Mountain Wheels: Highly-revised Honda Passport adds off-road appeal with TrailSport edition

Equipped with chunkier Firestone tires and … orange emblems, the 2022 Passport’s TrailSport model sacrificed in-town ride quality for some improved gravel stance.
Courtesy photo

Maybe I was just having a bad week, which we all do from time to time. But for whatever reason, the style, the added capability and the overall character of the updated, new-generation Honda Passport just did not do it for me. Let me recount the experience and see if I missed something along the way, or maybe I was just being overly cranky.

For 2022, Honda’s largest, five-passenger-only, SUV gets not only a substantial makeover but a mechanical reconfiguration that puts it on the company’s unibody truck platform. In essence, it and the Ridgeline truck (which I indeed found more truck-like during a drive last fall) are very similar, with a face and style that’s also more like the newer Ridgeline.

To add to that revamp, Honda has dropped a lower level Sport model and now starts things at $38,870 for its two-wheel-drive EX-L model. My trial was completed in the more off-road oriented TrailSport model, in all-wheel drive, totaling at $44,090 (a one-step-higher Elite model is also available). That free tank of gas that Honda gives you when you buy one might finally be worth a few bucks, by the way.

So, here’s the thing: I loved the first of this reborn generations of Passports when I drove it several years ago, but maybe the move to the truck platform did something I didn’t quite appreciate in the process.

TrailSport echoes Subaru’s Wilderness models as a largely aesthetics-only upgrade, with tons of orange badging on the seats and floor mats, but really nothing but a set of medium-duty off-road road tires with extra chunky sidewalls.

The net effect of the nubby tires was a markedly bonky and bouncy ride in town and on the highway, which amplified the relatively-large-empty-plastic-box effect I got during my drives.

Maybe all that interior space is also partly to blame. Whereas Pilot offers a third row, Passport just has lots and lots of cargo space in the back, and not much to dull the road noise. It’s got 77.5 cubic feet of standard storage if you drop the second row seats, 100.8 cubic feet if you were to fill every nook and cranny of the entire cargo area with, say, pine needles.

Hoping that actually sporting along on a trail might prove the value of this upgrade, which does infinitesimally widen the track but keeps the same 8.1 inches of clearance, I headed out to the very, very bumpy Platte River Road between Conifer and Sedalia, southwest of Denver.

If you’ve been spoiled by air suspension, ride-height leveling or any other 4×4 doodads on higher-end SUVs, Passport has none. Its major concession to rutted-out roads is independent suspension and those rugged Firestone tires, plus a terrain mode select that’s all about throttle response, not chassis refinement.

Admittedly, it did just fine on the dirt and potholes, except when it came to the typically exciting 15% grade and almost one-lane shot on Pine Creek Road. There, it felt especially light and bouncy and the 280 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 seemed to struggle.

Out on the highway, minus the minor tire clatter, 280 horsepower is plenty for a 4,229-pound vehicle, and the 24 highway mpg wasn’t hard to reach. It did tend to feel tall in corners, on all surfaces.

You’ll also find Passport’s interior rather plain compared to many of the other players. Rear seating and legroom is large and side windows gigantic, but up front there’s not much to look at, and only a little swizzle of textured grey plastic to brighten things up.

Was I being too critical? Not necessarily. Nowadays, $44,000 is still a lot of money and also enough to get you into some busy SUV company. The very basic models of Pathfinder, 4Runner and Grand Cherokee compete in this arena, with arguably more genuine dedication to off-road adventure.

Then there’s the big reveal: a legitimately off-road-oriented, suspension-adjusted, actually rock-crawling-tuned version of the Passport is indeed planned on Honda’s horizon, along with a litany of other vehicles, including the Prologue electric that’s being co-developed with General Motors. For the moment, maybe go with a Passport featuring road tires and enjoy its size, space and on-road chops.

Andy Stonehouse

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