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2003 Honda Pilot Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

MSRP Range: $27,000 to $33,000

Invoice Range: $24,000 to $29,000
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $30,520

Versions: LX, EX

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size SUV

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 3.5-liter, Single Overhead Cam, V6, 240-horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 242 lb-ft torque at 4,400 rpm

Transmission As Tested: 5-Speed Automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 17/22

Standard Safety Features: Driver and Front Passenger, front and side airbags, power 4-wheel disc brakes, Antilock Braking System, Traction Control

Competition: Buick Rendezvous, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy XL, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Highlander

Ashville, NC -- Ten years ago Honda did not sell trucks. In fact, they only had products based on either the Accord or the Civic. Yet they had placed both those models in the top five selling US passenger cars, and the Accord was often #1. They gave us a Japanese platform based small Odyssey minivan and borrowed a couple utility trucks from Isuzu to keep Honda and Acura dealers and faithful customers happy. But all the time, they were busy discerning what Americans really wanted.

We're a hard group to pin down. Often we think we want something like a tough truck with lots of capability and then get disappointed with its clumsiness when we live with it for a while. This underlines the history of the SUV in the US. After ten years of trucks, buyers seem to have quietly decided that they really want station wagons and minivans that look like trucks.

"Yeah, keep them tall and tough looking, and give us all wheel drive, but make them easy to get into and let's have lots of wood, leather and gadgets," seems to be the market mantra.

Honda first gave us the CR-V small utility and it satisfied all those roles, and it has become the class of the small ute market. The Pilot is Honda's first entry into the mid-size SUV market. They have learned their lessons well.

According to Honda's Frank Paluch, "We need an adventurous image but still want safety and a good road feel. We don't want bad fuel economy and any clumsy aspects. The goal is family adventure with a Yosemite image. We want to put Sport uppermost in Sport Utility."

If you're looking for styling excellence, Honda is not the place to go. Their styling is identifiable, but safe. Even bland. They claim to have used a Pelican utility case as the model for the outside while the interior used the theme of a backpack for padding and function. Not the usual expansive words we usually get, but highly responsive to what the public is really looking for. Imagine a big CR-V.

The interior is perhaps the most important aspect, with a clean dash with instruments contained in a tight cluster, and lots of storage nooks. The high mounted radio and heater/AC controls keep the driver's eyes on the road. There is the possibility of 8-passenger seating if the rear folks are kid sized, and each rear seat rises above the row before; a welcome design detail. There's good support and shape in the front seats, but the layout is utilitarian in the rear. Yet with panoramic glass and lots of room (it appears to be 4.5 in wider than the mid-sized competition), Pilot will satisfy family needs. And the kid's activity tray in the center and nine cup holders will keep lots of clutter in check and the DVD video player can make trips shorter.

With all seats folded, the Pilot provides a full flat cargo floor and the largest cargo capacity of any SUV in the segment. And with its wide wheel track, the Pilot can accept four-foot wide items like plywood sheets between the wheel wells with no tilting or scraping of interior surfaces.

The Pilot features a 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter, VTEC V-6 engine and Honda's patented VTM-4ª (Variable Torque Management 4WD) advanced four-wheel drive system. VTM-4 combines the best features of modern on-demand and conventional four-wheel drive systems while minimizing penalties to vehicle weight, efficiency and interior space. VTM-4 delivers power to all four wheels under acceleration and when wheel slippage is detected in slippery conditions, but also benefiting driving dynamics and stability in virtually all circumstances.

The system goes one step further by providing a "locking" feature that effectively locks the rear differential for improved traction in extremely slippery or "stuck" conditions. We tested this in some obstacles that would challenge the best of the truck-based utilities, and no suburbanite need fear the winter or avoid the camping life. With Pilot's 8" ground clearance, 21-degree entry/departure angles and tow hooks front and rear, there is no reason to get stuck. More likely, Pilot will be pulling some trucks out of ditches.

With rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes, Honda has good reason to be proud of Pilot's on and off road and winter performance. They have used a wide wheelbase not only for interior comfort, but to minimize roll and pitch in winding roads.

The Pilot employs highly efficient body crumple zones and sophisticated airbag technology, and is expected to achieve a Five Star safety rating for both frontal and side impacts. The advanced safety systems include dual-stage, dual-threshold driver and front passenger airbags; a front passenger side airbag with Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS); and headrests and three-point seatbelts in all eight seating positions.

The Pilot will be a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) with excellent fuel economy and is constructed with 90 percent recyclable components. The Pilot will be available in two trim levels, LX and EX. LX models will come well-equipped with a host of standard equipment including air conditioning; cruise control; AM/FM stereo with in-dash CD player; and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

Pilot EX models add such features as 16" aluminum alloy wheels; synchronized front and rear automatic climate control; a seven-speaker, high-powered stereo; and options including leather interior, a Honda Satellite-linked Navigation System or Honda's DVD Rear Entertainment System.

The Pilot will be built alongside the Acura MDX and Honda Odyssey by Honda Canada Mfg. in Alliston, Ontario.


Where Built:

Seating: 8

Number of Rows: 3

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: *****
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: *****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: *****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: *****
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: To Be Determined
  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Untested

Length in Inches: 188.0

Warranties: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion

Weight in Pounds: 4,416

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 3,500

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 19.2

Destination Charge: $460