2019 Honda Passport: Straddling two worlds [First Look]

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2019 Honda Passport (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

With the newest addition to its SUV lineup, Honda has created a vehicle with a bit of a Janus-faced personality.

The 2019 Passport, which is slotted between the C-RV and Pilot, is bred to be both off-road capable and urban comfortable. A tall order for a single vehicle.

Fortunately, Honda is mostly successful.

We spent the bulk of our day tackling some mild off-roading, crawling on some low rock formations, powering over pockmarked dirt roads and splooshing through small streams.

It was certainly fun, but I will say if you’re expecting to do all these things on a cushy air suspension, prepare to be disappointed.

Both my drive partner and I had a couple of teeth-clattering moments, but the good news is most owners will look at off-roading prowess as a rare circumstance. In fact, the Passport is capable of a lot more than most people will ever test.

However, it also means this two-row, 5-passenger SUV will be an outstanding performer during inclement weather and on pot-hole-ridden city streets.

To aid owners in this endeavor, Passport comes equipped with Honda’s 4-mode Intelligent Traction Management System in all-wheel-drive vehicles. The modes include Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand.

The on-road drive was much more comfortable and quiet.

Equipped with the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the Pilot, Passport delivers 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The Passport is less than 100 pounds lighter than the Pilot, so as with its bigger brother, the acceleration is decent but not heart-stopping.

Speaking of Pilot, it’s also worth noting Passport shares the same global light truck platform (as does Ridgeline) and has the same wheelbase, but the 5-passenger SUV is 6.2 inches shorter and has a 0.8-inch higher ride.

It’s also designed to have shorter pedal travel and a quicker steering ratio to make it a bit sportier than the Pilot.

Passport will come with four trims, which means there is no base LX trim. Honda stated during the press preview that buyers in this segment want more up-level features, so Passport starts with a base “Sport” trim. The pricing (without destination) and features are as follows:

Sport ($31,990): This well-equipped base trim includes 20-inch alloy wheels; Honda Sensing; LED headlights, fog lights, daytime running lights and taillights; passive entry; push-button start; tri-zone automatic climate control; 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat; 6-speaker audio system; a multi-angle rearview camera and 2 USB ports.

EX-L ($36,410): This volume-selling trim adds leather seats, 1-touch power sunroof, power tailgate, blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, display audio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, an additional USB port, satellite radio and second-row sunshades.

Touring ($39,280): This trim adds navigation, HondaLink telematics, a hands-free power liftgate, LED inline headlights, 10-speaker premium audio, heated rear seats and ambient lighting.

Elite ($43,680): This top-tier trim adds standard AWD, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging and rain-sensing wipers.

The bottom three trims are front-wheel-drive models with AWD available for a $1,900 upcharge.

It’s worth pointing out that Honda Sensing, the automaker’s safety suite, is standard across the board. It includes features such as automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Though Passport hasn’t been crash-tested, Honda is targeting both a 5-Star rating from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Passport went into production in mid-December and will hit dealerships in early February.

The Bottom Line:

Overall, I really like the Passport. It’s comfortable and handsomely designed. The interior gauges and controls are easy to see and reach, and all touch points are solid.

Yes, the interior looks a lot like the interior of the Pilot, but I don’t view that as a bad thing.

My one sticking point: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto isn’t standard.

I understand the EX-L is the volume seller, but it’s priced about $4K more than the base model. Some people may not be able to (or want to) make that jump.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Honda covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.