2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite – Review by Ben Lewis

What’s in a name?

We’ll skip the Shakespearean reference, and go for the automotive one. Do they make sense? Sometimes. A 911, well that’s a model number. A Maxima – uh, is there a Minima?

Now we have the all-new Honda Passport.

Wait, we’ve heard that name before. Yep, there was a Honda Passport in the ‘90s. Well sorta. That Passport was a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo, which wasn’t a bad vehicle, and it was a smart idea – Honda needed a compact SUV to fight it out in that red-hot segment. This was three years before the 1997 CR-V would dip its toe on our shores and become a huge success.

Passport to Adventure

This time, the Passport is a rebadged model, but it’s closer to home. Honda has taken the popular 3-row Pilot SUV and trimmed it down to a smaller, friendlier two-row, 5-passenger model – fitting it perfectly between the Pilot and smaller CR-V.

Honda is positioning the Passport as an off-road capable vehicle, and has amped up the looks to make it rough, tough, and rugged. At first glance, you realize this thing is big.

Really big.

Being based on the larger Pilot, it stands tall, and dwarfs other SUVs in its class. While it rides on the same wheelbase as its larger sibling, it’s a tidy 6.2 inches shorter, while having a ride height that’s almost an inch taller.

Giving visual clues for the off-road capability, you have generous approach and departure angles, tall 8.1-inch ground clearance, and massive gloss-black 20-inch alloys with 265/45R20 all- weather tires.

Up front, the Passport looks more rugged than the Pilot, with a scratch-resistant matte black grille and bumper, blackout headlights, LED headlight accents, gloss black trim, while chrome exhaust finishers add some bling and give a little relief from the abundance of black. Also helping brighten our testers vibe was the bright Obsidian Blue paint scheme.

Pump up the Volume

Big on the outside, huge on the inside. The Passport wows you initially with room, with class-leading passenger volume and total interior volume. You can thank the Pilot for the big spacious interior. You can thank it for more than that – dash, seats, steering wheel, ultra-deep roll-top center console – are all Pilot fare. No problem, it’s fresh, logical and simple to operate.

The instruments are straightforward – fuel and temp gauges flank a center display that includes a 7-inch digital TFT screen, including speedometer, and a lighted horizontal band for rpm. It also serves up customizable features including audio info, trip computer, phone, and turn-by-turn route guidance.

The center console boasts an 8-inch touch screen with the expected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on board. Making it even easier to use, it features gesture control – letting you swipe, tap and pinch to control information – just like your smartphone. Neat. Also neat, you can setup customizable shortcuts for commonly used features and apps.

Our Elite trim added to the tech wonderland with a 4G LTE in-vehicle Wi-Fi TCU that can support up to seven devices. There also numerous HondaLink cloud-based services – using an app, owners can keep track of maintenance, book appointments, remember their Passport’s location and numerous other functions.

There’s also lots to love with the 590-watt, 10-speaker premium audio system – it had no problem filling our oversized cabin with loads of quality sound. And that’s good, because whether it’s friends or longboards, the Passport can haul the goods. The rear seat is spacious even for three adults, and the rear seat reclines and slides back and forth.

With the rear seat up, you have an impressive 41.2 cubic feet of cargo space.

There’s even a handy hidden underfloor storage compartment – a class leading 2.5 cubic feet! – to keep valuables out of sight. Fold the second row down, and you’re looking at an impressive cargo hold with 77.9 cubic feet of space. Need more? There’s nice Honda Accessory racks for bikes, kayaks, what have you, and a 5,000-lb. towing capacity. No toy gets left behind!

To help in in that, all Passport trims come equipped with a Multi-Angle Rearview Camera with overhead “bird’s eye” view, ideal for trailer hookups. Our top of the Elite adds to that with dynamic guidelines for the rearview camera, blind spot Information system with Rear Cross-Traffic Detection, and front and rear parking sensors. All worth having on a big vehicle negotiating tight parking spaces and crowded shopping malls.

