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Honda Pilot - 2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Honda Pilot
Honda Pilot

For a vehicle self-described as the "Ultimate Family Adventure," Honda Pilot engineers have worked to make sure that driving one doesn't become an adventure of its own. This three-year old has adopted Honda's reputation for dependability, while making room for a family of eight -- which conventional wisdom suggests could be an adventure all its own.

Honda came to the midsized sport utility arena later than some longtime participants from the traditional U.S. Big Three auto manufacturers, at a time when a trend toward front-drive, car-based crossovers was emerging. The unibody Pilots are based on the front-wheel-drive Odyssey minivan, rather than truck-based, a structure that makes it more road-worthy than off-road worthy. All have all-wheel-drive, however, which adds stability and maneuverability. With three rows of seating, this midsize SUV tends toward the bulkier size with just a shade more cargo room with all rear seats out of the way that the leaner, more aggressive Ford Explorer competitor.

For 2005, there are added technology enhancements, including tire pressure monitors that identify a problem tire, and front seat position and weight sensors. (There's no hint of side curtain airbags, however, not due until the 2006 model year.) Top EX-L models get vehicle stability assist. The Japanese automaker, known for its small engine technology, offers only a six in the Pilot. But that's a new 3.5-liter, 255-horsepower aluminum V-6 with drive-by-wire and reconfigured top gear ratios for smoother shifting, better fuel economy and lower emissions. Putting the pedal to the metal on this vehicle kicks on an indirect computer-generated acceleration response.

Ambience gets upgraded as well for '05, with revised instrument panel and steering wheel designs, better sunroof with wind deflector, and three new exterior colors. Unlike many competitors, Honda doesn't take the salad bar approach. Almost all upgrades are by trim level, with only a Satellite-linked navigation system and DVD entertainment system visibly available as options.

Don't expect to do heavy hauling with a Pilot, especially with a load inside. With a 3,500-pound towing maximum for a trailer and 4,500-pounds for a boat, it pales for the duty when compared with truck-based competitors, despite its slightly larger size. But with base prices in the high 20s, we expect Pilot to continue to win "best" designations.