Behind the wheel, the Pilot does little to betray its Honda bloodline. There's scarcely any doubt that you're at the yoke of a 2-ton-plus machine, but for the most part Honda's engineers have made the best of the situation. Ride quality is quite good, without giving up too much in terms of road feel or handling. It's smoother, but not as taut as an MDX. Directional stability is quite good, and crosswinds seem to have little effect at all. The steering feel is better than average for this class of vehicle, and turn-in response is satisfying as well. The center of gravity feels reasonably low for an SUV, but it's still no match for a minivan, sedan, or wagon.
Under the hood purrs yet another variant of Honda's J-series family of V6 motors. The J-series first bowed in Acura's CL 3.0 in the 1997 model year. Since then, J's have appeared in 2 generations of Accords, the 2nd generation 3.2CL, the TL, the MD-X, the Odyssey, and now the Pilot. It has served well in all of its applications. For Pilot (and Odyssey) duty, it is configured to displace 3.5 Liters, generating 240hp@5400 rpm and 242 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm on regular octane unleaded fuel. It is coupled to a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission, which puts the power to the wheels through Honda's innovative VTM-4 (Variable Torque Management) all-wheel-drive system. This system is quite a bit more sophisticated than Honda's venerable RealTime AWD system, but at a slight penalty in cost and maintenance.
In in-town driving, the setup works quite well. The motor is very smooth and makes pleasing sounds. For typical driving situations it never feels like it's even burdened by the Pilot's 2000 kilograms of heft. The only time it begins to feel a little overwhelmed is when you try to get away from a light quickly. Off the line, it's a little soft. Once a few thousand rpms spool up, it comes up on the cam and pulls with quite a bit more authority. If you mash the throttle to move around slower traffic, you may be surprised by the amount of sheer thrust that results from the transmission kickdown into 2nd or 1st gear (depending upon your initial speed). Having said that, I would like to see the gear ratios spaced a little closer together, because if you are trying to merge into fast moving traffic, and you stay on the loud pedal for a bit, you might find the 1-2 gearing to be spaced a little too far apart. On flat ground or (especially) downhill, it's almost a non-issue. Only when you have an uphill grade to contend with does it really become noticeable. In this situation you'll find that just as the transmission shifts out of 1st gear, the revs drop down a little too low, and there's a bit of a dropoff in power. It then takes a moment or two for the motor to get back into the "meat" of the torque curve. In some quasi-scientific 0-60 acceleration testing, this resulted in as much as a 1.5 second difference in 2-way runs, so the impact in real-world driving situations is substantial.
On the interstate, if you're anything like me you might find yourself a little frustrated with the overly tall gearing. With the tachometer lingering in the low 2000 rpm range at 75 mph in 5th gear, you'll soon acquaint yourself with 3rd gear kick-downs to execute passes or even to maintain pace climbing even slight grades. I have this same beef with my 2002 TL Type S, and I hope this practice falls out of favor soon. The net result is that fuel economy suffers quite a bit, and it adds to the fatigue of long road trips. With ratios spaced this far apart, I'm not sure what purpose 4th gear serves. It offers hardly any perceptible improvement in thrust over 5th gear, so you end up mashing the throttle that much harder to get a kickdown into 3rd gear. They might as well have fitted the Pilot with a 4-speed transmission. Of course, this is probably more of an issue for people (like myself) who live in hilly areas. Customers living in states with more level roads (such as Florida or the mid-west states) might not even notice anything at all. Case in point, I've taken our TL-S to Florida a few times and it felt much more at home on the dead-flat roads there.
Brake feel is fairly good, perhaps a tad overassisted, occasionally bordering on grabby. Pedal feel is solid, and little effort is required to generate maximum clamping forces, which is fine when you're taking an exit ramp at freeway speeds, but at times it feels a little too aggressive when you simply want to come to an easy stop from low speeds. It's something to which you eventually grow accustomed, but it does feel a little different at first.