Mountain Wheels: Honda’s rugged Passport adds presence to its SUV offerings
I quite enjoyed a surprisingly quick turnaround experience with the very new Honda Passport, a heavily modified variation of the Pilot SUV — a vehicle which debuted a few months back at the L.A. Auto Show and is already on sale at dealerships.
The Passport’s name may seem familiar, especially for those of you who had the fortune (or, in some cases, misfortune) of driving one of the previous generations of Passports. They were initially cross-engineered Mitsubishi Rodeos, then early SUVs built at the Subaru Isuzu factory in Indiana.
The 2019 Passport is an entirely different deal, now assembled in Alabama, and really very different than both the mechanically related Pilot or the Ridgeline truck.
While it rides on the same platform and is essentially a 6-inch-shorter vehicle than Pilot (now featuring a 111-inch wheelbase and 195 inches overall), it has jettisoned the pretenses of a third row, taking on a much more butch look and a higher-riding profile.
It’s a full inch higher than the Pilot, standing at more than 72 inches overall, and tall enough to be noticeably lofty when you roll up on a parking lot packed with other, standard-issue crossovers. The all-wheel-drive Elite edition I drove has a little over 8 inches of ground clearance, and the addition of standard 20-inch alloy wheels and aggressive all-season tires made it seem practically truck-like while seated aboard.
And yes, abandoning the notion of squeezy third-row seating provides Passport with what I might consider a more practical, well-rounded experience, especially for second-row passengers, as well as producing behind-the-second-row storage of 41.2 cubic feet, in addition to a large hidden cargo area under the deck. Eliminating the third-row access busywork means second-row seating is more naturally comfortable, with ample leg room, sliding seats and manual window shades for the VIP treatment.
Power comes in the form of a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and an upgraded, paddle-shifted nine-speed transmission, which gives it loads of boost for its 4,237-pound curb weight. Passport is capable of towing up to 5,000 pounds with its upgraded all-wheel-drive/towing package-equipped models. Downshifting on flat pavement will temporarily cause the vehicle to coast before catching a lower gear.
Passport’s literal upward mobility produces a vehicle that will have lots of summertime trail-busting ability. You don’t get quite the pile of off-road switchgear you’ll find on more dedicated dirt machines, but its Intelligent Traction Management System is a good middle ground, offering electronic snow, mud and sand settings to optimize traction, throttle reaction and general vehicle dynamics.
The AWD system provides torque vectoring, allowing more natural (and safe) cornering, and can also direct up to 70 percent of the power to the rear for improved ride and power, or 100 percent to the front to allow more efficient cruising — or even between individual wheels themselves, for improved traction.
Despite the gain in height and the bigger tires, Passport’s ride is not bumpy or agitated. You’ll get a smooth experience and the perceptibly higher seating position does indeed give you a little of that truck-like omniscience, if that’s what you’re looking for in a crossover. Tall-angled A-pillars and inset windows also aid in visibility. Relatively tall rocker panels require a bit of a step to access the cabin.
Good-looking as the Pilot may be, Passport is also a little on the tougher side, with dark wheels, a tougher looking grille and dramatic accent blades over a set of multi-lens LED headlamps. In the far back, an aerodynamic spoiler flows off the top of the tailgate, with dual exhaust outlets beneath.
Things are dark and largely businesslike inside, though often better executed than the competitors. Your doors become three-level storage containers, maximizing every possible tiny storage slot possible, plus more storage spots in the center console. Honda’s vertically aligned pushbutton transmission control, a cordless recharging pad and dual power and USB access points are also handy.
In the far back, you’ll have to reach down low for the Passport’s liftgate button, but the waist-height space inside is indeed expansive and second-row seatbacks can be dropped via switches.
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