REVIEW: Honda Passport gets stamp of approval

For some, a Honda Pilot. For others, a Honda Pi-less.

Essentially a shortened version of Honda’s three-row full-size crossover, here’s the new Passport with a very simple formula.

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Honda’s thought seems to be that many Pilot buyers are looking for a vehicle that can haul and tow more than a CR-V, but don’t actually need a third row of seats. Thus, the Passport, which is 15 centimetres shorter than the Pilot, but retains pretty much all the same equipment forward of the trunk.

You’d think that such a minor tail-docking wouldn’t do much for the character of a vehicle, but Honda’s also given the Passport a few visual tweaks to make it a little more burly looking than the Pilot. Think of it as the Pilot Sport, rather than a totally new crossover.

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Honda Passport rearquarter. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

So, step right up and get your Passport stamped here for a little trip. Let’s see if Honda’s latest crossover is a decent drive, or just comes up short.

Design

Squared off and fitted with standard 20-inch wheels, the Passport certainly looks fairly beefy. Plenty of black accents on the exterior give the vehicle a whiff of off-road sportiness, even though most of these things will never see terrain more difficult than your average Costco parking lot.

Despite the fact that the Passport is just a crop-tailed version of the Pilot, it really does have a bit of a unique visual profile, especially when fitted with dealer accessories like running boards. The tires are a little wider than on the Pilot, though the bodywork remains the same, and this gives the Passport a brawnier look.

LED headlights and taillights are standard, and all models come with roof rails for strapping down your latest MEC purchase.

Environment

If the exterior is a little cut down from Honda’s bigger crossover, then the interior of the Passport is absolutely huge. The rear trunk space is still half again as big as a CR-V, with 1,430 litres of space behind the rear seats.

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The interior is both rugged and upscale, offering huge storage space and easy-to-use controls. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

For passengers, especially up front, there’s a tremendous amount of cubbies and storage bins, as well as front captain’s chairs with a commanding view of the road. The Passport feels nearly pickup truck roomy, and has more than enough storage space for road trip essentials.

Front and rear heated seats are available in Touring models, and a heated steering wheel is standard in all trims. This last should really be a priority on your shopping list, as it’s really hard to go back to gloves once you’ve had one.

Comfort is very good overall, and the quality of the interior, while rugged, is upscale. Much like the Accord, Honda’s nailed a mainstream look here that’s a little upscale. The touchscreen is high-mounted, clear, easy to use, and even has a proper volume knob.

Performance

As mentioned, the Passport looks a bit off-road oriented. All-wheel drive is standard in Canada, and the system is engaged more often than in the CR-V, for a little more traction off the line.

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Honda Passport engine. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

Further, while the Passport doesn’t have a proper low-range gearbox, it does have a terrain-selection system. There’s also a brake-based torque-vectoring system that can shunt power away from a slipping wheel. For mild off-roading, such as handling a snowbound parking lot in ski season, it’s all you’ll need.

The even better news is how quick and light on its feet the Passport is on the tarmac. Sprints up to highway speeds take less than six seconds, and despite its boxy looks, this big Honda is still a Honda. It’s planted in the corners and surprisingly nimble.

Under the hood is a 280 horsepower 3.5-litre V-6 that makes 262 foot-pounds of torque at peak. Unlike other marques – and indeed some of Honda’s other offerings – that have made the move to smaller-displacement turbocharged engines, sticking with a normally aspirated engine here gives excellent performance.

The nine-speed automatic transmission might seem like a bewildering array of gears if you start using the paddle-shifters, but left to its own devices is smooth. Honda’s finally got their transmission technology well-sorted.

Further, with a 2,250-kilogram tow rating, the Passport makes a perfect rig for family adventure. It’s just rugged enough to handle the tail-end of the trail, sufficiently spacious to fit all your gear, and an enjoyable drive up the twisty parts of the Sea-to-Sky. It really is a great Passport to adventure.

Features

There are just three trim levels for the Passport, and all are well-equipped with heated seats, parking assists, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The base-model Sport ($41,990) would make a great long-termer with its rugged fabric seats. This week’s Touring-level tester tucked in at $48,990 before freight and taxes.

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Honda Passport interior detail. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

Fuel economy figures are solid, but that shortened tail does mean that the Passport isn’t super-thrifty for highway driving. Official figures are 12.5 litres/100 km in the city and 9.8 l/100 km on the highway.

Green light

Roomy and capable; surprisingly good to drive; enough off-road capacity for most families.

Stop sign

Average fuel economy; not much different from the Pilot.

The checkered flag

A right-sized crossover that’s better to drive than most, but still has all the practicality you need.

Competition

Nissan Murano ($32,248): Assuming you can do without the pretense of off-road prowess, the Nissan Murano provides a heaping of urban style in a very smoothly polished package. Less spacious than the Passport, the Murano is nonetheless quite practical, and very good in snowy conditions.

The Passport manages to be both more rugged and more enjoyable to drive, while the Murano is more laid-back and quiet. City or country mouse – take your pick.

mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com

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