August 17, 2008
When a vehicle controls the number of cylinders in use based on its need for more or less power, you'd think the automaker would shout it from the highest mountain—especially with gas prices rising like CEO salaries.
The 2009 Honda Pilot is one such vehicle, blessed with a new version of active fuel management for its 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6. If you need energy when pulling out to pass the guy dozing at 54 m.p.h., all 6 cylinders go to work. But if cruising the country road to enjoy the scenery, 2 or 3 cylinders shut off to conserve fuel. Fuel management was offered in only two-wheel-drive models last year and in only 3- or 6-cylinder mode.
But the only clue the magic is working is a green light that flashes in the instrument panel when you're running on 3 or 4 cylinders—without saying which.
Honda needs to trumpet it to draw attention to the fact that shutting off a few cylinders is a more cost effective alternative to a gas/electric.
Pilot has been redesigned for 2009 with several upgrades in response to consumer complaints. Styling gets a tweak and includes a square third-row window. Nothing eye popping.
The lineup includes the LX, EX, EX-L and loaded Touring version thats' new for 2009. That's the one we tested with all-wheel-drive.
It still holds eight in three rows. But thanks to a 3-inch stretch in wheelbase and overall length, plus 1 more inch in height and width, the cabin has a little more room. If the leather seats were more stuffed than stiff, the adults wouldn't be asking "Are we their yet?"
The split second-row seats slide forward an extra 2.6 inches to open a larger aisle to the third row, but the slippery plastic door sill cover and step-in height keep that maneuver more suited to an Olympic gymnast than a steerage passenger.
Second- and third-row occupants get a little more leg and knee room, but one ample space in one comes at the expense of the other. With snug melon room, Row 3 is still the spot for youth.
And when the kids are in back, cargo space behind it is cramped. With seats empty, the backs fold flat to expand the cargo hold to massive proportion. A small compartment under the cargo floor on the left holds a few things and a large plastic lined one to the right holds much more.
A power liftgate is new and available only on the Touring version. It opens or closes using the key fob or buttons in the liftgate and driver's door.
Other new features for 2009 include humidity control sensors on the air conditioning system to keep windows from fogging; hill start assist to keep the vehicle from rolling when parked on an incline; Bluetooth phone (Touring only); tilt and telescoping steering column; and a palm-size gearshift in the instrument cluster right of the steering wheel instead of the long stalk on the column.
To make loading cargo easier, the rear glass window opens independent of the tailgate for the first time. And to make loading kids easier, Pilot now holds four child-safety seats (three in Row 2 and one in Row 3) up from two (in Row 2) in 2008.
Other nice touches include cup, coin and cell-phone holders and stowage trays in the center console under a thick sliding plastic cover that's heavy enough to hold a purse; and a power plug, 115-volt outlet (for computer) and USB connector (for iPod or iPhone) under the center armrest.
To complete the package, electronic stability control with traction control, side-curtain air bags for all three rows and four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard.
The V-6 it was upgraded to 250 h.p. from 244 h.p., while delivering a little more torque. Though Pilot tips the scales at a hefty 4,500 pounds, the V-6 generates enough muscle for a smooth launch from the light. But with the weight and the high ground clearance, it tends to lean in curves with the faint sound of the radials scrubbing the pavement. And you feel the weight in the wheel.
Cylinder shutoff boosts fuel economy to 16 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway with four-wheel-drive from 15/20 for 2008. With 2WD the rating is 17/23, up from 16/22.
The 4WD system operates in FWD until wheel slippage is detected and more power is directed to the rear. Or push the dash button and lock in 4WD. Pilot can venture off-road, but there's no low setting for heavy-duty adventure.
Touring base is $39,995. No need for options. Power seats/locks/windows/mirrors, climate control, AM/FM with CD player, voice-activated navi system with backup camera, DVD entertainment system, power moonroof and second-row window sun shades are standard.
Hope on the next version, owners seek—and Honda gives—softer seats and better mileage.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at email@example.com.
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