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2019 Honda Passport is versatile, spacious


All Passport models include four-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic with push-button shift, and a gem of a 3.5-litre V6, rated for 280 horsepower.
All Passport models include four-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic with push-button shift, and a gem of a 3.5-litre V6, rated for 280 horsepower. - Justin Pritchard

Until now, Honda shoppers who found the CR-V a bit too small and the Pilot a bit too large had no in-between option— meaning they might leave the brand in pursuit of something like a Ford Edge or Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Today, and partly intended to keep those shoppers in Honda showrooms, the all-new-for-2019 Passport has arrived. Effectively, it’s a Honda Pilot with a shorter body. The wheelbase is the same, but Passport is about 6.5 inches shorter than its bigger brother. Elsewhere, it’s the same powertrain, same wheelbase, and many of the same features.

If you’re considering some off-roading, note that Passport may be the better choice between the two, given its model-specific suspension and off-road approach and departure angles are a bit better suited to that sort of work.

Pricing starts at $42,000 — a few bucks more than the larger Pilot. Thing is, Passport isn’t available in a base-model grade, and Pilot is. With Passport, the opening trim grade is the Sport, while my nicely-loaded tester took the top-line position in the lineup, in Touring trim, for about $49,000. A mid-grade EX-L model is also available.

As a package, Passport offers numerous reasons to consider a test drive, and a few not to.

Key assets include space, storage, and functionality. On those attributes, Passport is one of the most compelling machines in the game right now.

Entry and exit is a cinch — average-sized occupants simply need to slide over and they’re in their seats, no hopping or jumping. Door openings are large, and door sills are relatively thin, easing entry and exit. Note that my tester’s accessory running boards did make entry and exit slightly awkward for larger adult feet. You may be best to skip these if you don’t have kids to load in and out.

Second-row seating is easily accessed and easily slid fore and aft to balance out legroom against cargo volume behind. The sliding seat mechanisms have a relatively light and easy action, meaning they can be operated by most users with a single hand when required. At 5’10”, I could sit behind myself with plenty of leg-room to spare. In fact, even taller or leggier occupants are unlikely to feel cramped. For four adults, even bigger ones, there should be no issue with space.

Further back, the cargo hold is generous, flat, wide and largely square, with a large opening and a power tailgate. Additional storage cubbies are available in the corners of the cargo area, and beneath its floor. The load-in height is a touch on the tall side however, and smaller family canines may have trouble jumping in. I have a five-year old male Golden Retriever of average size and build. He could make the jump, but just barely.

Storage space abounds elsewhere thanks to bins, cubbies, slots, cup holders and compartments fitted virtually everywhere feasible. There are five storage compartments in each front door panel. Rear door panels have two cup holders apiece, and additional storage compartments. The centre console storage bin is nearly elbow-deep, and even has a slide-out drawer. The centre stack has a perfect slot for a wallet, Smartphone, pack of chewing gum, and the like.

 All Passport models include four-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic with push-button shift, and a gem of a 3.5-litre V6, rated for 280 horsepower. - Justin Pritchard
All Passport models include four-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic with push-button shift, and a gem of a 3.5-litre V6, rated for 280 horsepower. - Justin Pritchard

As is typical of Honda crossovers, you’ll probably find the availability of nearby-at hand storage to be more than plentiful. Charging outlets for mobile electronics are nearly as abundant.

Outward visibility will score high marks with many test-drivers. Glass is tall and abundant. The rear window is minivan-like, as it’s wide and tall and stretched to the edges. The driving position sits you up high but not towering above the road. Most test-drivers will appreciate a commanding driving position, backed by above-average outward visibility.

The powertrain is another asset, for the right driver.

All models include four-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic with push-button shift, and a gem of a 3.5-litre V6 as the star of the show. This non-turbo V6 is rated for 280 horsepower.

Most of these are somewhat inaccessible until drivers disengage the fuel-saving ECON mode, and engage the transmission’s sport-shift setting. That’s two button clicks for maximum throttle response.

On one hand, the leisurely and light-footed driver will find the setup perfect, and it helps them save fuel. Sportier drivers will learn to give the Passport very big bootfulls of throttle, and plenty of revs, for maximum thrust.

Total output is more than adequate for most purposes, provided you’re not afraid to use the revs. Notably (though irrelevant for most), the Passport’s VTEC engine emits the Honda family growl when called upon — worked hard, it sounds pleasing, snarly, and sports-car like.

The AWD system has several easily-accessible drive modes for handling specific terrain. Mostly, you can just leave it in its ‘Normal’ mode, where it requires none of your attention at any time.

All said, Passport’s cabin impresses mainly for its space and storage provisions, less so for its looks and feel. Repeat Honda owners will feel right at home in quick order.

Most drivers will appreciate relatively responsive and car-like handling. Passport does its best work on smooth roads, where it mostly feels like a big, tall Honda Accord. The big wheels on my Touring tester did result in some degradation of ride quality and noise levels on rougher roads. Some may find it a touch too firm, though most will appreciate that it never feels like a bloated four-wheeled manatee.

In an off-road setting, washboard or gravel/rocky trail surfaces can coax plenty of noise from the suspension at times. If you’ll frequently hit the trails, you’ve got better options for off-road ride comfort, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.

A final note: Most will find Passport Touring to fully support its price-tag by way of its feature content, perhaps especially on the safety front. With adaptive cruise, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, auto high-beams, blind spot monitoring, and an excellent backup camera system, Passport Touring offers little less than everything Honda has to offer in the way of driver support. If it were any more self-aware, they’d have to include a birth certificate.

Elsewhere, goodies included: remote start, climate-controlled leather seating, a 550-watt stereo, navigation, wireless phone recharging, automatic climate control, automatic lights, and push-button start.

Passport is a machine of many strengths and few weaknesses. If handy storage galore, a pleasant driveline, plenty of advanced safety feature content, and generous levels of highly-usable space are high on your list of priorities, be sure to include Passport on your test-drive hit-list.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Touring
  • Engine: 3.5L V6, 280 horsepower
  • Drivetrain: AWD
  • Transmission: nine-speed automatic
  • Features: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, climate-controlled seats, heated leather steering wheel, automatic climate control, automatic lights, push-button start, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, power tailgate
  • What’s hot: Loads of usable space and storage, lovely engine, flexible, easy to drive, good outward visibility
  • What’s not: some dated cabin controls, high cargo load-in height
  • Starting price (Passport Sport): $41,990
  • As tested (Passport Touring): $48,990

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