Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 25, 2019
Slotting between the perennial CR-V and three-row Pilot, the new Honda Passport fills a gaping void that used to plague Honda dealerships. If buyers wanted something with a bit more room than the CR-V but felt intimidated by the size of the Pilot, they had to look elsewhere. That meant jumping ship to the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and now the Chevrolet Blazer. Common sense dictates filling that black hole but is the Passport too late to the game to make an impact on the heated mid-size SUV market?
Riding on the same platform as the Pilot and Ridgeline light truck, the Passport isn’t exactly a brand new vehicle. Instead, it takes all of last night’s leftovers from the fridge and creates a different stew. The front half of the Passport (at least from the outside) is a direct copy of the Pilot but the rear end has been shrink rayed and the third bench guilttoned. The size of the Passport is just what buyers in this segment want, and rather than trying to hide its borrowed width, the Passport instead embraces and accentuates its muscular shoulders. It’s been given a sporting makeover to distinguish it from the Pilot as well with black exterior elements, standard 20-inch wheels and roof rails, and a floating C-pillar effect on the roof. The result is one of the most handsome SUVs to ever grace the Honda badge, and comes off as an honest and transparent family five-seater.
Much of the interior is carried over from the Pilot, meaning it lacks the garnish and luxury appointments of Honda’s latest entrants, but it more than makes up for that with a dedication to functionality. Hard grainy plastics and inexpensive leather grace every surface, similar to what you would find in a top-trim Civic or Accord, which only strengthens its authenticity as a genuine SUV that isn’t playing dress up. Buttons and dials are littered in ergonomic locations, and we applaud the dedicated buttons for the heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, volume control, and rear-seat climate.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen doesn’t come with hard shortcut buttons on the side like the new Accord, and utilizes touch sensitive buttons instead. The unit is average in terms of functionality, comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and widgets that you can customize to your liking, but is trumped by the friendlier Chevrolet and Volkswagen examples. The largest criticism we have is that some of the button prompts are miniscule and take careful finessing of your finger to trigger a response, not exactly the type of task you want to be doing while driving.
The Passport’s size advantage over its rivals is more evident inside the cabin with a wealth of storage options and a massive center console. There are even adjustable front armrests passed down from the Pilot. For perspective, when I’m sitting in the front of the Blazer, I can easily reach the passenger’s door handle but in the Passport, I can’t. Rear seat space is excellent and more than spacious for my six-foot frame, and the second row can fold down flat for a completely level cargo surface.
In Canada, the Honda Passport strictly comes with one powertrain: a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 delivering 280 hp and 262 lb-ft through a 9-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels via AWD. There is good power from the V6 but most of it lives on the right side of the needle, so revving its lungs out will be necessary to juice out all the pulp. Lacking that low-end boost from a turbocharged unit, the tradeoff is the Passport’s more linear and predictable power delivery. There’s a proportional relationship between gas pedal and forward thrust, a welcome benefit for beginner drivers and purists alike. Furthermore, the Passport accelerates quicker from 0-100 km/h than the Chevrolet Blazer RS, Ford Edge Sport, and Toyota 4Runner.
The Passport drives as expected: a smaller Pilot with a firmer suspension to balance out the decapitated rear end. It’s not nearly as fun as the Blazer when wrestling along sinuous roads, and the Passport is surprisingly not as well damped or comfortable either, but is still more than adequate at its intended mission as a family hauler. Whether the trunk and seats are full of cargo or occupants, the ride is seemingly unaffected. There are four driving modes to choose from as well: normal, snow, sand, and mud, each of which alter the throttle sensitivity, gearbox mapping, torque vectoring, and stability control for a more versatile attitude towards all-terrain driving, and the cartoonish graphics that are displayed when scrolling through the modes is an amusing Japanese touch.
The steering has vague on-center feel but is light and precise, offering a decent amount of rotational resistance. When let go, the wheel will quickly spring back to neutral position, much like the hydraulic steering racks of yore. In an attempt to mitigate body roll and introduce better dynamics, Honda equipped the Passport with a clever torque vectoring system, and I don’t mean the brake-based kind. This is true torque vectoring, meaning the differential can re-route 70% of the torque to rear axle, and 100% of that torque to either right or left wheels - you can view this distribution of power in real time in the instrument cluster as well. This allows for better handling and traction when cornering, and you can immediately tell when carressing this bruiser on a speedy turn. It doesn’t bestow a newfound athleticism, however, and you still get similar top-heavy lean that you would get in the Pilot, an attribute that is absent in the more grounded Blazer.
A large V6 engine that loves to rev shouldn’t be fuel efficient on paper but the Passport makes use of clever engineering to reduce that consumption. Under light power loads, the V6 will shut off three of its cylinders and decouple the rear driveshaft. Our highway drive netted us an average of 9.4 L/100km. Drivers can further utilize that large green ECON button to further save fuel - the systems will remap the throttle for lighter acceleration, changes the shift points in the gearbox, and alters the A/C to act more efficiently, but will take longer to cool the vehicle.
Pricing for the Passport is as follows: Sport ($41,990), EX-L ($45,590), Touring ($48,990). The Sport model is all you really need with a plethora of basic creature comforts, heated seats, and Honda’s suite of safety features (blind spot only available on the Touring), even though Honda predicts the EX-L to be the volume model. There is no base FWD model for the Canadian market. Honda doesn’t expect many people to buy them anyways. Chevrolet Blazer thought the same with their base 2.5-litre inline-four with FWD but are offering it anyways for that one-off price-conscious buyer. The Passport is slightly pricier than its direct rivals like the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano but right on the money against the Chevrolet Blazer, the latter of which nickels and dimes for add-on packages that quickly swells the price tag well above $50,000.
Even with competitive pricing and chapters of standard features, some buyers might find the new Passport too sterile, too clinical, and perhaps too by the book. But I find that comforting and reassuring in a sense that there are no surprises. The Passport sticks to its roots, effectively fills the gap in Honda’s portfolio, and delivers what customers want: a rooted, spacious, and honest two-row SUV that accomplishes what it was set out to do without resorting to party tricks. It’s exactly as expected, and exactly as advertised.
Model: 2019 Honda Passport Touring
Paint Type: Deep Scarlet Pearl
Base Price: $48,990
Price as Tested: $48,990
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,839 / 2,115 / 1,834
Curb weight (kg): 1,914
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 12.5 / 9.8 / 11.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.3