2003 Honda Pilot Photo
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I’m not sure what’s more difficult to take: sitting on your back with your nose pointed up at the sky, or straight down at the ground. Actually, it doesn’t make much of a difference as we trudge our way through the handling course carved onto the back acreage of the grand Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

It’s not the place you’d expect to come to test out a new sport-utility vehicle. But then again, until recently, who’d expect Honda to be building an SUV. The Japanese automaker was late to discover the light truck boom, and initially chose to re-badge a version of the Isuzu Rodeo. With the Pilot, Honda now has its own ute, albeit a car-based “crossover.” But as my co-pilot, John O’Dell, wisely pointed out, that’s a Honda tradition. “They’re always late to the party, but they’re always improving on it.”

MDX-alike or not?

To answer a question you might be ready to ask, the Pilot is the Honda division’s version of the Acura MDX, which has been one of the hottest utes on the market since its launch two years ago. But the Pilot doesn’t just get a new name. There’s not a single panel of sheetmetal, nor a single pane of glass, shared with the up-market Acura model.

2003 Honda Pilot

2003 Honda Pilot

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The interior is completely different, as well. For one thing, Honda’s version is an eight-seater, one more than the MDX. And while the automaker might not like to make the comparison, the Pilot is designed, in many ways, to function as a stylish substitute for the far less hip Honda Odyssey minivan.

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