As large-project leader for the Honda Pilot and sibling Acura MDX, Frank Paluch heads r&d for American Honda Motor Co. Inc.'s first in-house sport-utilities. Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin spoke with Paluch at the Pilot media launch in May.
How much of the Pilot's components are shared with the Acura MDX?
About 67 percent, but there is nothing you can touch or feel that is in common. The 67 percent comes from cost calculation, and most of that involves the powertrain. We wanted to have the minimum investment, quick turnaround and maximum utilization of the platform. But we didn't just rebadge the MDX. We used different suspension dampings, and the spring rates are a little softer. The Pilot uses urethane bump stops, while the MDX uses a more natural compound for a luxury feel. We have a shifter on the steering column instead of the MDX's console shifter. The engine does not have a dual-stage intake manifold, but we optimized the intake and exhaust flow rates to get the same horsepower. We use a different tire and wheel combination. The 70 series tires are more for comfort than exhilaration.
How would you compare the Pilot to the competition?
We wanted to prove the Pilot is a true truck with true truck capability. We took the Pilots and competitive vehicles to the high altitude of Big Bear Lake, the desert sand of California and to Cumberland, Ky., where the mud is slick. We broke the TrailBlazer, Highlander and Explorer, but the Pilot made it. Obviously, you're not going to traverse the Rubicon in the Pilot, but that's not our target. Our competition has pluses but also some minuses. The TrailBlazer has a good engine, and it's good in hill-climbing or sand. Same with the Durango. But they are poor in the whoop-de-doos or anything with solid axle involvement. The Highlander is a station wagon with low ground clearance. The Explorer is good, but the standard running boards get caught up on everything. I think we have the best balance.