First Drive: Honda Passport Back in 2019 as Off-Road-Ready SUV

February 15, 2019 by Rick Stella, @RickStella

When Honda Motor Co. discontinued its original Passport in 2002, only two Honda SUVs remained: The compact CR-V crossover and the larger, three-row Pilot.

A decade later, the U.S. auto industry experienced a turning point. Sedans – which accounted for 51 percent of the U.S. auto market in 2012 – didn’t make up even a third of new-vehicle purchases last year. In 2018, light-truck sales rose to 68 percent market share.

Automakers with more pickup and SUV offerings saw a rise in light-truck sales because of consistently cheaper gas and a strengthening economy.

Every year of growth caused a potential loss of “roughly 35,000 customers” in the midsize segment, according to Honda spokesman Jimmy Jenkins. “The Passport’s role is to plug that gap.”

The five-seater also gives Honda a seat at the table among midsize peers like the Ford Edge, Chevrolet Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Murano.

‘Inherently practical’

Though Honda is pitching the Passport as an adventure vehicle, its role will likely be as a daily driver because it’s an “inherently practical vehicle,” Ed Kim, an industry analyst with Auto Pacific, told

2019 Honda Passport

The 2019 Honda Passport proved both on- and off-road-capable during a recent drive. (Photo: Rick Stella/

At a recent test drive in Moab, Utah, the resurrected Passport proved itself capable both on- and off-road. It logs solid fuel economy, boasts a comfortable interior and offers modern infotainment. But with 0.8 more inches of ground clearance than the Pilot and four drive modes, it also excels in inclement weather and off paved roads.

The drive took place in January across more than 200 miles of off-road trails through Moab’s Arches National Park. In January, the region poses varying terrain comprising mud, snow, ice and dirt, serving as the perfect backdrop against which to test the Passport’s capability.

Screaming past a hilly, mud-caked section, the SUV’s tires remained planted on the ground, even with the pedal pushed to the floor. Its nimble handling allowed it to stay agile as the winding trail jerked back and forth.

Effective Drive Modes

The new Passport, which has a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine that delivers 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, offers four distinct drive modes in trims with all-wheel-drive. These include Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand. Two-wheel drive trims offer only Normal and Snow.

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Each mode alters the SUV’s driving characteristics including the starting gear, shifting behavior, traction control and where the power is delivered.

Though Moab’s conditions rapidly changed, the Passport spent a large chunk of the drive in Mud mode, which gave the SUV a softer acceleration to aid traction. It also allowed a small amount of wheel slip to maintain momentum.

Snow mode defaults starting gear to second to prevent traction loss while accelerating and applies more rear torque to improve stability. This was helpful on the trail’s slickest section. The only slip occurred on sharp corners, but the Passport regained control quickly.

Roomy Interior and Plenty of Tech

The Passport’s interior offers a comfortable ride for every passenger. Both front seats have electric dials that customize the seating positions, and the 60/40 second-row bench slides, giving backseat passengers access to more legroom.

The Elite trim comes with leather-trimmed seats, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and tri-zone climate control. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (both are also standard on the EX-L and Touring) and a wireless phone-charging pad.

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The EX-L, Touring and Elite each have an 8-inch touchscreen display, while the Sport has a smaller, 5-inch. Neither system allows input of new coordinates while driving.

All trims come with 20-inch wheels, LED projector headlights and keyless entry. The Passport can tow up to 5,000 pounds; however, a tow hitch is not standard.

A one-touch power sunroof is standard on EX-L and above, and the Touring and Elite come with roof rails. All trims come in either two- or all-wheel-drive except for the Elite, which has standard AWD.

The Passport also has impressive cargo capacity. With the rear seats in place, 41.2 cubic feet of room is available. By comparison, the 2019 Ford Edge ST has only 39.2 cubic feet behind the second row. When the back seats are folded, 77.9 cubic feet is available for storage. That’s just 6 inches shy of the space behind the first row of its larger Pilot sibling.

Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced driver-assistance technologies, comes standard on all trims. It includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, road-departure warning and collision avoidance.

Fuel Economy and Pricing

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2019 Passport at 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined on two-wheel drive models. All-wheel-drive variants get 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.

Pricing for the Honda Passport starts at $31,990 for the Sport, $36,410 for the EX-L, $39,280 for the Touring and $43,680 for the fully loaded Elite, all before the $1,045 destination charge.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event at which Honda hosted travel and lodging.

Read Next: 2018 LA Auto Show: Honda Debuts Off-Road-Ready Passport

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