2010 Honda Pilot

Goldilocks' choice: just right

If the Honda Odyssey (or a large sport-utility vehicle) is too big and the Honda CR-V (or other small SUV) is too small, the 2010 Honda Pilot might be just the right size for your family and lifestyle. Like most SUVs, the Pilot is more often employed in the mundane movement of people to work, school and elementary school sports. While it may rarely get used for backcountry outings, it very easily could be.

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Precise Handling, Plenty of Room

One of the benefits of SUVs is their high seating position. This gives drivers a better view of the road ahead-especially if they're in line behind a lot of other SUVs. It also gives the driver a feeling of security: We tend to believe we can see hazards before they become dangers. The Pilot adds to its confidence-inspiring image with a taut, but not harsh, suspension setup and precise steering feel. The Michelin LTX M/S tires on the test vehicle, which Honda loaned to us, are appropriately firm riding, but offer excellent snow grip and above-average traction in the mud and on wet pavement as well. Owners may find them a bit pricey when their tread wears thin but, if you like your Pilot, heat up the VISA card and buy exact duplicates.

The Pilot is plenty roomy, at least in the front two seating rows. We appreciated the large, center-mounted speedometer, but its silver-on-white markings forced us to rely on our Garmin nuvi navigation unit as a speedometer. Our Touring edition tester had too many controls on the center console for our tastes. The buttons are positioned perpendicular to the driver and are difficult to read.

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Excellent Reaview Camera

When coupled with the navigation unit, Honda's rearview camera is one of the better we've experienced. Others lack a field of vision needed to clearly see bicyclists, pedestrians or cars approaching from the side. Models without the system project the rear video on the inside rearview mirror. We didn't get a chance to test this, but owner reports give the video-on-the-rearview mirror high marks. Important note: The rearview camera is an additional safety tool. An old-fashioned look over your shoulder, and a stroll behind your vehicle before boarding, are still required for safe backing.

There are eight seating positions in the Pilot. Unless the three in the third row are pre-schoolers, they're going to call it the penalty box. (Honda says the third row has the knee room of the average America. It failed to account for the fact that the average American's knees are connected to thunder thighs and an ample derriere.) Undoubtedly, parents will hear "Jacob always gets to ride in the middle row!" And will reply, "That's because Jake is five foot, eight inches tall and weighs 140 pounds even though he's in the sixth grade, and you're not. Sorry."

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Three Rows of Seating, Cargo Capacity

The second row offers plenty of room for two full-size adults. The center position on the second row has plenty of head- and legroom but its rock-hard seat cushion limits its usefulness for grownups. Consider the Pilot a four-seat vehicle with emergency space for four, full-size folks you might not really like anyway, or four favorite little ones. The Pilot is also easily pressed into service for trips to the home improvement store. The third and second rows fold almost flat and will accept four-foot-wide items. Both rows fold in a split arrangement.

The Pilot's 3.5-liter, 250-horse V6 is equipped with what Honda calls "variable cylinder management." In an effort to save a few ounces of gasoline, the engine automatically turns off up to three cylinders in low-load situations, such as when cruising along a flat or downhill highway. Auto writers freely toss around the word "seamless," but we didn't notice the Pilot had this feature until we checked the specs. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the Pilot a big boost in mileage: A 16-mpg city and a 22-mpg highway rating barely tops full-sized pickups that have engines almost twice as big and around 100 horsepower. Offsetting its modest mpg numbers, a 21.0-gallon tank makes the Pilot a strong cross-country cruiser.

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Power, Performance, and Price

The Pilot is available with all-wheel drive (AWD). Despite what the ad and press release writers imply, AWD will not (can not) help you retain cornering grip on slippery roads. AWD can only help you accelerate. Unless the directions to your house include "turn off the paved road and watch out for where the creek sometimes turns the road to mud," sticking with front-wheel drive will be just fine.

The Pilot is available in four model choices: The base LX, the mid-level EX, the extra-feature EX-L and the loaded Touring. The Pilot starts at just over $28,000 for the base LX model. The most expensive model, the Touring with all-wheel-drive tops $42,000. Like its Odyssey sibling, the Pilot is assembled in Alabama.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) crash tests, the 2010 Pilot earned the highest rating-five stars-in every category except rollover, where it scored four stars. The 2009 Pilot earned the coveted Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), while the 2010 model has yet to be tested.

If your needs and desires fall somewhere between the too-large SUVs and full-size minivans and the too-little mini-SUVs, the Honda Pilot is probably just right.

About the Author

Mac Demere is a writer, vehicle tester and race driver who competed in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

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