Used 2003 Honda Pilot SUV Review
The 2003 Honda Pilot is one of the best crossover SUVs in just its first year out. An excellent choice for active families in need of versatility.
Introduction: The Pilot is an all-new vehicle for Honda. It is a welcome replacement for the company's previous midsize SUV, the Passport. As the Passport was nothing more than a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo, we're not sorry to see it go. The Pilot, however, is all Honda. It's very similar mechanically to the more upscale Acura MDX. The Pilot's stated mission is to be the "Ultimate Family Adventure Vehicle." We don't know about it being the "ultimate," but the Pilot is certainly one of the best crossover SUVs available.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: The four-door eight-passenger Pilot comes in two trim levels: LX and EX. As is typical of Honda offerings, nearly everything is standard equipment. This includes a heavy-duty climate control system with rear-seat vents and ducts; cruise control; power windows, doors and locks; a rear window defroster; and a CD player. Going with the EX adds alloy wheels, auto-off headlamps, an eight-way power driver seat with lumbar, available leather seating, keyless entry, extra interior storage, automatic climate control, HomeLink and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
On EX models with leather (EX-L), a DVD-based navigation system and a DVD entertainment system are available. If the nav system is ordered, the Pilot comes with a center stack-mounted 6-inch LCD display screen. Though the Pilot isn't available with a reverse parking sensor, a rear-mounted wide-angle miniature video camera can be ordered from dealers. Once installed, the camera will project its field of view on the nav screen anytime the vehicle is put in reverse. The entertainment system includes a 7-inch flip-down LCD screen for second- and third-row occupants. It also comes with remote wireless headphones and video input jacks. Unfortunately, the nav and entertainment systems cannot be ordered together (Honda says there's not enough room inside the dash to house the components for both).
Powertrains and Performance: The Pilot comes equipped with a 3.5-liter V6. With only minor variations, it's the same mill found in the MDX. And as with virtually every other Honda and Acura vehicle, the engine features the VTEC variable-valve timing system to improve high-end power, low-end torque and fuel economy. The engine makes 240 horsepower and 242 lb-ft of torque. More power can be found in some domestic SUV offerings, but all are thirstier at the gas pump. The Pilot runs on regular fuel, unlike the MDX, which requires premium. EPA mileage estimates are 17/22 mpg for city and highway.
The engine's power is routed through a five-speed automatic transmission. The transmission's gear spacing is fairly wide to improve low-end grunt while still keeping the revs down for top-gear highway cruising. Equipped with the optional dealer-installed tow package, the Pilot's maximum trailer towing rating is 3,500 pounds.
From the transmission, power goes to a standard electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that's the same as the one seen in the MDX. During normal cruising conditions, the Pilot applies power only to the front wheels for better fuel efficiency. To get the most traction possible, the AWD system monitors throttle inputs and wheel speeds and then continually adjusts torque output to the rear wheels. This is different from the Honda CR-V's mechanical AWD system, which must encounter front-wheel slippage before torque is diverted to the rear wheels. Safety: In addition to dual-stage front airbags, all Pilots come with second-row LATCH child-seat anchors, front side airbags and ABS-equipped disc brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD). There's also a sensor in the front passenger seat that can prevent deployment of the side airbag when a child or small-statured person is incorrectly positioned in the airbag's path. Each passenger position has an adjustable headrest and a three-point seatbelt. Though government crash testing has yet to be done, Honda expects the Pilot to earn a five-star rating in front- and side-impact National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, as well a "good" rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's offset frontal crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features: The Pilot seats eight passengers, one more than the Odyssey minivan. The second- and third-row seats are positioned theater-style, meaning that they are elevated to give occupants a better outside view. Legroom for second-row passengers is quite good, but the tight third row is best suited for children. Both the second and third rows are split 60/40 and can be folded flat to expand the Pilot's cargo capacity.
Lowering the second- and third-row seats reveals an impressively large 90.3-cubic inch cargo hold. Because of the Pilot's wide stance, there's sufficient clearance between the wheelwells to place 4-foot-wide items, such as sheets of plywood, flat on the floor. If the second-row seats are in use, cargo capacity is 48.7 cubic feet. With the third row up, there's still enough room for grocery bags, baby paraphernalia or a set of golf clubs. Driving Impressions/Opinions: At more than 4,400 pounds, the Pilot isn't a lightweight vehicle. And in terms of dimensions, it's wider than, and just as long as, a Ford Explorer. Acceleration is more than adequate, however, thanks to the V6's wide powerband. As the Pilot features a stiff car-based unibody structure and a fully independent suspension, it is quite smooth and comfortable on normal roads. The wide stance also helps to give the vehicle an extra helping of stability. In terms of offroad ability, the Pilot can take on common hazards such as boat ramps, washed-out gullies and rough roads. Its lack of a two-speed transfer case limits its ability to climb or descend extreme grades, but otherwise the Pilot is just as capable as popular offerings like the Ford Explorer or Toyota Highlander.
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This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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