Review: 2019 Honda Passport completely reinvents a bygone SUV – and that's a good thing
Honda has reinvented the Passport of old as a new, more modern and everyday crossover-SUV. The 2019 Passport is technically the third generation of the SUV, but is a complete overhaul from the previous generations and their body-on-frame designs. It's also amazingly well done. Even with its quirks.
Back in the 1990s, Honda needed to compete with the extremely popular Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder sport utilities. Those SUVs were knocking sales out of the park with their robust designs and reputations for rugged capability. Honda's solution was to rebadge an Isuzu as a Honda and name it the Passport. It wasn't that great, lasting two generations and less than 10 years before getting the axe.
Now, Honda is recycling the Passport name on an all-new crossover. And it's far more well thought out.
The 2019 Honda Passport can be described as a downsized Pilot, but that would be ignoring the Passport's finer details. The new Passport does get most of its looks and gear from the Pilot, using the same engine, same design motif, and similar interior layout, but it doesn't have a third row, is right-sized as a fit between the CR-V and the Pilot, and boasts more driveability than the Pilot as a result. The Passport also has more second row space than either of its siblings and is the most off-road capable of the three as well.
The new Passport was first unveiled in November of 2018 as an off-pavement-capable crossover that lived up to its name of old. Our first encounter with it hands-on was during a punishing snow and ice driving event in Colorado, where the Passport proved itself one of the safest out-of-the-box vehicles on slick surfaces.
Thus, when the Passport arrived in our driveway, it was already known to be ready for action – at least in the winter. During the summer months in North America's high plains? Still a great vehicle.
The goal for the week was to put the Passport through family-oriented, rigorous activity as a daily driver and to take it out off the pavement into the hinterlands for some dirt-driving fun. We found that in both cases, it was phenomenally good at what it's made for. A few oddities exist, of course, but none seem like deal breakers for a family shopper looking for a more capable, but still efficient crossover.
The vehicle is powered by the same 3.5-liter V6 that's done so well in the Pilot. That V6 outputs 280 hp (209 kW) and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque, and runs into a nine-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the Pilot, however, which features clunky shifting and downshift hesitation, the Passport has none of those issues with its transmission mapping. Some of this may be due to the Passport's lighter weight, but whatever the reason, we'll take it.
Fuel economy ratings for the 2019 Passport depend on drivetrain. The front-wheel-drive models are rated at 20 mpg (11.8 l/100km) in the city and 25 mpg (9.4 l/100km) on the highway. We have yet to put that to the test. The all-wheel-drive models, however, are a point lower (19 and 24 mpg, 12.3 and 9.8 l/100km) on each metric. In the real world, we found the AWD model to be close to those numbers with our testing giving 17 mpg (13.8 l/100km) in the city (at high altitude) and 25 mpg (9.4 l/100km) on the highway, and our overall average after a week of daily driving to be 20 mpg (11.8 l/100km) in all. That's below average for the segment, but good considering the Passport's non-turbo engine at our altitude of over 5,900 ft (1,800 m). Those who live at lower altitudes should see EPA numbers easily.
Inside, the Passport is also nicely designed. The front seating is very comfortable and seems to come right out of the Pilot, which also has roomy front seating. The driver has good access to controls and most things are intuitive, with the exception of the push-button transmission selection. That becomes distracting and doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to be different for the sake of being different. Despite explanations from Honda representatives regarding the shift buttons and how they offer more space beneath the console, we don't see that. Instead, like most Americans, we see either a missed opportunity for another gadget/drink holder or just bewilderment as to why there isn't just a shift stick like we've become used to.
The back seats in the Passport are a whole 'nother matter. Unlike the Pilot, which has a big back seat that still manages to be a bit cramped in the knees, the Passport has a huge back seat that's roomy all the way around. Considering the size of the Passport, that's some amazing engineering and may have resulted in the roomiest back seat we've experienced so far in this segment.
That makes sense if we note that in design, the Honda Passport is dimensionally larger than most two-row crossovers in the midsized segment. It's 191 inches long, 79 inches wide, and 72 inches high (485 x 201 x 183 cm). That wide and low build is a lot different to many others in the segment and accounts for the roomier back seat experience and good-sized cargo area, which in the Passport measures 41.2 cubic feet (1,167 l) behind the second row. It maxes out at 77.9 cubic feet (2,206 l) with the second row folded, but the load height is surprisingly high given the low profile of the vehicle.
Throughout the cabin, in fact, Honda went to great pains to ensure that small item storage was abundant. Finding a place for cups, bottles, gadgets, phones, and other modern detritus is easy, no matter where you're sitting. Parents will be glad to know that installing child safety seats is also easy. The Passport is also rated to tow up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) if equipped, adding more options beyond the (standard) roof rack.
Out on the road, the 2019 Honda Passport is a good drive with smart handling and the Honda penchant for fast jumps from a standstill. It's not quick or fast, really, but like most Honda models, it feels that way. The interior is quiet, but not any quieter than you'd expect in this class. It is far quieter than the Pilot, however, and much more compliant on a highway drive for more comfortable driving.
Off the road, the 2019 Passport is a good goer. It's not necessarily more capable than others in this class, but it definitely feels more confident. Ground clearance is good and the AWD system's grip potential is excellent. The Passport would compete with a Subaru or small non-Trailhawk Jeep crossover in most light- and medium-duty off-road tasks.
Overall, our general opinion is that Honda has really done something good here. The Passport is nothing like its forgettable 1990s previous generations and is one of the most family-friendly and daily usable (while still capable) crossovers we've driven in the two-row segments. Pricing for the 2019 Passport starts at US$31,990 in front-wheel-drive and $33,890 in AWD.
Product Page: 2019 Honda Passport