for 2019 after a 16-year absence from Honda's fleet, the
Passport is a four-door, two-row, five-passenger SUV, driven
by the company's 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine. This time-tested
power plant makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.
having made significant sales inroads with its small CR-V and its
large Pilot, is tripling down on the SUV market with its new midsize
version is meant to attract buyers who find the CR-V too small and
tinny, and the Pilot too big and pricey. Sliced right into the
middle niche, the Passport is going after buyers who otherwise would
be looking at the Ford Edge, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Murano, Subaru
Outback or even the Jeep Cherokee.
The company is doing
that by pitching the Passport as a lifestyle vehicle, highlighting
its rugged good looks and its off-road readiness with advertising
lines like “tackle the untamed road” and “gear up for
2019 after a 16-year absence from Honda’s fleet, the Passport is a
four-door, two-row, five-passenger SUV, driven by the company’s
3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine. This time-tested power plant makes 280
horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.
The best use of that
power, Honda’s ad campaign suggests, is off the highway. Though
the all-wheel-drive system comes standard only on the top model —
and is a $1,900 upgrade to the front-wheel-drive system on the
others — almost all the promotional material shows the Passport
camping, glamping, rock crawling or otherwise sporting around in the
Meant to be as
comfortable on the road as it is capable off the pavement, it is
Honda-sensible. Like everything the company offers, it is
intelligently designed, dependably built and … a little boring.
almost indistinguishable from other SUVs in its class. No one,
driving down the road, is likely to exclaim: “Hey! That’s the
But it’s so
sensible. The seats are comfortable. The headroom, legroom and
visibility are generous. The dashboard and infotainment screens are
practical and attractive. Everything in the cabin is easy to see,
easy to understand and easy to reach.
Cup holders and USB
ports are handily located. There are even armrests for the driver
and passenger, attached to the center console — not a typical
feature on any vehicle, and very welcome here. The second row slides
forward and back, which is not always the case with rear seating.
Also not common, but
very welcome, are the sunshades on the rear passenger windows,
standard on all but the entry-level Passport, which is also the only
trim level that doesn’t have the moon roof. (Only the Touring and
Elite models get the roof rail as standard equipment.) The rear
seats get their own climate control, and an AC 115-volt accessory
It’s also fun to
drive. The Passport’s nine-speed automatic transmission can be
configured in normal or sport mode, and sport mode is quite sporty.
Paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow for a more engaged
driving experience and a more aggressive use of the engine’s
Some may quail at the
size. The Passport looks big, and feels big, because it is big,
especially for a two-row SUV. Though it’s 4 inches shorter than
the Pilot, and a reported 35 pounds lighter, the two SUVs are the
same width and almost the same height.
That allows for the
great headroom and legroom, and lots of storage space — 77 cubic
feet, with the rear seats folded flat — and a clever “under
floor” cargo area.
All models come with
the excellent Honda Sensing system, which includes adaptive cruise
control, collision mitigation braking and a variety of buzzers and
bells to help the driver stay in one lane at a time and stay on the
The model I drove was
the Elite — the top of the trim line, and the only model that
comes standard with all-wheel drive. Upgrades on the Elite include
niceties such as heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone
charging, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
I enjoyed it on the
highway, where it was comfortable and quiet to drive. Though it is a
big SUV, the Passport didn’t seem to make too much wind or tire
noise. The HVAC system was quiet, too, and didn’t overwhelm the
sound system, as often happens with SUVs when the temperature
demands “high” AC settings.
Off the highway, the
Passport was somewhat less convincing. Driving in the Rowher Flat
area near Santa Clarita, I experimented with the settings for mud,
sand and snow — though I had the opportunity to drive only in mud
and sand. With its 20-inch wheels and higher ground clearance —
8.1 inches on the all-wheel-drive models, which is almost a full
inch more than the Pilot and a half-inch more than the CR-V — the
Passport navigated potholes and plowed through the muck capably, and
didn’t seem bothered by the goopy mud or the deep sand.
It did seem bothered
by the rough roads, though. Moving at a moderate pace over washboard
sections pocked with sharp rocks, I feared for the Passport’s
future. It rattled and shook in a way that made me concerned about
its long-term durability.
Hondas of all kinds
are built to last — the company says this one was tested in the
sand in Dubai, in the mud in Russia and in the snow in Minnesota —
so I’m not suggesting the Passport would fall apart after a few
miles of rough road. But it wasn’t confidence inspiring to feel it
shake and shimmy like that.
Honda is selling the
Passport as a 50-50 vehicle, much as it is the new CRF450X, the
company’s dual-sport motorcycle. Both vehicles are meant to
function just as well on city streets as on crunchy trails.
SUV buyers who want
something sportier and more capable feeling may be happy with a
Passport. Those who buy a Passport thinking they can start carving
up steep canyon walls may be disappointed.
Times’ take: Honda
takes the middle ground on SUVs
Lows: Big for a
Four-door, five-passenger SUV
Base price: $33,035
Price as tested:
V-6 gasoline engine
Nine-speed dual-clutch automatic
economy rating: 19 miles per gallon city / 24 highway / 21 combined