Pilot's not a city-friendly SUV
NEW YORK -
A father drives in from the suburbs to one of this city's soup kitchens. It appears to be early Thanksgiving or Christmas morning. The streets are damp, empty, cold. A preteen son assists his dad in unloading big boxes of food. A soup-kitchen aide tells the son that his father is "a good man." The feeling is warm, gracious, heroic.
But here's the reality. I drive a 2009 Honda Pilot Touring with navigation into the city on Thanksgiving eve. It is a stupid thing to do.
Under most circumstances, it is stupid to drive a midsize or full-size SUV into New York, where the streets are poorly maintained and frequently congested; the drivers are among the rudest and most aggressive in the world; and the pedestrians are equally devoid of courtesy and common sense.
I've come in from our family's home in Cornwall, N.Y., for a medical appointment at the Rogosin Institute on East 70th Street.
Already, I've almost lost the right side-view mirror in a squeeze play exiting the Palisades Parkway and entering the ramp to the George Washington Bridge. The only good thing about driving a big SUV around here is that most of the newer models, such as the 2009 Pilot, have flexible side-view mirrors, which tend to bend without breaking when hit. My Pilot's mirror got hit a lot.
Traffic on the George Washington Bridge heading east onto Harlem River Drive was at a standstill. I tried to bypass it by taking the Henry Hudson Parkway on the city's West Side and crossing to the East Side via a side street. That was another dumb idea. This city stages a Thanksgiving Day parade featuring giant inflatable balloons. On Thanksgiving eve, it uses several West Side streets to inflate and stage those balloons. Those streets were blocked. Traffic was a mess.
I finally arrived at a parking garage adjacent to the Rogosin Institute. There was no kind-faced attendant to greet me - no warmth, no friendly greeting, not even a "Happy Thanksgiving."
"You can have the night differential for $11.38. But you're oversized. You'll have to pay $10 extra. How long are you staying here?"
"Why is that important?" I asked.
"Because the regular daily charge is $21.38 plus $10 for being oversized," the attendant said. That turned out to be a bargain.
Rather than drive back to Cornwall after my appointment, I decided to grab some sack time at the lower East Side apartment of my youngest daughter, Kafi. I parked overnight at a Kinney System garage on East 9th Street. The cost for one night was $50.88 - $30.88 for general garage privileges and $20 extra for being oversized.
Kafi, a TV reporter here, was less than sympathetic.
"This is New York, Dad," she said as we were driving to Cornwall for Thanksgiving dinner. "People who are crazy enough to drive big SUVs here park them on the street, even in rough neighborhoods. Garages here hate those things. They take up too much space."
After a week of driving the Pilot in and around this city, I wound up hating it, too.
It is simply too big for daily urban use. It does not fit in a place such as New York. It is not the least bit maneuverable in congested downtown traffic. It gets in the way and, I fear, encourages the unhinged among us to embrace road rage and other dangerous driving behavior.
And it doesn't help that Honda has chosen to erase the relatively pleasant appearance of earlier Pilots in favor of something that looks meaner, more aggressive. Here is what I mean:
I've also driven predecessor Pilots into this city. They looked more like station wagons, a demeanor that often caused parking attendants to argue over - sometimes to my advantage - whether they should assess the "oversized" fee. There were no such arguments with the current edition of the Pilot. "You're oversized!" I felt as if I was being accused of the worst sort of stupidity.
And, again, the new Pilot did little to relieve my chagrin. What it offers in commendable utility and third-row seats that satisfactorily accommodate adults, it lacks in crisp handling and acceleration. It is an oversized box on wheels. I will try to avoid driving it - or anything shaped like it - in this city in the future.