Pilot-ing the Treacherous Road to Detroit
Honda’s tough mid-size Pilot SUV (Touring model shown) is up for just about anything weather or road surface conditions can throw at it.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Solid SUV ability and utility with Honda’s renown built quality.
- What’s Worst: After the way it handled my trip, nothing.
- What’s Interesting: The high level of content that comes standard with the Touring model that is optional on many of its direct competition.
Phew, finally made it home.
That was what went through my mind as I turned off the Honda Pilot I had been driving for about 10 days including the trek south and back to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
I’ve been driving that stretch of Highway 401 for decades and the period from the end of December through January makes it one of the most treacherous highways in this country.
The reason is the large “lake effect” storms that come in off Lake Huron and even little Lake St. Clair.
Because those lakes still have warmish waters at this time of year, the strong winds pick up a lot of moisture that turns to wet snow.
The previous two years going to the Detroit show, I had problems, including 2017, which had to be the worst white-knuckle drive of my life.
This year I was prepared, starting with the perfect vehicle for the job – a Honda Pilot equipped with a set of the most aggressive snow tires I’ve ever seen.
The trip down started off all right, when I left Thursday to stay with friends outside Strathroy, ON, before heading down to Detroit on Saturday for the first pre-show event.
Friday opened with driving rain out of the northwest, heralding the onslaught of lake effect snow.
Sure enough, the rain turned to ice and then snow, so Saturday morning I had to dig out and gingerly move forward, as the rear was pointed into the storm and the rear brakes were frozen.
That accomplished, I set out down the 401 and I counted four vehicles in the ditch, including a pickup attached to a house trailer, both on their sides.
With the roads snow covered and icy, the OPP, to their credit, were out in force as they usually are on this stretch because of the historically high number of crashes.
But it was my return trip that proved a test.
With winds gusting out of the north hitting vehicles sideways, it was touch and go trying to pass.
There is one stretch from about Chatham to Ridgetown where the 401 goes down to two lanes instead of three and it’s where you come up against legions of bunched up transport trucks.
Some travel at the mandated 105 km/h, but others barrel along about 120 km/h and all of them throw up spray, salt, sand and ice.
If you are slowly trying to pass a 105 km/h truck through a curtain of spray and a 120 km/h truck is close behind you, it is unnerving.
Luckily for me, the 2018 Honda Pilot has a proven all-wheel-drive system and was powered by Honda’s stalwart 3.5-litre, direct injection V6 engine with 280 hp and a useful 262 lb/ft of torque.
I’m calling it a 2018, but it was actually a 2017 model, as there are no changes for this year.
That V6 is one of the smoothest in the business, and despite the Pilot’s size, I was able to average 10.1L/100 km over some 1,000 km and this was with the engine and drivetrain working overtime in the snow and slush of the 401.
Aiding this was the new nine-speed automatic transmission on the Touring model, while all other Pilots get the older six-speed automatic.
Activated by a button system on the centre console, just select Drive and the Touring does the rest.
With a ground clearance of 185 mm, you sit nice and high in the driver’s seat with a great view ahead. At the rear there is the standard multi-angle rear view camera, plus the Touring comes with rear cross traffic alert.
One feature appreciated by my wife, who came along to Strathroy, is adaptive cruise control, which is standard on Pilot along with other standard features like crash mitigation braking, lane keeping and forward collision warning.
All you do is set the adaptive cruise to the speed and desired distance to the vehicle ahead and just go.
Rolling along in the outside lane when a faster vehicle comes up from behind you, just ease into the centre lane. Based on the speed of the vehicle ahead, you either slow slightly at a safe distance or maintain the same pace. When the outside lane clears, just pull into that lane and you resume at the former speed.
I did this for about 40 km west of Kitchener and never touched the gas pedal.
And through it all, I enjoyed the Touring-only 10-speaker, 540-watt surround sound system that took the edge off some of the more stressful moments.
The Honda Pilot Touring did everything I wanted it to do, to the point, I’m putting in my dibs today to book another for next year’s challenging drive to the auto show in Detroit.
2018 Honda Pilot Touring
BODY STYLE: Three-row intermediate SUV
DRIVE METHOD: All-wheel-drive, nine-speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 3.5-litre, 24-valve, Direct Injection, SOHC, i-VTEC V6 (280 hp, 262 lb/ft).
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 12.4/9.3/11.0L/100 km city/highway/combined
CARGO: 3,072 litres behind first row; 1,557 litres behind second row; 510 litres behind third row
TOW RATING: 1,588 kg when properly equipped
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