Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2009 Honda Pilot Touring

My family has fallen in love with Bruno. Yes, we named it. Clearly, the Honda Pilot has left an impression. Size is the first thing you notice, solidity the second – there's not a whiff of the gelatin-jiggles that afflict most of this CUV's body-on-frame competitors. The Pilot is also loaded up with thoughtful, family-friendly touches everywhere you look. It's big, accommodating, and solid. What else? Follow the jump to find out.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

With styling via a framing square, "pretty" is not a word that springs easily to mind when admiring the 2009 Honda Pilot. Aerodynamic improvements increase efficiency and quell noise, and the facelift looks surprisingly pugnacious. The chromey fangs are a ruse, though, as the Pilot is all pussycat. This is an easy-driving box. It's steering is light and would be considered numb in the sedan world, but if nothing else, it brings that trademark Hondaness to the realm of large CUVs.

The rest of the chassis lives up to the name on the tailgate, as well. A tightly snubbed ride might run the risk of liquefying occupants when the going gets bumpy, but the Pilot just eats up scarred macadam without drama. No doubt the structural improvements that Honda has effected on the updated Pilot play a role in the vehicle's aplomb. The Pilot glides over roads that make you wince, and despite carting around 4,000-plus pounds, this eight-seater feels light on its feet.

The engine bay is still occupied by Honda's 3.5-liter V6 delivering 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, a marginal improvement over earlier versions. The V6 augments its ability to deactivate cylinders by adding a four-cylinder step, thereby eking out better fuel economy. Engine noise is muted, even when you wind it so hard the tachometer screams in protest. Despite its weight, and the fact that it packs "only" 250 horsepower, we were never able to catch the Pilot flat-footed. Its five-speed automatic transmission is always in the proper gear and obediently follows the command of the driver's foot. Clearly, the Pilot is no drag racer, but power levels are more than adequate.

While the Pilot is dynamically pleasing, if a bit numb, the driver's environment has actually sustained a downgrade. It's spacious and comfortable, but it's ergonomically confused and the materials and design harks back nearly two decades. Plastics are hard and shiny and things are best at night when you can't see the surfaces. The center stack sprouts lots of buttons; helpful in that you can operate the audio, HVAC and navigation systems without venturing close to Honda's imitation of iDrive. It's nice to have as little interaction with a GUI and infuriating multifunction knob as possible. However, we'd have preferred knobs instead of rockers for temperature and blower fan settings. It also seemed to take the heater quite a while to blow roasty-toasty. Of course, there is a lot of interior volume and thus a lot of air to exchange, but the vents could certainly get hotter more quickly.

Things are well thought out for the inevitable family duty. There's a convex mirror for keeping an eye on who's throwing what, and the second-row seat is wide enough to accommodate a rare trio of LATCH anchors that allows three very solidly mounted kidlets to ride just behind your shoulders. A center console with big, no fuss cupholders and a gigantic storage bin make it easy to stow everything but the kitchen sink, which will likely fit in the door pockets or on the shelf in front of the passenger.

In the interest of keeping things quiet, there's a DVD entertainment system for those long hauls through uninteresting scenery. A power liftgate seems like unneeded frippery until the first time you come upon the Pilot with full hands, barely able to press the fob button. The back seat, too, is easier to get in and out of with a sliding second row and extra wheelbase. Real people actually fit back there, as opposed to the kneecap-munching lack of legroom in similar steeds.

The Touring trim level our tester carried does not come cheap, carrying a price tag of $40,095. For that price, thankfully, there's little else to want in the Pilot. The Touring is loaded to the gills with the stuff you'd expect on luxury CUVs – the power liftgate, the DVD system, three rows of seats, surefooted performance, navigation, the works. The interior styling and execution, however, are disappointing from an automaker that's served as a benchmark. While it's quieter than before, it's still not luxury-quiet inside, but at least Consumer Reports' reliability ratings offer peace of mind to supplant the peace and quiet.

The Pilot is one of those vehicles that comes for an evaluation and stays on our minds long after its gone. It may not peg the exceptional meter on any one thing, but it would be hard to call it anything but a good choice for a buyer looking in the segment.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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