Review: The Honda Passport Is a Better-Driving Pilot
Honda’s two-row SUV is a road-tripper’s delight.
Having no idea what the roads were like leading up to the Trinity Alps trailhead, I figured it was better to be safe than sorry and take a Honda Passport Elite AWD. I figured the new, two-row version of the Pilot and its increased all-terrain capabilities would be an ideal choice for logging hundreds of miles on paved and unpaved roads.
My test car certainly looked the part of adventure-ready SUV with its Obsidian Blue paint, standard black wheels, and tough-looking black cladding. Pressing the power button, the 3.5-liter V-6 whirred to life with the familiar Honda whoosh—a sound that's not quick trucklike but also meatier than a car's, much like the Passport itself. As I situated myself behind the wheel and got my seat and mirrors configured, the ergonomics immediately brought to mind our departed long-term Ridgeline pickup. Both interiors boast tons of storage space, including a large well for detritus situated between the front seats.
Once on the move, the six-cylinder engine provides plenty of motivation for the Passport's 4,200-pound-ish base curb weight, even with multiple people and luggage aboard. The engine's 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque are routed through a nine-speed automatic transmission. In general, and during regular driving, everything just works right, with a responsive throttle, brassy engine note, and reliable acceleration. Paddle shifters are handy to call for a gear when chugging up steep grades, as the smooth-shifting nine-speed can sometimes hunt for the right gear when prodded with a deep throttle input, but responses to tugged up- or downshifts aren't as prompt as I'd like.
Steering is representative of modern Hondas, which is to say it's precise and predictable. As in most other big Hondas, it lacks feedback, but its quicker ratio than in the Pilot is a welcome change, and its precision means there's no guesswork involved when, say, quickly switching lanes in heavy traffic or navigating a swirling back road. The ride is taut but never uncomfortable, too, lending a sporty feel overall. Rough roads in urban areas don't seem to unnerve the Passport, and the dampers' compliance means rutted or lumpy dirt roads won't shake your teeth loose.
The Passport offers multiple drive modes, including Sport—useful for two-lane passing given its increased throttle response—and Sand. I popped the SUV into the latter for the unpaved stuff, and with it relaxing the traction- and stability control, I was able to slide and slither up various paths. Dynamically, the Passport's biggest weakness are its brakes—but only after periods of extended, hard use, as I noticed fade on my way both up and down the mountain.
Inside, there's ample tech to keep occupants happy. Highlights on the features list include Apple CarPlay via the central screen. The display isn't very large—by a long shot—but its resolution is high, making for good legibility visibility. Honda's own interface is intuitive and quite responsive, too, although I'd love a physical tuning knob to go with the left-mounted volume control.
Like our long-term Ridgeline, the Passport has clever packaging and tons of useful features. The automated hands-free tailgate, for example, was very useful when my hands were full of camping gear. There's a hidden compartment in the cargo area that we used to stash valuables while hiking, and the factory remote start was put into use to cool the cabin as we returned on a hot day. The Elite's heated and cooled front seats were nice to have, as well.
At $43,680, the Passport Elite AWD offers plenty of capability and convenience and technology features, including the Honda Sensing safety bundle. Although the interior may not exactly look great, it's nice enough, functional, and spacious. The vehicle as a whole is well tuned and carefully considered for the rigors of daily use, plus it can handle the occasional jaunt off the beaten path. Anyone in the market for a two-row mainstream SUV owes it to themselves to put the Passport on their list.
|2019 Honda Passport Elite AWD Specifications|
|ENGINE||3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6; 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||19/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||190.5 x 78.6 x 72.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||112 mph|