- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Honda has a reputation as an innovator, but it's not a bad follower, either.
The Japanese manufacturer, which has a practice of building cars where it sells them, came late to the minivan party. At a time when Chrysler's minivans dominated the scene, Honda introduced the Odyssey.
It missed the mark with the first version, which amounted to a jacked-up Accord station wagon. But then it did a redesign, and the Odyssey has been the most sought-after minivan since.
Similarly, Honda lagged behind on a midsize sport utility vehicle. It had success right out of the gate with its CR-V, a compact SUV. But it made do in the midsize category with a renamed Isuzu Rodeo called the Passport.
Well, the Passport has passed. Honda now offers the 2003 Pilot, which is likely to inspire the same sort of lust among buyers as the Odyssey did. The reason is similar: It's a lot of vehicle for the money.
Essentially, what Honda did was to take the chassis, engine and drivetrain from the Acura MDX, the highly successful SUV from its luxury division. Then it grafted on a more conservatively styled body and a more family-friendly interior. Finally, it sells the whole package for a whole lot less money.
For example, the Pilot EX starts out at $29,730, which is $5,470 less than the lowest-priced MDX. When you hit the top of the line, the Pilot EX with leather upholstery and a navigation system, the price is $32,980, or $6,820 less than the comparable MDX.
The Pilot tested for this review was an in-betweener, an EX model with a built-in entertainment system that includes a DVD player with a screen that drops down from the headliner. It has a suggested price of $32,480.
Of course, Honda doesn't expect people to cross-shop between the Pilot and the MDX because there's a different target audience. The MDX is a luxury sport ute, whereas the Pilot is designed to score big with families.
There's a lot to like about the new Pilot. It starts with eight-passenger seating. However, it's not the greatest setup because four of the seats the three in the third row and the center position in the second row are suitable mainly for children. Adults will find comfort only in the front buckets and the two outboard positions in the second row.
The second and third rows of seats fold nearly flat for hauling cargo, and Honda boasts that its Pilot is the only SUV in its class that can accommodate a 4-foot-wide piece of plywood lying flat on the floor. There's not a huge amount of cargo space behind the third seat just over 16 cubic feet but with the second and third rows folded, the space expands to more than 90 cubic feet.
The interior, which Honda designers say was designed to mimic a quality backpack, abounds with cup holders, bins, cubby holes and mesh pockets that can swallow or secure a great variety of stuff. There's even a built-in holder for a cell phone in the console and a center basket for a woman's purse.
Under the hood, as in the MDX and the new Odyssey, lies Honda's 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which delivers a robust 240 horsepower. It also uses the same five-speed automatic transmission and a space-saving all-wheel-drive system that transfers power from the front wheels to the rear wheels as needed.
The combination makes for a zero to 60 mile an hour acceleration time of about nine seconds, which is slightly better than most of the Pilot's competitors.
The fully independent suspension is biased somewhat toward ride quality rather than sporty handling, but the Pilot hunkers down and tracks through tight curves without feeling tippy, despite its 8-inch ground clearance and an overall height of almost 6 feet. Fat 235/70 all-season tires on 16-inch wheels contribute to the stability.
There are two major qualities you don't quite expect from an SUV in this class. First is the over-the-road silence. The Pilot designers have done a superb job of isolating the passenger compartment from engine, road and wind noise, to the point where it's easy to carry on a normal conversation at extra-legal speeds even on a windy day.
The other is the Pilot's off-road capabilities. Its all-wheel-drive system uses electromagnetic clutches in the rear axle to transfer power to the rear wheels as needed. They also can be locked up at low speeds to handle really rough stuff in off-roading.
As a result, the Pilot does at least as well in handling off-road terrain as its major competitors the truck-based Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, and the car-based Toyota Highlander.


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