It was around 1998 that my wife and I considered the purchase of an Isuzu Rodeo, a body-on-frame, midsized SUV offering a solid, truck-like construction and playful personality. We instead opted for the (relative) refinement of Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, a choice that proved satisfying; we repeated the process eight years – and two Jeep generations later – in 2006. But the Rodeo and its Honda-badged sibling, the Passport (sold in Honda showrooms during roughly the same time period), remain a what-might-have-been, twenty years after the fact.
Honda has apparently kept its Passport in mind, also. With an announcement at last fall’s Los Angeles Auto Show, Honda elected to reissue its Passport. Rather than relying on Isuzu for its bones, however, Honda has appropriated its own 3-row Pilot for the structure, absent some six inches in overall length and, notably, a third row of seating. And since 3-rows are targeted at families, and the Passport would seem to be aimed at younger couples and/or empty nesters, the emphasis here is ‘robust off-road capability’, whether you want to use that capability…or not.
Described in Honda’s press materials as ‘all new’, we’d politely beg to differ. This is a Honda Pilot platform, essentially Pilot sheetmetal and – for the most part – a Pilot drivetrain. Of course, none of the above menu is a negative; it’s simply that ‘all new’ isn’t accurate. We’re all about the Passport’s quality of construction, built-in level of refinement and, under the hood, the ease with which the normally aspirated 3.5 liter V6 goes about its business. But we’re unconvinced that the simple addition of a more capable traction management system in its available all-wheel drive – which Honda calls I-VTM4 – and a small increase in ground clearance makes this the gravel grinder the marketing suits suggest it is.
As an owner of multiple Jeeps which have rarely, if ever, seen gravel – and have never tackled a boulder – I don’t want to seem judgmental. But I do know that there are footprints appropriate to off-roading, and footprints that aren’t. And in the Passport’s physical footprint and perceived girth, the new Passport seems far better suited to the mall than Moab, Trader Joe’s than Joshua Tree. But in making the urban/suburban experience your own, know that the Passport affords you a refined experience for both you and your passengers.
Like most contemporary crossovers, there’s just the suggestion of a climb into the driver and passenger seats. Once there, you’ll enjoy all the personal space you’d want; the front buckets are wide and supportive, while the back bench comfortably accommodates three full-size Americans. The Passport offers, according to Honda, best-in-class passenger space (almost 116 cubic feet), along with best-in-class total interior volume. Doing the math gives you over 40 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat, along with another 2.5 cubic feet of concealed storage beneath the rear deck.
Behind the wheel, occupants of our AWD Elite trim will enjoy leather-trimmed seats, a one-touch power moonroof, power tailgate, blind spot information and cross-traffic alert. The display audio allows for both CarPlay and Android Auto integration, which is fine, but simply flipping from FM to Sirius wasn’t as intuitive as I’d have hoped. But then, I was in it for a few days, while owners will be in it for the term of their lease.
The V6, generating 280 horses from its 3.5 liters, drives all four wheels through Honda’s 9-speed automatic. The aforementioned – and optional – I-VTM4 all-wheel drive supplies torque vectoring, providing power to the corner of the car with traction, and offers snow, sand and mud modes. In short, this drivetrain will minimize the need to call AAA from the hinterlands, but that doesn’t reduce the basic question: Why would you take 4,000 pounds and $44,000+ of Honda Passport to the hinterlands?
Despite the obvious care in which the Passport has been designed and executed, we’d take our $44K to an Acura store for their RDX, as it feels better connected to the road – and that’s where the majority of Passport users will be driving. Or I’d opt for Honda’s 3-row Pilot, which gives me a 3rd row for the two tons of bulk I’m having to gas. Or…I’d get a smaller, lighter CR-V, install some good dual-purpose rubber, fabricate some undercarriage protection…and get out there.
It’s Honda’s Passport to adventure, but don’t – for a Honda minute – think of this as a Jeep or 4Runner substitute. If you want to go off-roading with a Honda, get their Africa Twin.