, as would any minivan. The fuel consumption and less-than-impressive acceleration in the Pilot are my biggest complaints. Fuel consumption is rated the same as the other mid-sized SUVs, but I think the CX-9 and Highlander had better acceleration. Braking is something that supposedly the Pilot also falls behind in. I haven't noticed yet, but the fact that the Pilot rides on 17 inch wheels, while the Highlander Limited is on 19s and the CX-9 Touring sits on 20s means something to me! I guess that means smaller brake rotors for me also, but I have a smoother ride and will not die of shock when I have to replace those tires (so I'll just try not to tailgate). I just came back from a trip to the mountains with my Pilot. We used it to pull my bro-in-law's 23 foot pontoon boat out of the water and towed it 10 miles back to his cabin. Total weight of boat and trailer was around 3500lbs. While not the best towing vehicle because of its short wheelbase (it feels tentative in front of that trailer), it had no problems pulling that boat. We found its short wheel base a great manuevering advantage when it came time to backing that boat and trailer into its tight parking spot amongst the trees at the cabin. Much easier than using his F-150. But, again, if you do a lot of towing of big boats or campers, I'm not sure this is the vehicle, but its okay for the occasional weekender or vacation. All in all, its a good vehicle for the price and its a Honda, so I know it will do well for us over the next 10 years. Fit and finish are about the same as our Odyssey, which is to say, its above average but not superb (as the author eluded to, they save that for the Acura line).

  • VA-REBEL VA-REBEL on Apr 19, 2010

    I went to the Honda dealership to look at this vehicle. I was disappointed with this vehicle. No one should say anything about Chrysler products having a cheap looking dash. Pilot's interior is awash in cheap-looking hard-plastic trim," writes Consumer Guide. I agree its plastic dash is not in style with a vehicle that cost this much. The leather seats are too hard and not that comfortable. The vehicle is heavy and you can tell it on acceleration. Talking to people that own this vehicle they said it is not good on gas but I guess if you can pay for this vehicle you can afford the gas. I liked the Hemi Commander and Chevy Traverse much better with the Traverse way on top of the Commander or Pilot. With Honda having average or better-than-average predicted reliability that may be a factor in the purchase of this vehicle if you are willing to give up some comfort and other factors.

  • MaintenanceCosts Despite my hostile comments above I really can't wait to see a video of one of these at the strip. A production car running mid-eights is just bats. I just hope that at least one owner lets it happen, rather than offloading the car from the trailer straight into a helium-filled bag that goes into a dark secured warehouse until Barrett-Jackson 2056.
  • Schurkey Decades later, I'm still peeved that Honda failed to recall and repair the seat belts in my '80 Civic. Well-known issue with the retractors failing to retract.Honda cut a deal with the NHTSA at that time, to put a "lifetime warranty" on FUTURE seat belts, in return for not having to deal with the existing problems.Dirtbags all around. Customers screwed, corporation and Government moves on.
  • Bullnuke An acquaintance of mine 50+ years ago who was attending MIT (until General Hershey's folks sent him his "Greetings" letter) converted an Austin Mini from its staid 4 cylinder to an electric motored fuel cell vehicle. It was done as a project during his progression toward a Master Degree in Electrical Engineering. He told me it worked pretty well but wasn't something to use as a daily driver given the technology and availability of suitable components of the time. Fueling LH2 and LOX was somewhat problematic. Upon completion he removed his fuel cell and equipment and, for another project, reinstalled the 4 banger but reassembled it without mechanical fasteners using an experimental epoxy adhesive instead which, he said, worked much better and was a daily driver...for awhile. He went on to be an enlisted Reactor Operator on a submarine for a few years.
  • Ajla $100k is walking around money but this is almost certainly the last Dodge V8 vehicle and it's likely to be the most powerful factory-installed and warrantied pushrod engine ever. So there is some historical applicability to things even if you have an otherwise low opinion of the Challenger.And, like I said up thread, if you still hate it will be gone soon anyway.
  • Carlson Fan GM completely blew the marketing of the Volt. The commercials were terrible. You'd swear they told the advertising company to come up with an ad that would make sure no one went out and shopped a Volt after seeing it!...........LOL My buddy asked why I bought a car that only goes 40 miles on a charge? That pretty much sums up how confusing and uninformative the advertising was.