Honda brings back an all-new Passport

By Jim Prueter

(September 19, 2019) Back in 1993, taking notice of the growing interest of sport utility vehicles in the U.S., Honda introduced their first SUV, called the Passport. That first Passport was absent any Honda DNA and was actually a badge engineered version of the now defunct Isuzu Rodeo, a mid-sized SUV.

The Passport was built in Lafayette, Ind., by Subaru Isuzu Automotive between 1994 and 2002 and was subsequently discontinued, giving way to the Honda-engineered Pilot.

For 2019, Honda has brought back the Passport, adding the brand’s fourth crossover SUV to its lineup, slotting between the best-selling compact CR-V and larger three-row Pilot. The smaller HR-V rounds out Honda’s offerings.

With an exterior designed to give the appearance of a rugged, outdoorsy off-roader – a vehicle it is not – Passport is really a re-imagined Pilot that’s been shortened six inches at the rear, thanks to the third-row seat being removed, and refitted with a one-inch higher ground clearance, and meaty 20-inch standard wheels shod with 265/45 all-season tires. A healthy dose of matte black body cladding around the entire lower portion of the vehicle complements the distinctive black grille and matching roof rails.

The Passport certainly looks the part, but there are no underbody skid plates to protect the vehicle’s suspension, exhaust and other drivetrain components from off-roading hazards like rocks, boulders, rutted trails, and other obstacles that make it susceptible to damage.

While its styling didn’t turn any heads during my weeklong testing, the overall looks are by no means offensive. Still, it didn’t pique anyone’s interest enough to approach me to discuss the new Passport either.

Inside, the cabin is rather austere, suggesting functionality over upscale appointments, trim or styling. We thought it was well built but overly trimmed with hard plastic, and looked less upscale than segment competitors. We did appreciate the well-padded door armrests and inner adjustable armrests.

The Passport is equipped with technology that helps it negotiate most off-pavement driving that owners will confront, thanks to Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management with driver-initiated selectable modes (snow, sand, or mud for AWD versions) that adjust the vehicle’s throttle response, shifting, stability control and AWD torque distribution. But the Passport is not intended for rugged “Jeep” type adventures.

Our Elite trim Passport came with an eight-inch infotainment screen and XSM satellite radio. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gives the ability to display directions from smartphone navigation apps within the instrument cluster. The infotainment system does not have a tuning knob for changing radio stations, which we found especially frustrating.

The Passport is available in four trim levels, starting with the Sport at $31,990; EX-L that adds leather-trimmed seats, an upgraded infotainment system and a power moonroof at $36,410; and Touring that also gets a hands-free power tailgate, satellite-linked navigation system, heated front and rear seats and a premium 10-speaker audio system for $39,280. We tested the top-of-the-line Elite that adds wireless phone charging, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and standard all-wheel drive for $43,680. All-wheel drive is available on all other trim levels for an additional $1,900.

Under the hood, all trim levels are powered by the same 3.6-liter 280-horsepower V-6 engine with 262 lb.-ft of torque, that delivers power to the wheels via Honda’s second-generation nine-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity is rated at 5,000-lbs. (3,500 lbs for two-wheel drive variants). That’s pretty much the same mechanics that powers the three-row Pilot.

The V-6 engine doesn’t deliver acceleration response sufficient to suggest a sporty feel, but nevertheless has good throttle response that will satisfy most drivers. The engine also has a cylinder deactivation feature where it can switch and run on three of its six cylinders to help save fuel. While it does so automatically, I didn’t notice if, in fact, it did while I was driving the vehicle, a testament to excellent engineering.

We thought the ride was overly firm with bumps and uneven pavement jostles negatively impacting the ride quality for driver and passengers. While we didn’t expect the handling of a sports sedan, there was a notable excess of body roll on curves and cornering with vague steering and overall less-than-confident handling than we would have preferred.

Driver and passenger head, leg and shoulder room was adequate. Seats are flat with little bolstering, but comfortable enough. We liked the rear seat with its fore and aft sliding and seatback recline adjustments.

Despite the six-inch shortening of the vehicle, there’s nearly as much cargo space as the three-row Pilot with just over 41 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat. That increases to 78 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. We also liked the extra space, including the two large wells of hidden cargo space beneath the rear cargo hold. That’s ideal for keeping purses, cameras, binoculars and other valuables hidden and out of view.

Vehicle operating controls were intuitive and easy to use, but we found the push-button gear selector on the center console awkward to operate, requiring the driver to take their eyes off the road and look down at it. It’s the same gear selector setup we’ve experienced in other Honda-Acura vehicles that we didn’t like.

All Passport trim levels come standard with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, land departure warning, and a multi-angle rearview camera. The blind spot warning system is standard on all but the base Sport trim.

Overall, we found things we wished Honda would have done differently but think most buyers will be pleased with its intended role as a roomy, two-row seat mid-sized utility vehicle that’s easy and comfortable to drive with plenty of space for family or friends, pets and their stuff.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $43,680
Price as Tested: $44,725
Engine: 3.5-liter 280-hp V6 connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg City – 24-mpg-Highway – 21-mpg Overall (AWD models)
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and overall “five star” rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Where Built: Lincoln, Alabama

Competes With:
Chevrolet Blazer
Ford Edge
Hyundai Santa Fe
Nissan Murano
Jeep Grand Cherokee

Fab Features
Roomy interior
Honda Safety Sense safety features
Selectable AWD mode