Leave it all behind.

With the Passport’s mission statement as capable and off-road rugged, we were ready to hit the road. It starts with the powerful 3.5-liter, V6 from the Pilot, punching out an impressive 280 hp, and 262 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. While we’re spoiled by the instant low-end torque we get from turbocharged engines, the Passport’s 9-speed auto snaps cogs off quickly and gets you off the line in a hurry.

Even in a big, all-wheel-drive vehicle like this, 0-60 comes up in just 6 seconds. This thing is fast. Pop it into Sport Mode and it has serious passing abilities as well – there’s no hanging about, the Passport is ready to go! There’s a bit to be paid for big power in a big vehicle – we averaged 18-20 mpg. If mpg is a major consideration, this class of vehicles is probably not right for you.

Outside of a nice engine growl, the big Honda is impressively quiet. The structure is bank-vault solid, and there’s not a squeak, peep or rattle. Ride quality is supple, the four-wheel independent suspension and ground clearance just swallows up bumps, ruts, railroad tracks. The steering has a nice precise feel, making it easy to keep the vehicle between the lane lines – not always the case in large SUVs!

We didn’t get a chance to go off-road, (darn!) but Honda’s i-VTM4 (intelligent Variable Torque Management to you) system serves up a choice of Normal, Sand, Snow, and Mud settings.  It should be quite capable. You don’t have to go off-pavement to enjoy the system, it also provides torque vectoring to the rear wheels, helping not only gain traction in slippery stuff, but making the Passport a confident and capable handler on twisty roads.

Which is not to say it’s a sport sedan. A large, tall vehicle, with high ground clearance, you feel it, with a bit of lean in the turns.

While you can get around quickly, you might find passengers getting a little seasick. Easy answer? Kick back, enjoy the great ride, superb visibility and awesome sound system.

Adding to your enjoyment is the feeling you’re well looked after. Every Passport features standard Honda Sensing, including Collision Mitigation Braking System with Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning with Road Departure Mitigation and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Big Value

Trimming some of the Pilot’s trimmings has done nice things to the Passport’s price.

The Sport starts at a very reasonable $31,990 in 2-wheel drive, (4WD is $1,900), and you get that powerful V6 engine, 9-speed automatic, Honda Sensing, 3-zone climate control, 6-speaker audio, remote engine start, smart entry with pushbutton start, 20-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights and fog lights, rear privacy glass, underfloor storage, and dual exhaust finishers.

That’s a lot of size, power and capability for the buck.

Stepping up to the EX-L may require a small ladder – it starts at $36,410. But the goodies include Leather, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power moonroof, Blind Spot Information with Cross Traffic Monitor, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, power tailgate, 8-inch display audio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and more. This is probably the best combo of value/luxury in the Passport lineup.

The Touring trim starts at $39,280, and it adds loads of luxe, with hands-free tailgate, Navigation, 10-speaker premium audio, heated rear seats, roof rails, LED headlights, parking sensors, 2nd row USB Charging Ports, ambient LED lighting and more.

Our top-of-the-line Elite starts at $43,680. That’s a little misleading, since AWD is standard here – it is optional on all trims above. It also includes wireless phone charging, perforated, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, rain sensing wipers and auto-dimming power-folding heated outside mirrors. With no options – none were needed – and $1,045 for destination, our tester rang the bell at $44,725.

There’s a wide range of competition for the Passport, A loaded Toyota 4Runner is notably smaller, but comparably equipped comes in $2,500 more at $46,055. The Grand Cherokee Limited comes in at $45,380. While it would most likely be more capable off-road, it would feel much less spacious. We wouldn’t look at you funny for comparing the Honda against Audi’s Q5. But that premium European experience comes at quite a premium – comparably-equipped it’s $55,490.

The all-new Passport is a great vehicle.

Huge amounts of space, a powerful engine, value-packed and crafted with typical Honda quality.

What’s in a name? In this case, lots!