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.
The backup camera differentiates itself from other systems we've tested by hiding the color monitor behind the glass of the rearview mirror. We like this setup because it allows the driver to keep at least one eye of the mirror while using the camera to see into the huge rear blindspot. Plus, it looks really cool. The camera's focal length isn't as wide as some of the systems we've used in the past, so you'll have to use the sideview mirrors to see things at the extreme corners of the car.
The CD changer is a complete eyesore, being covered in a cheap greenish-blue, faux-frosted glass material. We can understand why an automaker would use faux-metal or faux-wood, but faux-frosted glass is completely beyond our comprehension. Fortunately, the system doesn't sound like it looks. Audio was loud and clear with audio CDs and MP3s encoded at high bit rates. The system includes a subwoofer that really fills out the bottom end of the music without overpowering the mids and highs.
With the volume cranked to 11, we didn't hear any rattle or hum, suggesting that the speakers are well-mounted and the interior panels fastened tight.
Prospective Pilot owners who plan on filling the SUV's second and third rows with children will be interested in the optional rear-seat DVD-entertainment option, which adds a 9-inch flip-down display with wireless headphones and remote control.
Under the hood
When all six cylinders are active, Honda's 3.5 liter i-VTEC engine outputs 250 horsepower through a five-speed automatic transmission with grade logic control, that keeps the vehicle in a lower gear when going uphill, downhill, or in city traffic for efficiency and a smoother, more controlled ride. Passing through the transmission, power is routed to either the two rear wheels or all four wheels, depending on the drivetrain equipped.
On the road, the Pilot feels weighty and underpowered. Due to the lack of power and numb handling we didn't really seek the limits of the Pilot's performance envelope, but it's immediately apparent that the SUV just doesn't move like some of the more athletic vehicles in its segment, such as the lighter and more powerful. However, the Pilot is solidly built, easy to steer, and is perfectly content rolling along at the posted speed limit.
We think it's pretty safe to say that someone in the market for a vehicle like the Pilot probably isn't ranking performance as a top priority, but cabin quality and tech definitely are. The $33,595 Honda Pilot EX-L is practically devoid of cabin tech, with the exception of the backup camera and the very ugly, but very sweet sounding, audio system. Even if you wanted to upgrade, there aren't even any tech options available at this trim level, which is why we gave the Pilot EX-L low marks for cabin comfort.
To get Honda's hard-drive navigation system with Bluetooth hands free, you'll have to step up to the $36,795 Touring trim level. In Touring trim, the Pilot is priced competitively with the likes of and equally equipped Toyota Highlander. Technophiles with $37,000 to spend may want to have a look at Ford's 2009 Explorer Limited, which can now be equipped with Microsoft's Sync technology suite.