2008 Honda Pilot review

They say the only things you can really count on are death and taxes. Well, I'd like to add a few things to that list: Levis, ice cream, diet Dr. Pepper and my tragically frizzy hair. The first three have never let me down, and the last never fails to appear. After driving the 2008 Honda Pilot, I've determined it too is worthy of being added to that list.

I'm not just talking about Honda's legendary maintenance records or the way so many people put countless miles and years onto their Hondas. The Pilot reliably hauled my crew and all our stuff wherever we needed to go comfortably. It manages to straddle the line between truck and passenger car without any sacrifice in utility. The ride is smooth and comfortable, and the handling gives a feeling of security. With a powerful V-6 engine under the hood, merging onto the freeway and charging up hills are no problem.

Honda redesigned the Pilot this year, and the new, 2009 version is already out. We'll have a review of that one up soon, but if you're interested in getting a deal on an '08, you should know that the very face of this Pilot is reassuring. It says, "No worries. I can handle it." While there are no sharp, boxy edges, it's not all soft and curvy, either. It looks competent and useful, which is how a car should be. The exterior has a simple, clean look that, on my test car, was helped by metallic silver paint that seemed to magically hide dirt. The inside does a pretty good job of that, too, especially considering the messy monsters I haul around town. (Dirt - there's one more thing I can count on.)

There are tons of bins and pockets for containing and hiding all our stuff. In front, the center console is amazingly flexible. The cupholders lift out and fit into three different locations. A sliding panel hides them and neighboring bins from prying eyes, but it's the huge armrest box that became the central headquarters of the vehicle (and my life). Not only does it open from the top, but it opens from the front as well so that, while driving, its contents can be accessed while I keep my arm resting on the cushion and my eyes on the road. A built-in sleeve holds my phone securely while the cords and charger are kept out of the way inside the compartment.

There are tons of helpful features to make life easier in the Pilot. The EX-L comes with leather (a must) and eight-way adjustable, heated seats. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and has audio controls. The great sound system package includes a six-disc, in-dash CD changer and XM Satellite Radio. Sadly - and inexcusably - there is no auxiliary port for an iPod. One nifty feature is the sunglasses holder, which not only actually holds my D&G knockoffs, but also holds a conversation mirror, making the "he's touching me!" cries a thing of the past. A clean, clear instrument panel puts all the vital info right up front. A huge color touch-screen manages all the systems: climate control, audio systems and navigation. It also houses the indispensible rearview camera image. We've all heard the horror stories of backover accidents, so a camera like this can be a true lifesaver - just another thing to count on in this Honda.

Everything fits inside the Pilot. My kids had no problem opening doors or climbing in. Of course, they used the seatback pockets (of which there are two on BOTH seats) to pull themselves up, but they could do it without my help. They also managed the seat belts themselves, which is a great thing to be able to rely on, given I'm usually buckled in and in gear before they start yelling that ubiquitous, "I can't do it!" That means I have to put the car back in Park, unbuckle, get out and go around to their door, only to find that in the ensuing moments the child has found that he can, indeed, "do it." In the Pilot, I knew I could stay put in my seat while giving my little ones nothing more than a "Yes, you can. Just try." And they did. Valuable time saved? Priceless.

Be warned, however, that the middle seating position in both the second and third rows have seat belts that extend down from the ceiling (a pet peeve of ours here at MotherProof.com, as they obstruct rear visibility and don't fit children well).

Everyone always asks about the third row: Is it big enough? Can you fit a grown-up in it? Is it easy to fold? In a word: Yes. You can count on it. I'm not exactly petite, and I fit in the back row. I can even get in and out with a minimum of unattractive grunting and struggling, since I'm not exactly graceful, either. My complaint about the third row is that in order to fold it, the headrests must be removed first. I do appreciate, however, that there's a handy-dandy storage bin under the cargo floor made to house the headrests when not in use so they don't end up sliding around in the car or lost in the garage. Pulling the seats back up into position isn't quite as easy, and I sometimes ended up climbing into the cargo area to manage it, which doesn't help with the gracefulness issue I mentioned.

Minor grumbles aside, the 2008 Honda Pilot proved to be something I could always count on. Like ice cream or a Dr. P, it was always there when I needed it. Well, at least until they made me give it back.

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