2019 Honda Passport
This ain’t no Rodeo
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- 10 Jun 2019
By James Park
If you are a self-respecting sport utility vehicle, one thing you never want to be compared to is a minivan.
No matter how versatile, practical and competent vehicle Honda Pilot happens to be, as soon as someone points out its similarities to a minivan, no self-respecting SUV buyers would want to come anywhere near it.
Perception is everything.
Honda knows this and has just unleashed the most un-minivan like utility vehicle in its lineup – the Passport. Slotting in between the CR-V and the Pilot, this midsize crossover comes with rugged looks of a proper SUV, as well as the ability to traverse over a variety of terrain as long as you don’t venture too far off-road.
Temper your enthusiasm for the Rubicon Trail, but the Passport will safely take you and your family to most campsites, fishing holes and cottages without too much hassle.
A bit of history lesson: some people still remember the name ‘Passport.’ Honda used to maintain a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese auto company. With only CR-V in its utility lineup, Honda arranged to badge-engineer the Isuzu Rodeo, a midsize SUV, and sold it as its own from 1993 to 2002 or thereabouts.
Revived after seventeen years, the new Passport is nothing like the original. It is essentially a shortened version of the Pilot. Keeping the same wheelbase, the engineers chopped off about 15 cm from the rear, resulting in shorter overhang for better departure angle. They also gave it tad higher ground clearance, bigger wheels and little more suspension articulation.
The designers chipped in to make the vehicle appear suitably more sinister by blacking out the wheels, front grill, side claddings and all the window trims. Narrower headlights and the placement of fog-lights also differ from the Pilot.
Reduction of overall length also results in the sacrifice of the third-row-seat. However, those attracted to the Passport would not be overly concerned about this. As it is, the vehicle provides plenty of space for five adults. Sitting in the back, even taller passengers get enough leg and headroom to not feel confined.
Compared to the original, which is a ladder-frame truck with rear-biased four-wheel-drive, the new Passport, just like most of its ilk, is a car-based unibody crossover with front-biased all-wheel-drive.
The tried and true 3.5 litre normal breathing V6 used throughout the Honda and Acura lineup provides motivation. It pumps out maximum 280 horses and 262 lb-ft of torque and mates to the nine-speed automatic transmission developed in-house by Honda.
When introduced with the Pilot about three and half years ago, this transmission felt jerky at times and was prone to hunting for gears. Definite improvements have been made and in Passport, the tranny operates with much smoother confidence.
One thing this writer does not appreciate – perhaps because he’s old-fashioned – is the gear-shift buttons. Honda seems to listen to its customers from time to time. Bringing back the volume knob proves this. Hopefully, it’ll swallow its pride and reintroduce the proper shift-lever, as well.
In Canada, the Passport comes in three flavours: Sport, EX-L and Touring. The base model starts from competitive $41,990 before taxes and mandatory fees. EX-L demands $45,590 and the top-of-the-line Touring weighs in at $48,990.
Even the base iteration boasts impressive list of standard equipments but the Touring – provided to this writer for test-drive – adds such goodies as 20’ alloys, hands-free lift-gate, 550 watt premium audio, heated and cooled leather seats, etc.
Electronic nannies from collision mitigation to forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, road departure mitigation, hill-start assist and so on are also present and accounted for.
Power from the V6 suffices. The Passport drives its front-wheels but in order to better make use of its AWD system, sends at least 5% of its torque to the rear wheels all the time. One can set the drive mode to Normal or Sport and the ride height can be adjusted from Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand.
Remember the Passport is a mid-size utility and you won’t expect too much from its handling department. The steering wheel gives nary a feedback but it is, at least, accurate. Smooth ride keeps the passengers from being jolted by small bumps and potholes.
Seats are supportive and the driver gets commanding view of the road. Interior fit and finish seems excellent and materials used throughout have that familiar Honda quality feel.
Those with small children and lot of stuff to carry around would do well with the Pilot (even better with Odyssey). Those who don’t need third-row seat and want more rugged looking vehicle for weekend adventures should certainly check out the Passport. (James Park is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.)
2019 Honda Passport Touring
Engine: 3.5 litre V6
Power: 280 hp/262 lb-ft
Transmission: 9 spd auto
Fuel: 12.5 litres per 100km (city), 9.8 litres (highway)
Best: rugged styling, smooth ride
Worst: button style electronic shifter
Competition: Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevy Blazer
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