Going & Stopping

The Pilot gains slightly more power for 2009 and is more fuel-efficient. It still uses a 3.5-liter V-6, but that engine now makes 250 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque.

The V-6 provides adequate acceleration and motivates the Pilot past slower-moving traffic on two-lane roads without drama. The engine teams with a five-speed automatic transmission, which kicks down readily when more power is needed to accelerate or pass. During the entirety of my drive, the transmission never made a harsh shift and always seemed to be in the right gear.

Like the Accord sedan and Odyssey minivan, the Pilot now features the latest version of Honda's Variable Cylinder Management system that can deactivate either two or three of the engine's six cylinders to save fuel when they aren't all needed. The front-wheel-drive version of the previous Pilot also had VCM, but it was only able to deactivate three cylinders and thus didn't have as wide of an operating range as the new system. To oppose vibration and unwanted sound when the engine isn't running on all of its cylinders, the Pilot has active engine mounts and a noise-canceling system. At all times during my test drive, the V-6 operated smoothly.

The front-wheel-drive Pilot gets an EPA-estimated 17/23 mpg city/highway, and the all-wheel-drive model is estimated to get 16/22 mpg. That's slightly better than the previous Pilot's 16/22 mpg (FWD) and 15/20 mpg (AWD) figures. To help drivers know when they're driving in a frugal manner, the Pilot has an "Eco" light in the instrument panel that illuminates when the SUV is achieving its combined gas mileage estimate (about 19 mpg) or greater, according to assistant chief engineer Craig Brazeau.

Front-wheel drive is standard, and Honda's VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system is optional. Honda says VTM-4 sends engine power to the rear wheels during acceleration as well as when the wheels lose traction. The system also includes a Lock mode that's designed to help the Pilot through poor road conditions at low speeds (18 mph and below).

Standard Hill Start Assist is new to the Pilot for 2009. Designed for on-road use, according to Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky, the system works as an automatically engaging and disengaging parking brake of sorts. When stopped on a hill, HSA will hold the Pilot briefly after you take your foot off the brake to prevent the SUV from rolling in the time between releasing the brake pedal and pressing the accelerator (if you wait too long, you'll start to roll backward). It operates when the transmission is in Reverse, too.

Honda provided an opportunity for some mild offroading in the Pilot in the California desert. Even though where we drove — rutted dirt roads and up and down some steep hills — was probably more severe than anything a Pilot owner would ever likely attempt, the SUV breezed through the terrain with ease, and HSA performed as advertised.

The Pilot has all-disc brakes. Making smooth stops isn't difficult in the Pilot; braking response is easily controllable, and it doesn't take much pressure on the pedal to quickly shed speed.

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