Honda PassportHonda fits a new Passport into its utility vehicle line

Copyright 2019 Jim Bray
April 11, 2019

Honda's line of utility vehicles is pretty full already – with three SUV/Crossovers and the Ridgeline pickup truck – but Honda has discovered a hole in the team that's apparently big enough to fit a larger vehicle.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

Not its largest model however. That would be the Pilot still, with the brand new Passport fitting into the line between it and the compact CR-V. That still leaves the little HR-V to occupy the "entry level" niche in Honda's utility line.

Honda Canada's sample Passport wore the top-end Touring badge (and came with all the extra goodies the badge indicates) and that meant it carried a retail price of approximately $50,916 Canadian, not including extras (though there aren't a lot of extras with the Touring version other than stuff like a towing package, lighting package, cold weather package, etc.). That's nearly 10 grand more than the base Passport, which is probably still a pretty nifty vehicle in this niche.

An interesting fact is that, according to Honda Canada's website, the base Passport starts at exactly the same as the base Pilot which comes with an extra row of occasionally usable seats. Still, the shorter Passport may be a tad easier to park, and possibly a bit more frugal on gas (though its mechanicals are pretty well the same as the Pilot's, it weighs a bit less: 1,890 kg for the base Passport vs. 1932 for the base Pilot). On the other hand, if you don't care about saving gas, you might find the Passport a little bit more fun to drive, thanks to its slightly smaller footprint and lighter weight.

The engine is Honda's 3.5 litre V6 and as usual it's a fine choice. Honda rates its output at 280 horses @ 6000 with 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. It features auto stop (where the engine shuts itself down at red lights, etc.) and will also deactivate cylinders when they aren't needed for oomph. To remind you the auto stop feature is there the Passport gives you a visual hint on the instrument panel, telling you that if you depress the brake fully it'll activate.

I tried depressing the brake pedal fully to see if it worked. I called it a useless pedal, a complete failure and a total waste of time and space. And I depressed it enough that the engine shut down!

Now I know how bullying works! It must be time to put my new knowledge to work by embracing left-wing politics.

Passports suspensions are typical of most modern vehicles, independent at both ends – struts up front and a multi-link buttock – and the largish vehicle handles very well.

During my week with the Passport I found it to be a very nice vehicle to drive, but less so to live with thanks to typical current Honda stuff like illogical interfaces and annoying nannies. I also came away wondering why anyone looking for something in the size and price range of a three row SUV would opt for a strictly two row model where you can never take advantage of a fold-up third row even if it's suitable only for emergency or toddler use.

As usual, of course, manufacturers never contact me for my sage advice. I really wonder about this because my advice would make the world a much better place. For everyone!

But I digress…

The Passport actually feels a bit smaller to drive than you might think it should, especially when you active the Sport mode accessible via Honda's weird button-thingy-based transmission selector. You also get paddle shifters to help you tame the nine-speed automatic tranny and, though they don't give you a lot more driving joy than a strictly automatic transmission, they're better than nothing – and because of that weird transmission selector it's the only manual mode you're going to get anyway.

Another nit pick about that tranny selector is that not only does it not really free up space on the centre console, it also leaves you nowhere to rest your hand other than the console itself, which is a lot lower than the traditional gear selector. I don't do this while driving, but have been known to rest my hand there when parked or at red lights – and I miss it.  This isn't a Passport thing; it's a Honda thing.

On the upside, Passport boasts a real automatic transmission and not a damn continuously variable one. And all wheel drive is standard. You also get Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4), with Normal, Sand, Snow, and Mud settings. Roads were clean and dry during my week, so I just left it in normal and all was well.

The Touring version also comes with lots of stuff, like power leather seats up front, with driver's side memory. I couldn't get the seat quite low enough to suit little ol' me, but it wasn't too bad. I didn't care for the foot-activated parking brake because I found the pedal a tad close to my left leg. Neither quibble would be a deal breaker for me but both – coupled with the incessant nannies that can't all be turned off – made me wonder if Honda folks ever actually drive the vehicles.

That also applies to the centre stack LCD, about which I've been whining for at least a few years now. The touch screen interface is just okay, and Honda finally stuck a volume control knob back onto it, but they still haven't deigned to return a tuning knob and that's a real oversight. I would argue the tuning knob is more important than volume (for the driver, at least), because the latter can be controlled easily from the steering wheel, while to tune beyond your presets you have to poke around at virtual buttons on the screen). Sure, you can holler at the voice recognition to tune a station, but voice recognition still isn't where it needs to be (though it usually works well when making or receiving calls with a Bluetooth cellphone).

Speaking of cell phone, Honda appears to have gotten its pairing act together because I had no issues pairing LG's G7 One to it – but there was a time when it was so frustrating that I wanted to take a ball peen hammer to the screen.

The audio system sounds fine however - once you've wrestled it to the ground and made it holler "uncle".

There's plenty of room inside, with lots of connectivity and storage spaces. And there are buttons inside the rear "trunk" by which you can flip down the second-row seats remotely, a really handy feature when you need it. Rear seats can slide and recline as well. All the seats are comfortable (above whine about height notwithstanding) and the driving controls work fine and are laid out well.

Honda is getting better at the nannies, but though I could turn down the BRAKE!!! warning on the dashboard when the Passport thought I was about to rear end someone (I wasn't) I couldn't turn it off completely. It'll also remind you to fasten your seatbelt if you don't, and will do it again if you have the audacity to take it off before the vehicle is stopped completely – even if you're only doing a couple of kph as you pull into your parking spot at home.

What is it, my mother?

The Passport also beeps once when you shift into reverse, which seems kind of silly since you have to make a specific effort to activate reverse on that gear selector anyway. At least it doesn't beep the whole time you're backing up!

Getting in and out isn't bad despite the vehicle's SUV-like height, thanks to running boards below the doors. They don't retract and are rather small, but they're welcome. I wonder how they'd be during times of snow and ice, though.

I'm not sure who the Passport is aimed at and wasn't aware there was a hole between the CR-V and Pilot (though other companies, such as Ford with its Edge, have found one as well), but it's a nice vehicle that drives well and will undoubtedly serve its customers very well.

Copyright 2019 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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