It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. In automotive terms, perhaps the same can be said for the grille.
More specifically, Honda’s eight-passenger Pilot that was redesigned for the 2009 model year projected a go-anywhere strength and ruggedness. Too tough, maybe. A restyle for 2012 softens the look for friendlier, more aesthetically pleasing demeanor.
Added to the grille adjustment, the Pilot receives new headlamps along with new and repositioned turn signals and a revised front air dam that reduces fuel-robbing aerodynamic drag.
What remains pretty much hidden from view is the Pilot’s familial connection to Honda’s premium Acura MDX. Both of these unique wagons share the same basic platform, but from that point the comparison pretty much ends. The Pilot’s squared-off shape reinforces its sport utility-vehicle leanings, although ground-clearance limitations restrict the fun to boulder-free terrain and shin-deep — as opposed to knee-deep — mud. Even so, fording a 19-inch-deep body of standing water is apparently no problem for this rig.
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When the going gets tough, the Pilot’s available four-wheel-drive system (VTM-4) automatically engages to direct additional torque to the rear wheels as needed before the fronts lose traction. Power is also distributed aft when accelerating from a stop on slippery surfaces. A selectable “lock” mode maintains the maximum amount of rear-wheel torque at speeds up to 18 mph when the five-speed automatic shifter is in the first-, second-, or reverse-gear position.
Honda has coaxed greater operating economy from the standard 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with internal friction-reducing coatings, by improving alternator performance and with higher efficiency spark plugs. Additional mods include a more efficient power-steering pump, low-drag front and rear disc brakes and low-rolling-resistance tires.
Front-wheel-drive Pilots now pull down 18 mpg in the city and 25 highway, while city/highway figures for four-wheel-drive versions are 17/24. Those numbers (now tops in class, Honda claims) have only increased by one or two mpg, proving that even the slightest fuel-economy improvements can require considerable engineering.
For enhanced passenger pleasure, the Pilot has improved noise-reducing seals beneath the body panels, added insulation inside the door pillars and “quieter” acoustic windshield glass.
Without an A-B comparison, those changes will be tough to notice and the same goes for the interior, which has a restyled dashboard, gauges and central panel stack. The climate controls have been simplified and room for the latest (and optional) high-resolution satellite navigation unit. A rear camera offers additional wide-angle and top-down views when backing up .
The nav/audio/backup-cam combo is included as part of the Pilot Touring, which is the peak of the four-model lineup that begins with the $29,300 front-wheel-drive LX, including destination charges. Four-wheel-drive adds about $1,600. These prices include the usual comfort amenities such as dual-zone air conditioning and a class III hitch receiver that handles the Pilot’s maximum 4,500-pound towing capacity.
The EX adds a 10-way power driver’s seat and a Bluetooth short-range wireless networking, while the EX-L is fitted with a leather-trimmed interior, power moonroof and tailgate, navigation system and heated front seats.
Along with nav, the Touring model gets a 10-speaker premium audio package, roof rails and front/rear proximity sensors.
Taken in its entirety, the modestly tweaked 2012 Pilot isn’t a whole lot different. But in a category where impressions count, this Honda puts its best face forward and backs it up with sufficient comfort and capability to win the day.