Gone are the days of the agonizing adventure-mobile.
Trucks and SUVs equipped for rugged exploring once offered little more than stripped-out interiors, loud and dirty engines and uncomfortable ride quality. But as crossovers have increasingly replaced body-on-frame SUVs, automakers have opted to enhance the off-road experience by adding outdoor equipment and technology. Honda’s 2019 Passport is a prime example of pleasant and capable adventuring.
The third-generation Passport sports advanced all-wheel-drive and traction modes, a roomy interior and standard roof rails and cross bars for hauling cargo. Compared with the three-row Pilot on which it’s based, the two-row Passport has a lifted suspension and higher maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
The 2019 Honda Passport combines this functionality with modern comfort and style. It delivers a smooth ride and sharp, accurate handling. A vibrant, 8-inch touch screen and premium 10-speaker audio system boost the passenger experience. Trucks.com tested the top-level Elite trim – standard with AWD and heated and ventilated front seats – and it hits the marks as a modern and sleek off-roader.
It is not a 4Runner. Even with upgraded springs, the 2019 Passport has a ground clearance of 8.1 inches – close to the bare minimum needed for moderate off-roading. Front-wheel-drive models have a paltry 7.5 inches. It does not have a rear-mounted spare tire, a calling card of previous Passport generations. There aren’t any tow hooks, skid plates or locking differentials. A tow hitch is optional. The contemporary interpretation does lose hardcore points.
But it doesn’t need to win over enthusiast buyers. Consumers want crossovers. Last year sales in the crossover segment grew more than 13 percent to 6.1 million vehicles compared with 5.4 million the year prior. The explosion has created a niche for vehicles that embrace the versatility and ride quality of crossovers yet boast trailblazing ability off the showroom floor.
EASY TO USE
The 2019 Passport’s adventure features are easy to use, which increases its appeal. Standard crossbars are integrated into the roof rails, so any racks or cargo carriers are mounted at a lower height than an optional setup that owners install on their own. A small step alongside the rear seat makes access to the rooftop easy. The intelligent AWD system automatically distributes torque to the wheels that need it instead of a traditional, manually operated transfer case. In an era where many expensive off-road vehicles are engineered to the extreme, the main selling point of the 2019 Passport is that it is just capable enough for casual adventurers.
Automakers take a similar approach to crossovers in the three-row segment such as the Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. But the Passport is the most accessible two-row off-road crossover available and makes fewer concessions than the 4Runner or Jeep Grand Cherokee.
On the road, this translates to a comfortable and confident driving experience. The Passport rides 1 inch higher than the Pilot. Combined with a wide, unobstructed windshield, the view from the driver’s seat is commanding. The electric power steering is smooth and stress-free. The chassis is light yet rigid, though sharp turns will result in body roll thanks to the taller ride height. Even though the Passport’s length is 6 inches shorter than the Pilot, its ride does not suffer. It feels bouncy on some rough surfaces but otherwise delivers a serene ride.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, similar to the 4Runner with its 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The Passport engine is shared with everything from the Honda Accord sedan to the Ridgeline pickup truck. While not the most exciting engine, the power delivery is smooth and reliable. In the Passport the V6 is responsive albeit with a hollow exhaust note.
The 2019 Passport uses a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by a quirky stack of buttons along the vertical center console similar to the Acura MDX.
But where the MDX suffers from jerky shifts the Passport’s nine-speed is effortless. It also has better engine start-stop performance than its MDX cousin. On a recent weekend the Passport ferried a group of four across Southern California in search of family-friendly adventure. Stops included a skateboard park, mountain biking roads and a BMX hill course.
The SUV carried a Kuat roof tray that secured a tent and cargo bag for testing. It also affixed two bicycles to the top. The rear cargo space of the Passport has a high load floor. But the SUV made up for it with 41.2 cubic feet of rear cargo space, high for its class, to store the bikes’ front tires and backpacks. It also carried a skateboard, helmet and pads in an under-floor compartment. With the compartment closed the flat floor makes a comfortable changing space.
All Passports come standard with advanced safety equipment in the Honda Sensing package. It includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and collision-mitigation braking. As with the smaller CR-V, the driver-assist features in the Passport are intuitive and easy to operate. The SUV deftly changed speed based on traffic conditions and recognized other vehicles entering and exiting its lane, delivering the exhausted group home in safety and comfort. These features help drivers reduce fatigue after hours of driving or at the end of a long day.
When it comes to efficiency, the V6 engine can shut down three of its cylinders under light load. And AWD models disconnect power to the rear wheels to save fuel consumption. Still, the Passport achieves average fuel economy for its class. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2019 Passport AWD at 19 mpg in city driving, 24 mpg in highway driving and 21 mpg in combined driving. Front-wheel-drive versions are rated 1 mpg higher in each category.
Starting price for the 2019 Honda Passport is $31,990 before the $1,045 destination charge. All-wheel-drive costs an additional $1,990. The Passport AWD Elite model tested by Trucks.com, standard with black wheels and a smartphone-charging station, came to $43,680 before the destination charge.
The 2019 Passport is not a hardcore adventurer. It has the civilized road manners and fuel efficiency of a crossover. Instead, the Passport is an encapsulation of modern tastes that make adventure more accessible to the everyday driver. The Passport is an explorer trapped in a family-mover body – a trend that’s just beginning.