First Drive: 2019 Honda Passport
The Passport is actually closer in tech to the larger Pilot than it's sibling the CR-V
Pop quiz: what vehicle was named for both a horse- and bull riding spectacle as well as a document necessary for travel to most countries? If you guessed the Honda Passport/Isuzu Rodeo, you’d be correct. It was the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and Honda was adopting the Walmart rule: we may be bigger than you, but we can see there’s something you’re doing better, so we’re going to do that, too. Swap Isuzu for the little guy and Honda for Walmart, and you’ve pretty much got it. After all; Honda’s first I-made-it-myself SUV/CUV – the CR-V – wasn’t due for another couple of years.
It’s interesting we mention the CR-V here because it and the latest Passport have kind of switched places; re-birthed name or no, the Passport is new for 2019, and the CR-V name has become the old guard not just in the Honda world, but in the CUV world in general.
The story doesn’t end there as the Passport is actually closer in tech to the larger Pilot than it is to the CR-V. It has the same engine as the Pilot – a 3.5L V6 good for 280 hp and 262 lb-ft – the same button-activated 9-speed transmission and rides on the same platform, just shortened ahead and behind the rear wheels; the wheelbase is the same between the two.
Of course, the shorter overall length means something had to give and so it goes that the Passport loses the Pilot’s third row, gaining a bunch of rear cargo space in the process to the tune 1,167 L behind the second row, and 2,206 L behind the first row if you fold down the rear seats. I’ll save you the trouble of checking: that’s more than the Pilot gets behind the second row, but down about 1,000L if you fold all the seats in the larger vehicle. 2nd row passenger space, meanwhile, is about the same in each vehicle. Either way: along with the powertrain, it’s a lot closer in size to the Pilot than it is to the CR-V.
That’s all well and good, but it gets a little funky when you consider the price, and the fact that the Passport only starts at about $1,000 less than does a similarly specced Pilot.
Only, that’s not the full story, either, as while the Pilot gets a base LX trim, the Passport does not, replacing the EX with the slightly better-equipped Sport trim ($41,990), followed by the EX-L at $45,590. The car seen here, however, is the full-pull Touring trim ($48,990), which provides 10-speaker audio, ventilated front seats, GPS, WiFi hotspot, wireless charging, hands-free tailgate and blind sport warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. Those driving aids join a standard list that runs the gamut from forward collision warning system, to adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and more. It’s a whole heckuva lot of kit for a base car.
Styling-wise, the Passport is much more bulldog-like than the Pilot, which stands to reason when you consider the short overhangs. Still, though; I did recently see both a Passport and a Pilot on the same drive, and I did have to look twice to identify which was which. I do like the black grill on my tester, though; it provides just a little bit of attitude to the front fascia, which is welcome in a vehicle like this.
The real change when it comes to the Passport is how Honda has tuned the suspension system to make it feel like the more performance-oriented drive. The damper settings are a little firmer, and that could readily be felt as we navigated the somewhat paved, somewhat snow-packed roads of central Quebec. Not in a bad way, though; it’s not like the thing was pogoing all over the place as only the biggest heaves caused it to get out of sorts. I definitely wouldn’t call it “skittish”, but you will get a softer ride from the Pilot, a car which I’d sampled not two weeks before I tested the Passport.
What you do get, however, are quicker left-right transitions that can really help you feel the weight difference – about 54 kilos at the Touring level – between the vehicles. And of course, the Passport benefits from what so many Hondas have before it, and that’s a responsive, quick steering rack, to complete the package.
I can honestly say that I was tempted to push the Passport a little more than I would normally in vehicles like this, this side of maybe the Ford Edge ST (Honda lists the Edge, the Nissan Murano and at a push, the Jeep Grand Cherokee as the Passport’s main competition). It’s just the more youthful feeling vehicle. It also had me using the shiny green Eco mode button maybe twice during my time with the car, and only for a few minutes at that. I’m sure it’s wonderful for traffic, but I just never saw that much, so it stayed off. I’ll take the full-fat throttle response, please and thank you. I don’t want any filters between myself and a naturally-aspirated powerplant as quick-responding as this.
I did have to keep my eye on it as the conditions got more slippery, however; there’s that quick steering and the AWD is tuned in such a away that there’s a little more rear-end bias (Honda thinks the Passport will be used for more fast-gravel work than the Pilot), and I did have to catch a few slight tail-out instances; that’s fun, for sure, but I’m not certain that’s the kind of thing most Passport drivers are going to be looking for.
The jury’s also still out for me on the Passport’s button-activated transmission; it’s nice that it reduces clutter in the cockpit, but I have hard time shaking the feeling that it’s slow, because a button press should lead to immediate response from the ‘box. Thing is, cogs still have to be swapped and that takes time, time that seems longer when not operating a more traditional lever. It’s likely a mental-block thing that I’ll get over as we see more of these, but as it stands for now, the feeling still nags at me.
Speaking of youthful: it should come as little surprise that the Passport is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, all displayed on a bright, colourful 7-inch display (yes, with a volume knob) easily reachable from the driver’s seat. The wireless charge pad, meanwhile, sits at the base of the centre stack, big enough for most phones. If you prefer to use the native display, then you’ll likely be impressed with the intuitive interface that keeps hotkeys for your most important menus (map, audio, etc.) atop the screen so you’re always just one button-press away from them.
Honda says that as robust and successful as their SUV/CUV line-up has been, they had a blind spot at the two-row, mid-size CUV level that they were itching to address. As more and more people are buying SUVs and CUVs, the time was right for the Passport and they’ve obviously put their nose to the grindstone. While it has two very established models to compete with in the Murano and Edge, there’s no question it has the parts to do so.