Honda's larger, three-row Pilot is a big crossover that's squarely aimed at families, with lots of minivan-inspired convenience features to make life with a car full of kids more livable. The two-row 2019 Honda Passport may essentially be a shortened Pilot with one less row of seats, but it also comes with an attitude adjustment. Honda is pushing the Passport as more of an adventure-ready crossover in terms of capability and looks, although it isn't ready for the sort of ultra-rugged terrain a Toyota 4Runner can handle, it largely satisfies the stated goal.
Indeed, the Passport suggests a rugged, outdoorsy lifestyle with some sportier exterior accents, a slightly wider stance, and a little extra ground clearance. And it is the most rugged SUV in Honda's lineup. Let's take a closer look.
What's new for 2019?
In one sense, everything. This is the first year for the Honda Passport. The nameplate was last used on a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo SUV, back when Honda desperately needed an entry into the utility segment before its own original Pilot made it to market.
But in another sense, this is a very familiar vehicle. It's mechanically very close to the Honda Pilot, using the same engine, transmission, all-wheel drive system, and much of the interior. The styling is clearly related to the Pilot but with a distinctly sportier nature.
What's the interior and in-car tech like?
If you've seen the inside of a new Honda Pilot, you'll be right at home in the Passport, as the first two rows are virtually identical. That's really not such a bad thing. Both share a common contemporary interior aesthetic, which is clean and functional, though certainly not as visually interesting as a Chevy Blazer or Hyundai Santa Fe. Materials quality is quite strong for this segment and everything is put together very well.
One difference with the Pilot is that every Passport comes with Honda's controversial push-button transmission selector (rather than just top trim levels). It's confusing at first to use, and then never as intuitive to use as a traditional shifter. It's different just to be different. On the up side, storage solutions abound. There are multiple door bins, two cupholders in each rear door, two areas to store a smartphone up front, and the giant center bin is big enough to hide a purse under its flat rolling cover.
Interior tech is less impressive. There is a lot of it standard, true, but the means in which it is controlled can frustrate. Much was made about Honda adding a volume knob back to its standard touchscreen, which is all well and good, but it didn't correct many other flaws: insufficient menu buttons, no tuning knob and/or direct tune function, and an excessive process for going between Honda and Apple/Android interfaces are just some of the annoyances. Many of these issues were corrected for the vastly improved system in the Accord and Odyssey, but the Passport and most other Hondas stick with this old system. If there's a reason to ponder something other than the Passport, this would certainly be it.
How big is it?
The Passport offers more passenger and cargo space than most two-row midsize crossovers. It's also right-smack in the middle between the CR-V and Pilot within the Honda family. The second row offers abundant head- and legroom, while also sliding considerably to bring kids closer to parents up front or free up cargo space. Need to fit a rear facing child seat? No problem.
The cargo area is arguably the biggest and most versatile in the segment. Besides expanding thanks to the sliding back seat, it also houses a large bin under the floor that can hide valuables or secure dirty items from the clean interior (it can also be removed to be cleaned). The cargo area itself is deep, wide, tall and offers 41.2 cubic feet of space - far more than anything else in the segment. The same can be said when the seats are lowered, with 77.9 cubic feet of maximum space.
If you're wondering how the Passport's interior space compares to its competition, we have a robust comparison of specs and dimensions featuring the Passport, Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Hyundai Santa Fe and Jeep Grand Cherokee if you want to learn more.
What's the performance and fuel economy?
The Passport has only one engine and transmission offering: the 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 paired to a nine-speed automatic. This engine is strong, smooth and according to the 0-60 times posted by various publications, acceleration can be the strongest in the segment. Fuel economy ratings are typical: 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the 2WD, and 19/24/21 for the AWD. We achieved 24.8 mpg in 340 miles of mostly rural highway driving.
The Passport can tow up to 3,500 lbs, which is about average in the segment, although the Chevy Blazer with AWD can tow up to 4,500 lbs.
What's it like to drive?
A lot like a Pilot! The springs are slightly stiffer, so the Passport doesn't bob and roll as much on the road as the more boatlike Honda Pilot. Its steering is also slightly sharper, and the adaptive dampers keep it from tripping over imperfections in the road. Then again, it shows a similar reluctance to be hustled around a windy road as its big sibling. Let's say that it's a decent compromise for a "sporty" crossover in this size that, despite being sportier-feeling than the Pilot, is still not a sporty vehicle overall. Happily, ride quality and interior noise levels are excellent.
The only real wart is the nine-speed automatic transmission. Though improved from other iterations that always seem to be in the wrong gear or slow to engage the correct one, there are still moments of unusual behavior. There can be a little too much engine braking off throttle, for instance, as if you're in the wrong gear. The Sport mode also makes the transmission a bit silly in its aggressiveness — you can't use it around town without it herking and jerking you about. It also too-quickly overrides lower gears that have been manually selected by the included shift paddles.
Where can I read more about the Honda Passport?
We test the highest Passport trim level, featuring all the bells and whistles possible. We also took it on a road trip to see how it handles the sort of family-oriented outdoor adventures it was apparently designed for.
Our First Drive Review of the 2019 Honda Passport. We discuss why the Passport, which doesn't break much new ground or stand out in the segment in any objective way, may move the needle for Honda in the great crossover wars.
You can check out our extensive comparison of the Passport and its competitors. We extensively compared all the numbers and analyzed the results, so you can get a more in-depth understanding of how the Passport stacks up.
What are the available features and price?
The Passport is not the cheapest two-row in the segment – that award goes to the base four-cylinder Hyundai Santa Fe. As noted below, Honda stands out for its standard safety equipment among the competition.
The Passport Sport starts at $33,035 and comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, proximity entry and push-button start, tri-zone climate control and two USB ports. There are several additional trim levels with additional equipment. To see what extra features come on the EX-L ($37,455), Touring ($40,325), and Elite ($44,725) trim levels, check out this breakdown of features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.
Note that adding AWD to any trim but Elite, which has standard AWD, adds $1,900 to the MSRP.
What safety equipment is available and what are the crash ratings?
Honda has made its "Honda Sensing" suite of safety features standard on all trim levels of the Passport (and the Pilot, too). Included features are Collision Mitigation Braking System featuring Forward Collision Warning, Road Departure Mitigation including Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assistance System and Adaptive Cruise Control. Blind Spot Information System is only available on EX-L, Touring, and Elite trim levels, and the Rear Cross-Traffic detection system is only available on the Touring and Elite trims.
We strongly support the standardization of safety equipment and applaud Honda for not making buyers shell out for additional upscale content they don't necessarily need just to get the safety equipment. That said, they aren't the best-executed accident avoidance tech features. They are Honda's previous-generation systems, as opposed to the updated ones on CR-V and Accord. The lane-keeping assist and road departure mitigation are far too sensitive or prone to false alarms with loud warnings of BRAKE! in the instrument panel accompanied by beeping. This can occur when not crossing either lane line. The adaptive cruise control system is also one of the least sophisticated and potentially annoying examples on the market. We go into more detail about this in our review of the Passport Elite.
The Passport received five out of five stars for overall and side crash protection in government testing. It got a four star rating for frontal protection. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Passport received a Top Safety Pick award. It got the best possible rating of "Good" in all crash tests but the newer small overlap front/passenger test where it got a second-best "Acceptable." Its headlights were rated either "Poor" or "Acceptable" depending on trim level, but its frontal crash prevention system was given the highest rating of "Superior." So, while it may annoy you, it at least does its job.