Steve Kinkade, Honda Brand Manager, and his Road Show of product and PR specialists recently pulled in for a pit stop at a Midwest Automobile Media Association monthly luncheon during an especially rainy day during a very wet week to discuss all things Honda (in general) and the reimagined 2019 Passport (specifically).
The 'Ye Olde' Passport of yore debuted in the 1994 model year with a hefty body-on-frame platform very hip for the mid 90's. A careful (or not so careful) examination uncovered this first effort was a thinly veiled Isuzu Rodeo SUV sporting Honda badging.
Fast forward a quarter century and the landscape's a whole lot different. Isuzu no longer sells or markets vehicles in the U.S. and the 2019 Passport reboot trades in a heavy, bulky platform for a Honda inspired-and-developed lighter-weight effort. When Passport retired the first time in 2003, an up-and-coming three-row Pilot took its place in Honda's lineup.
An all-black, 2019 Passport 'Elite' awaited hungry-for-information lunch-goers inside the Chicago Automobile Trade Association's comfy climate controlled Oakbrook Terrace atrium. Through a stroke of scheduling luck, this exact Passport, poked and prodded by a cadre of auto writers during an extended meet-and-greet, became this scribe's week-long tester the very next day. With only 553 odometer miles, this newbie enjoyed its extended road christening Chicago style.
"This five-passenger mid-size SUV segment was a segment that Honda was missing out on. It's a segment that's growing very quickly," said Lara Harrington, Chief Engineer for Passport circa 2019. "The segment's projected to grow another 25 percent into the mid 2020 time period."
In 2018, the mid-size crossover/SUV category sales totaled 2.5 million units in the U.S., the second-most popular category surpassed only by compact crossovers/SUVs at 3.1 million units. Passport's positioned to take a sizeable bite out of these enticing tidbits.
Passport measures in a sizeable mid-sizer. In fact, wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) remains identical to the larger three-row Honda Pilot. Passport's overall length clocks in 6.2 inches shorter, but the sizeable wheelbase footprint enhances handling and balance.
Passport enjoys an inch greater ground clearance than Pilot. Engineer Harrington frames Honda's new five-door mid-sizer as the "Best blend of on-road dynamics and off-road capabilities."
The sole engine in all trims, a 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivering 280 horses, boosts towing prowess as all-wheel-drive Passports tow up to 5,000 pounds, identical to the pricier Toyota 4Runner and 500 pounds better than Chevrolet's Blazer. Regular, 87-octane fuel fills the 19.5-gallon tank. Expect 19 miles per gallon city, 24 highway with all-wheel drive. Add one mile better in each category with FWD on par with mid-size rivals.
Engine start-stop technology comes standard, quieting the engine at prolonged stops to extend fuel, but summoning back to work once tickling the accelerator pedal. A button near Honda's buffet-style automatic nine-speed transmission turns off the system if desired, but Passport's design rates as quite seamless.
Unlike a mechanical transmission with conventional grab handles, Passport opts for a push or tap of well-marked in-line electronic designates (PRND) to select desired gears. Engineers wisely designed specific finger motions for each choice. For example, Park requires a down push of a rectangular button while Reverse necessitates a tactile tab push. This layout's been tried successfully in other Honda/Acura vehicles. Extra-large inline beverage holders locate to the right while a huge, deep storage bin with sliding cover also resides between front buckets.
Four trims include Sport, EX-L, Touring and Elite. Only the top-rung Elite offers all-wheel-drive standard; all others have front-drive standard and all-wheel drive as a $1,900 option. Opt for all-wheel drive and four off-roading friendly modes come to play: normal, mud, sand and snow.
A huge, fully carpeted (including side walls) cargo area awaits behind the second row with a versatile under-floor catacomb featuring removable, washable bins and dividers. Smartly, this vehicle seats up to five riders. Too many mid-size crossovers try and pry in an additional third row, resulting in a nursery suitable primarily for tiny tots.
The under-floor cove includes sectional divides and 2.5 cubic feet of hidden storage play. The carpeted hinged floor includes a prop-up grab handle revealing the largest portion of out-of-view pods. The back two-thirds pops up too, showcasing a temporary spare tire and additional sectioned under-belly real estate. Corner bins found on both sides of the flat floor create a handy option for say, carting watermelons or other desired fresh fruit.
A side push button releases down the 60/40-split second row seats, opening up a cavernous 77.9 cubic feet of room, topping crossover rivals including Ford Edge and Chevrolet's Blazer. All but entry Sport include a power rear lift gate. Elite and Touring trims include a foot-swipe-activated hands-free choice.
The lowest-priced Passport, a front-drive Sport, starts at $31,990. Honda simplifies the dealership experience by dismissing with conventional factory options and packages (aside from $1,900 all-wheel drive availability). The Elite tester included a $43,680 starting point with a $44,725 bottom line after $1,045 destination charge, representing the most opulent 2019 Passport.
An important added value includes Honda Sensing, a grouping of radar-enhanced nuances standard across all four trims. Adaptive cruise control (slowing and speeding Passport based on the distance of the vehicle ahead), lane-keep assist, lane departure warning and collision mitigation were privy only in luxury-badged vehicles with twice the price not long ago.
A tip of the cap to Honda's marketing team for reissuing this easy-to-visualize and remember Passport moniker. A completely opposite alpha-numeric approach might have resulted in a 'MR-V' namesake saluting Honda's two smaller crossovers, the subcompact HR-V and compact CR-V.
Large side windows provide excellent visual contact with minimal blind spots. Honda conveniently locates hatch and fuel-door release buttons on the driver's door, an easier reach than the floor. No hassles with a twist cap as the fuel lead self seals once the gas nozzle is removed.
Honda assembles Passport in Lincoln, Alabama at the same facility churning out Pilot and mid-size Ridgeline pickup. All three share Honda's Global Light Truck platform carved from a versatile structure with pleasurable degrees of off-road capability. It's not the body-on-frame heavy-duty structure found in full-size pickups. Passport not only shares underpinnings, but the conservative exterior styling of its Pilot big brother. Both enjoy top-notch fit and finish.
Only Elite trims include a wireless phone charger, allowing newer-generation Smartphones to charge sans a plug. All trims, sans the base Sport include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay working in tandem with a flat-multi-purpose touch screen sporting a handy left-side volume knob (although a second, station-select scroll knob would also be handy).
The modern, pleasant instrument panel includes two analog half-moon end gauges (temperature and fuel) while the center region features a digital speedometer and a multi-panel display selectable via a left-side steering wheel button. A horizontal tachometer is one of the animated options selectable.
Elite trims include a drop down sunglass holder near the rear-view mirror pulling double duty. Dropping this casing down halfway reveals a concave mirror, popular in minivans and allowing drivers to spy upon activities occurring in row two. 2019 Honda Passport Price as tested:
4,237 poundsCity/Highway economy:
19 mpg city 24 mpg highwayAssembly: