STOCKBRIDGE, Mich. -- Buckets of rain pelt a stretch of Michigan 52, which shoots northward out of the crossroads center of Stockbridge, as we plow through tire-sucking puddles with confidence of steady tire traction thanks to the optional 4-wheel-drive mechanism rigged on a new Special Edition (SE) of Pilot, the mid-size crossover utility vehicle from Honda.
Pilot's electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system -- dubbed VTM-4, meaning Variable Torque Management Four -- automatically diverts as much as 70 percent of the vehicle's forceful V6 engine torque to the rear tires if the front rollers lose grip on slippery pavement. The device is constantly engaged so a Pilot driver never needs to think about tugging some cumbersome lever or pushing the right dashboard toggle to engage or cancel 4-wheeling traction.
Pilot for 2015 skews to five trim versions -- LX, EX, new SE, EX-L (L denotes Leather) and Touring, and each may be rigged with front-wheel 2-wheel-drive (2WD) or all-wheel 4-wheel-drive (4WD) traction.
The new SE trim issue dresses up with pewter gray aluminum alloy wheels, a power moonroof with tilt feature, Sirius XM satellite radio service and a DVD entertainment system for riders in the two rear rows of seats. Standard equipment also includes power windows and door locks, cruise control, rear air conditioning, a keyless entry device and a 7-speaker audio kit.
Honda's MSRP chart for 2015 Pilot models ranges from $29,870 for Pilot LX-2WD to $41,620 for Pilot Touring-4WD. New trim Pilot SE-2WD lists for $33,120 and Pilot SE-4WD tallies to $34,720.
A product of Honda's Alabama manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Pilot looks rugged with clean lines on sheetmetal panels which emphasize the classic 2-box conformation.
Pilot has a unitized structure that melds chassis and body into a cohesive entity that's extremely rigid when put in motion.
For safety Pilot packs a variable-power rack and pinion steering system and disc brakes for all corners linked to electronic controls like Honda's vehicle stability assist (VSA) equipment operating in conjunction with an anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA) plus a traction control system (TCS) and hill start assist (HSA), which prevents the wagon from rolling backward when pausing on a steep grade.
There's ample muscle for every Pilot due to the aluminum 3.5-liter V6 engine with Honda's i-VTEC (intelligent variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain system. The 6-pack produces 250 hp at 5700 rpm plus 253 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
Further, it employs Honda's variable cylinder management (VCM) device to conserve on fuel by modifying the number of engine cylinders at work. The VCM operation is automatic and transparent to a driver, but a dashboard light glows to indicate when VCM is working.
Federal EPA fuel consumption figures for Pilot reach to 24 miles per gallon for highway travel with optional 4WD traction or 25 mpg with standard 2WD.
In the vast cabin of Pilot, accommodations seem comfortable and convenient in the Honda tradition. Capacity extends to eight passengers in an arrangement with twin bucket seats on the front row, a bench for three riders on the second row and a third bench designed to hold up to three teeners. Benches on rows two and three split 60/40 to vary the cabin conformation, and seatbacks fold down flat. With all seats folded, the broad and long and tall compartment in Pilot provides up to 87 cubic feet of space for cargo.
Price-leader Pilot LX edition rolls on 17-inch steel wheels, stocks a Class III tow-hitch receiver and lines the cabin with cloth upholstery plus power controls for windows and door locks, cruise control, a tilting/telescoping steering column, variable intermittent windshield wipers and the 7-speaker AM/FM/CD sound package. Pilot EX trim gains gear like 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, chrome exhaust tips, body-colored side mirrors and door handles, a security system and 10-way power adjustments for the driver's seat. Pilot EX-L adds the leather seat upholstery, heated front seats, 4-way power for front passenger seat, power moonroof and power tailgate. Top trim Pilot Touring gets it all -- roof rails, corner and backup sensors, side-mirror integrated turn indicators, 2-position memory seats, navigation system with rearview camera, 10-speaker premium audio kit and the DVD backseat entertainment system.
2015 Honda Pilot
Sport utility vehicle SUV
Engine size: 3.5-;iter
MPG: 18 city/25 highway
2015 Honda Pilot LX
2015 Honda Pilot LX 4WD
2015 Honda Pilot EX
2015 Honda Pilot SE
2015 Honda Pilot EX 4WD
2015 Honda Pilot SE 4WD
2015 Honda Pilot EX-L
2015 Honda Pilot EX-L 4WD
2015 Honda Pilot Touring
2015 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD