Product Concepts and Design Themes
The Pilot was designed and developed by Honda R&D engineers in Ohio and California, taking full advantage of Honda's North American research and development capabilities to deliver a vehicle tuned specifically to the tastes of North American customers.
Honda engineers conducted extensive research - including customer clinics and surveys; home visits with SUV owners; and investigative trips to malls, schools, home improvement stores and family vacation spots - to develop a thorough understanding of the mainstream SUV market and the needs and desires of the SUV buyer.
"When we started to develop the Honda SUV, we began with really trying to understand the SUV customer as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the current SUV market," said Frank Paluch, Honda R&D chief engineer for the Pilot. "We wanted to improve on those market weak points and also create a smart design that would surpass customer expectations."
Honda engineers focused on the family buyer as the heart of the mid-size SUV market and concluded there was an opportunity to improve on the existing SUV offerings with improved handling and refinement, interior utility and comfort, and driving dynamics. Design priorities were set beginning with the interior concept which focused on a large and versatile "family functional" interior. The exterior of the vehicle would convey traditional SUV toughness, while the vehicle platform would provide for a high level of comfort and control. All this would be built on a base of traditional Honda values, including top-level safety performance, outstanding value, environmental responsibility and world-class quality.
All these elements were brought together under one theme: The Ultimate American Family Adventure Vehicle. This idea was further defined with the image of Yosemite National Park as a typical family vacation destination. Images of Yosemite - a typical family vacation spot with its wide open spaces, rugged character and educational qualities - provided the inspiration for many of the Pilot's design themes including its large interior, panoramic visibility, environmental responsibility, rugged character and family friendly nature.
To underscore those themes, storyboards were created to follow a family of five loading their Pilot with bicycles, suitcases, games, CDs, snacks, a tent, a baby stroller, a cooler, fishing gear and the family dog, and heading out on a family adventure to Yosemite National Park.
For the Pilot's exterior concept, designers chose the image of the Pacific Northwest with its unique blend of rugged, natural beauty; a sporty and high-tech image; and trend-setting reputation. They also looked to the design of the Pelican case, considered to be the world's toughest equipment case, for inspiration. Tough on the outside with protective interior cushioning, the Pelican case represents exactly the kind of image designers hoped to convey with the Pilot's exterior design - tough, durable and functional.
Honda designers also wanted to provide a confident and fun driving experience for the driver and passengers alike. They started with the Pilot's rigid unit body, four-wheel independent suspension and advanced V6 engine powertrain, tuned to deliver a highly confident and comfortable driving experience with precise steering, solid and stable handling and outstanding ride comfort.
Honda's exclusive VTM-4 four-wheel drive system was adopted to further enhance the Pilot's stability and control in all weather conditions, including dry, wet, icy or snow-covered road surfaces. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) technology deliver strong, stable braking performance and control in varying road conditions and vehicle loads.
In determining the Pilot's off-road and towing capabilities, Honda engineers conducted extensive research to understand the needs and desires of the typical SUV customer and to deliver the best balance of on- and off-road capabilities along with medium-duty towing capabilities. The Pilot is equipped to handle virtually any off-road environment that a typical SUV driver might encounter. With the optional towing package, the Pilot will tow up to 3500-pound trailers or 4500-pound boats while also hauling four people and their cargo.
"Altogether," said Paluch, "We gave the Honda Pilot the most versatile interior wrapped with traditional SUV rugged toughness with Honda core values of safety, environmental friendliness and world-class quality for the ultimate family adventure."
In keeping with Honda's longstanding commitment to environmental leadership, the Honda Pilot provides excellent fuel economy (EPA 17 city/22 highway-) while meeting stringent Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) exhaust emissions standards (ULEV in California).
Utilizing Honda VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) technology for more efficient and effective fuel combustion, along with a three-way, low-heat mass, catalytic converter for exhaust cleanup, the Pilot ranks as one of the cleanest sport-utility vehicles on the road today.
Engineers also targeted a high level of parts' recyclability. More than 90 percent of the Pilot component parts are made of recyclable materials. Additional measures taken to reduce the long-term environmental impact of the vehicle include:
- The use of non-chromed tanned leather in leather-equipped models reduces hazardous waste generation during the tanning process and can be composted at the end of the vehicle's life;
- Elimination of PVC material in the door lining and center console lid for improved recyclability;
- Use of water-borne (solvent free) paint for exterior surfaces, reducing emissions during the paint process;
- Use of molded-in color plastics for reduced paint use and factory emissions;
- Replacement of ABS plastic with polypropylene material in the center console, instrument panel and doors for reduced emissions during ABS plastic manufacturing; and
- Long-life fluids that result in no required engine coolant change for the first 10 years or 100,000 miles, and engine oil changes that are prescribed at intervals of one year or 7,500 miles, less often than typically required.
Advanced Four-Wheel Drive System - VTM-4 (Variable
The Pilot is equipped with an advanced new type of 4-wheel drive system called Variable Torque Management 4WD (VTM-4) that provides for excellent vehicle stability and control in all types of weather and road conditions. In developing the VTM-4 system, engineers sought to deliver a very high level of four-wheel drive capability while minimizing the penalties of conventional four-wheel drive systems in terms of weight, noise, performance and packaging.
Unlike conventional on-demand four-wheel drive systems, which react only to wheel slippage, the VTM-4 system doesn't wait for wheel slip to go to work. Instead, torque is proactively delivered to the rear wheels whenever the vehicle is accelerating for improved traction and control in both dry and slippery (wet, snowy or icy) road conditions. When wheel slippage is detected, the VTM-4 system apportions additional torque to the rear in proportion to the amount of wheel slip. The system continuously monitors the vehicle's dynamic condition via sensors in the engine, braking and throttle systems, and adjusts front-to-rear torque split for maximum control.
A central, computer-controlled, Power Control Unit (PCU) employs sophisticated algorithms to determine the right level of torque split at any given moment for optimal traction and stability. Torque is delivered to the rear wheels via an electronic rear differential mechanism that employs a set of electromagnetically controlled wet clutch packs to take up torque from the propeller shaft as the system demands.
In addition, the VTM-4 system features a unique "lock" mode for use in extremely slippery or "stuck" conditions. The VTM-4 lock mode, activated by a button on the instrument panel, "locks" the rear axle to provide maximum power transfer to the rear wheels. VTM-4 lock mode can be engaged with the vehicle stopped in first, second or reverse gear below speeds of 18 miles per hour. As speed increases, and traction and control are regained, the system automatically disengages.
To meet the Pilot's strength, stiffness and weight targets, engineers utilized Honda's Global Light Truck Platform with its reinforced unit body design and fully isolated front and rear subframes. The high level of bending and torsional rigidity designed into the body structure improves handling precision by providing a rigid platform for mounting the suspension components. It also provides a solid foundation for the Pilot's duties as a people and cargo hauler, medium duty off-road vehicle and towing platform.
The Pilot's body is designed to deform progressively in front, side and rear collisions. Engineering front, side and rear sections that help absorb the energy of a collision reduces the likelihood of occupant injury. A highly rigid passenger section is reinforced laterally and longitudinally to maintain its size and shape for omni-directional crash protection. These reinforcing structures enhance collision protection and provide the added strength required to handle the cargo carrying, off-road performance and towing capabilities of the Pilot SUV.
The Pilot's strength and rigidity is enhanced by its robust floor construction. Two longitudinal rails run the length of the vehicle, from bumper to bumper. These rails are buttressed by a total of eight box-section cross-members at critical points along the vehicle's length. A special bracket connected to the front frame members helps to improve the Pilot's compatibility with other vehicles in a frontal collision.
Safety and Security
The Pilot was designed to achieve the highest levels of safety performance including five-star level crash protection in the federal government's (NHTSA) frontal and side impact test, as well as a "good" rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rigorous 40-mph off-set frontal crash test. To achieve these high levels of safety, engineers utilized the strengths of Honda's Global Light Truck platform (see above) along with advanced safety features including:
- Advanced dual-stage/dual threshold driver and front passenger airbags that adjust deployment threshold and deployment force according to seatbelt use and crash severity;
- Driver and front passenger side airbags and side impact door beams;
- Front passenger side airbag with Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) that employs sensors in the seat back to determine the height and position of the occupant and prevent deployment if a child or smaller stature adult is incorrectly positioned and in danger of injury from deployment;
- Headrests and three-point seatbelts in all seating positions; and Engineers also targeted that lowest repair costs in the class in 5mph bumper collision testing. In addition, the Pilot was designed to provide good protection against vehicle thefts and break-ins
Medium Duty Off-Road Capability
After careful study of the SUV buyer's off-road needs and desires, Honda designers determined that a medium-duty level of off-road capability was most consistent with the expectations and real-world needs of the typical SUV user. Offering higher levels of off-road performance would require undesirable compromises in other critical areas of vehicle performance, including on-road driving refinement, fuel efficiency, interior packaging, and ease of vehicle entry and exit.
In order to define what constituted an acceptable level of off-roadability, engineers visited nine off-road parks in California, Nevada, Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan. From this investigation, fourteen critical off-road performance criteria were defined and duplicated at two specially designed off-road test courses adjacent to Honda R&D's North American development headquarters in Ohio. The test course obstacles developed to ensure a high-level of durability and performance in typical SUV off-road excursions are:
- 30-degree dirt hill;
- Sand hill;
- Water pit;
- Rock roads;
- Embedded log course;
- Step-up, step-down;
- Sand drag strip;
- Gully course;
- Ground contact course (ground clearance test);
- Washboard road;
- Frame twister (body rigidity test);
- Power hop hill (23-degree slope with rippled surface);
- Gravel road; and
- Startable grade
Resulting design upgrades included a deeper oil pan; a heavy-duty air filter to remove dust from the engine's air supply; strengthened tow hooks to handle heavier loads; additional waterproofing; and throttle linkage calibrated for more sensitive control over engine output at low speeds.
The Pilot's critical off-road performance capabilities include:
- Climbing a 31-degree paved slope with a two-passenger load;
- Eight (8) inches of ground clearance;
- 28-degree approach angle;
- 21-degree departure angle;
- 21-degree breakover angle; and
- Climbing a 28-degree dirt slope from a standing stop.
In real-world testing of the Pilot versus its major competitors, Honda engineers determined that while some competitors may offer greater capabilities in one or two areas - such as hill climbing capability or ground clearance - the Pilot provided the best overall balance of off-road capabilities while maintaining a high level of comfort and stability in the kinds of environments the average SUV driver would typically encounter.
Recreational Towing Performance
The ability to haul pop-up campers, medium-sized boats and recreational vehicle trailers is high on the priority list for many SUV owners. After extensive study of SUV towing use, engineers concluded that a casual or weekend towing capability was most consistent with the needs of most SUV users. The Honda Pilot has a towing limit of *4500 pounds for boats and 3500 pounds for trailers. A heavier load is acceptable with boats because their pointed bow shapes impose less aerodynamic drag on the towing vehicle than a slab-faced, square-cornered trailer. The 3500/4500-pound rating is calculated to include up to four passengers and their cargo.
* Premium fuel should be used when towing over 3500 pounds.