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 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L, 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.
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 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD. 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.
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.