Let's face it. The Honda Pilot has always looked like a brick on wheels. The new for 2009 Pilot, with its CR-V inspired grille, looks even worse. It doesn't get much better on the inside, with a dash dominated by cheap plastics and questionable material choices. As much as we dislike the Pilot's aesthetics, we can say that the SUV feels solid, as though it were machined out of a solid piece of metal. The ride is supple without being floaty, and the cabin is among the quietest in its class.
Test the tech: Scenic fuel economy drive
The 2009 Pilot comes standard with a few tech features that help improve the fuel economy of Honda's largest SUV. The first is the Honda staple i-VTEC, which helps the engine run more efficiently by having two separate cam profiles for high and low engine speeds. There's also variable cylinder management (VCM), which electronically deactivates cylinders to reduce fuel consumption. The VCM engine is able to run on three, four, or six cylinders based on the power requirement. Back in the cabin, the instrument cluster features an ECO light that activates to notify the driver that the Pilot is running on fewer than six cylinders and an mpg meter built into the trip computer.
With all that efficient drivetrain tech in place, we decided to see just how efficiently we could pilot the Pilot across San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive in and around the city, highlighting many of the major attractions and historic structures.
Starting at the Civic Center, near the city's center, we set out toward Japantown. Over the mostly uphill journey, we averaged a low 9.0 mpg, which was cause for concern, but we'd only just begun. By the time we reached Chinatown, we'd managed to reach 9.2 mpg.
By the time we reached Fisherman's Wharf, we'd gotten the hang of driving the Honda efficiently and managed to raise the fuel economy to 9.3 mpg. We entered the Presidio at 9.5 mpg and were beginning to think that we'd never see better gas mileage when a smooth and relatively stop sign free stretch of road took us up and under the Golden Gate Bridge, down the Pacific coast, and into Golden Gate Park, boosting our fuel economy to 12.0 mpg.
After leaving the park, our path took us up to Twin Peaks, where we had a fantastic 360-degree view of the city. Reaching the top of the hill cost us 0.2 mpg, but we made up for it on the decent. After a few more miles of sightseeing, we found ourselves taking a short blast up I-280 toward AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. The highway driving helped, but not much. We only managed to raise our mpg to 12.2. Past the park, we found ourselves on the Embarcadero enjoying a view of San Francisco's other great bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Finally, we turned and headed back to City Hall.
At the end of our 49-mile and 5-hour trip, we'd netted an average of 12.1 miles per gallon, well below the EPA-rated 17 city mpg. It would appear that San Francisco's many hills climbed and heavy stop-and-go urban traffic has bested Honda's engineers this time.
In the cabin
Our test Pilot was an EX-L model, which is lacking in the cabin tech department, to say the least. There's no navigation or Bluetooth at this trim level. There isn't even a stereo upgrade option. What you do get is a six-disc CD changer with MP3 CD capabilities, a backup camera option, and some odd trim materials.