Honda did a serious makeover on its Pilot last year, resulting in a big SUV with squared-off sides and room for seven passengers. We looked at a low-trim model last year, the, and found it underwhelming because of poor fuel economy and a lack of tech options. This year, we're looking at the 2010 Honda Pilot Touring model with navigation and rear-seat entertainment, a trim level that makes up for the EX-L model's missing cabin tech.
Navigating the navigation
The squarish design of the Pilot makes it almost seem like a parody of an SUV. The boxy styling is very intentional on the Pilot, and hearkens back to old Toyota Land Cruisers or Land Rovers. The grille does away with any fancy screen work in favor of a simple hexagon. Wide C and D pillars make the Pilot's cargo area look like a separate piece of the vehicle, a full-size model assembled in chunks.
But jumping into the cabin, we get a thoroughly different perspective, a heavy dose of Acura with the profusion of buttons on the steering wheel and stack, and most noticeably with the big joystick/knob used for controlling navigation and audio functions on the LCD. Unfortunately, this interface hasn't been particularly refined during its jump from Acura to Honda, so it keeps some of the flaws, such as the two sets of buttons for two different voice command systems.
This control knob has been used in Acura models for years.
As we get into the navigation system, we are greeted by the familiar graphics we've seen in other Honda and Acura models. But this navigation isn't up to the standards of the newest version, found in the. The Pilot's system is DVD-based, which can mean slower response times, and it doesn't have any external information, such as traffic or weather. But among its points of interests it has Zagat ratings for restaurants, one of Honda's signature features for years.
Most Hondas use a touch-screen navigation system, but the physical controls in the Pilot work very well. We've always found them easy to manipulate in Acuras, and it's no different here. Likewise, the Pilot has Honda's excellent voice command system, our one complaint being that you use a separate set of buttons for the phone's voice command. The route guidance graphics are adequate with this navigation system, but there is no text-to-voice, meaning the system won't read out street names.
Among all those buttons on the stack is the shifter for the five-speed-automatic transmission. Mounted on the dashboard instead of the console, the positioning seems a little odd, but we found no issue with the ergonomics. And while underway, we found little opportunity to use the shifter, as it doesn't have a manual mode. It does have three low ranges, primarily useful for hill descents or towing.
Looking for fuel economy
As we began driving the Pilot, the 3.5-liter V-6, with its 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, proved more than adequate to get the truck moving. We wouldn't call it fast, but it didn't struggle, either. Behind the wheel, the 2010 Pilot showed very smooth operation, something we've come to expect from Honda. The transmission found its way into the right gears and the engine ticked over without complaint.
The shifter for the five-speed-automatic transmission is on the dashboard, next to the all-wheel-drive engagement button.
Honda puts a lot of tech into this engine, trying to wring out maximum efficiency. i-VTEC, which stands for intelligent valve timing and lift electronic control, regulates how the valves operate for different speeds. Honda also equips this engine with its variable cylinder management technology, which runs the engine on three or four cylinders under light loads, such as cruising down the freeway. That latter technology operated seamlessly, with no intrusion on the driving experience.
This engine tech only partially succeeds. Honda earns a ULEV II rating for emissions from the California Air Resources Board, an excellent achievement for a big SUV like the Pilot. Although EPA fuel economy figures are 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, during our driving it averaged only 15.6 mpg, with much of our time spent at freeway speeds of 70 to 80 mph.
The failure to hit that EPA range is largely because of higher speeds than the EPA's highway test cycle. With a sixth gear in the Pilot's transmission, it would do better on modern freeways, not requiring the engine to work as much. Likewise, Honda hasn't yet gone to direct injection, which could further improve its fuel economy.
The 2010 Pilot tries to train its drivers to be more eco-friendly with a little green Eco label that lights up on the instrument panel when you drive in a more fuel efficient manner. We generally saw it light up when coasting--just about any application of throttle turned it right back off.
With all-wheel-drive, the Pilot is set for light off-roading.
For a big SUV, the Pilot has a very un-truck-like suspension. It uses MacPherson struts in front and a multilink suspension in the rear, leading to a decent ride and accurate handling. As with most big vehicles like the Pilot, the steering is a little dead in the center, making for less work on long, straight highways. And, of course, it's no sports car--we weren't inclined to see how much it would tip in the corners. Our version also came with an all-wheel-drive system, activated by a button near the shifter. Honda calls it variable torque management, as it moves power around to the wheels that need it most.
Surprised by sound quality
For safety on the road, Honda includes its Bluetooth hands-free phone system with the 2010 Pilot Touring model. We've seen this phone system before in other Honda models. It handles the basics, but isn't very advanced. It doesn't make use of the car's LCD, which does show navigation and audio information. Instead, if you tell it to make a call, the phone number shows up on a monochrome screen on the instrument panel.
With the rear-seat entertainment system present, the six-disc changer on the stack is accompanied by a DVD player, along with controls to power up the rear-ceiling-mounted screen. One particularly nice feature with the rear entertainment system is that back seat passengers can listen to a different audio source, or use the RCA and composite jacks on the back of the console to plug in MP3 and video players.
The rear-seat entertainment system can be used for music or video.
Honda is generous with the audio sources, and the interface makes selecting music easy. The six-disc changer reads MP3 CDs, allowing for an abundance of music. There is also satellite radio, but the most useful feature we found is the USB port in the console. It reads MP3s off of USB drives, or will handle an iPod cable. With an iPod plugged into the system, the onscreen interface shows lists of artists, albums, tracks, and genres.
Having the rear-seat entertainment system gave us an unexpected bonus--a beefed-up audio system delivering excellent sound quality. This system uses 10 speakers, as opposed to the standard 7, and 512 watts of amplification. Along with door speakers and tweeters in the dashboard, it also gets a center channel, subwoofer, and two speakers mounted on the rear pillars, facing into the cabin for a surround effect. We found the sound quality surprisingly good, with distinct notes throughout the frequency range. Bass is very solid, yet doesn't overwhelm the other frequencies.
The 2010 Honda Pilot Touring is one of the most tech-filled cars wearing the Honda badge, but that's not saying too much. The cabin tech, while very useful, falls short of what can be had in Honda's Acura brand. The two stand-out features were the iPod integration and the audio system, which owes its extra power and speakers to the rear entertainment system. On the performance side, we appreciate Honda's engineering, and the efficiency technologies used in the engine. But in real-world driving, the fuel economy just isn't that good. The smooth operation of the power train is a point in its favor. The interface design for the cabin electronics is problematic, as it has been in Acura models. Too many buttons show the need for simplification.
|Model||2010 Honda Pilot|
|Trim||Touring AWD with navigation and rear seat entertainment|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||15.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Six CD changer with MP3 support, DVD player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive|
|Audio system||10 speaker, 512 watts|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera, sonar object detection|
|Price as tested||$40,955|