Palm Springs, CA - February is a little early in the spring to find a desert tortoise, but as we went through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sonoran desert, the rangers wanted us to know about the desert tortoise. The desert tortoise is small, not like the Galapagos turtle you're probably thinking about, and that maybe why the desert tortoise is in peril. They look like brown speed bumps.
The home range of a male desert tortoise is around a square mile, so we passed through about 4-5 male tortoises' homes. The ranger told us that the females have a smaller home range, which means the male has more than one female.
I'm not sure how many of Mr. Tortoises' wives and children could fit in the new 2009 Honda Pilot, but Honda says eight people can fit in the CUV. Honda stretched the wheelbase and increased the interior volume to compete with the big boys.
The Pilot has been redesigned for '09. It sits on a heavily modified Acura MDX chassis. The design changes come as the old version is winding down. Between April '08 and April '07 there was a drop in Pilot sales of 30 percent. Part of this could be because there is a new version coming out in June, part could be the competition is stiffer with new designs, and the other part could be that gasoline is on the rise.
To help with the fuel economy the ever diligent Honda has included their version of displacement on demand, called variable cylinder management (VCM). The light on the instrument panel tells you that you are using fewer cylinders, thus saving fuel. The Pilot is on par with the Buick and GMC. Toyota gets a little better than the Pilot, but if you want to go further upscale you can get the Highlander hybrid.
The Pilot has lots of compartments, hiding spaces, under-floor storage compartment in back and interior comforts that weren't in the old version. Think of the regular Pilot interior as business class, the Touring version as first class. If you live in a hilly area you'll like the hill start assist control that is new for '09. The assist activates when the hill incline exceeds 10 degrees and the vehicle is fully stopped. When I'm in San Francisco on the hills I worry about taking my foot of the brake and making it to the gas pedal before the car flows backwards. Hill start assist takes care of that worry, and it is the first vehicle Honda has put Hill Start Assist in the United States. The exterior has been redesigned to look tougher, with a bold grille way out front.
Let's face it, the Pilot has the seven-year itch thing happening. It's, supposedly, when most affairs happen, after seven years. Honda had to give the Pilot a face lift and add some amenities to keep attracting the same old guys. Honda has done everything it can to fluff up a product that has some very stiff competition, including the economy. The one thing Honda's customers told Marc Ernst they didn't want was a minivan. Pilot customers wanted a crossover that looked like an SUV. An SUV, to those people denote outdoors fun and safety.
Rob Keough, Senior Product Planner for Honda said that customers wanted more room in the third row and they wanted to be able to haul things, such as a laying a 4X8 piece of plywood down flat in the back, something Honda says the Highlander and CX-9 can't do. The new customer wanted practical luxury, which is what the touring version gives to the customer, albeit at the highest price a Pilot has ever cost.
If you're a big family, or a desert tortoise with multiple wives, the eight-seater Pilot is a must see. There are latches for the children in the back, or you can put the third row down and carpool with other desert tortoise kids. It may not be the new kid on the block, but it is tried and true. And works well on the off-road desert tortoise territory.
The 2009 Honda Pilot will go on sale in June. It is designed, developed and manufactured in the United States.
Type:8-passenger crossover with three models: LX, EX/EX-L, and touring
Base Price: Base price starts around $27,500 and can go up to $40,000 for a top-level trim with navigation.
Engine:V-6 24-valve SOHC I-VTEC 3.5-liter
Horsepower/torque: 250 @ 5,700 rpm/253lb.-ft@4,800 rpm