Automakers continue to expand their crossover vehicle offerings, trying to cover every size, segment, niche and fashion statement in an effort to recover the lost sales from conventional cars. Honda, one of the earliest adopters with the original CR-V, has added a fourth crossover to its lineup — the new five-passenger, two row, midsize Passport.
Fitting perfectly between the compact CR-V (one of the top-selling vehicles in the country) and the larger three-row Pilot, the Passport uses a name previously in the lineup, yet absent for several years. Essentially a Pilot that lost 9 inches of length in both the chassis and the body, the Passport fits neatly into a segment ruled by Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, plus other rivals named Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevy’s new Blazer.
Day one with the Passport started on a humid late summer evening, departing southern Massachusetts for home in Hancock County, during the latter stages of infamous Boston traffic. Immediately, the Passport felt nimble, light on its feet, quick to react to sudden inputs as we weaved past slower commuters. Quickly settling into a smooth rhythm, the Honda started ticking off consumer boxes for ease of use; great console space for travel items, fluid controls, roomy seats, even subtle pieces like overhead lamps activated by bumping the fixture — as it should be.
After four-plus hours of pushing the pace, the Passport rolls into the gravel drive — no numb butt, no Bambis spotted and no complaints.
Three more subsequent long drives — to Augusta and back via Belfast, to Presque Isle via Ashland and to Kennebunk via Litchfield — all demonstrated competency in the chassis, comfort in the steering, plus confidence in the Honda’s handling. It is easy to just drive the Passport and not worry about any piece of the crossover’s performance.
Which isn’t an issue either as the 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 generates 280 hp and class-leading acceleration. Backed by a nine-speed automatic with paddle shifters, plus the i-VTM4 all-wheel drive hardware, the Passport features over 8 inches of ground clearance as well as selectable drive modes for normal, sand, snow and mud driving scenarios.
Amazingly, three refueling stops were almost exactly the same: 15.5 gallons, 15.0 gallons and 15.2 gallons with a 1,049-mile average (about 75 percent highway driving) returning 22.9 mpg, which worked out to be 1.5 mpg less than the optimistic trip computer. EPA estimates are 19/24/21 mpg.
Long recognized for its interior packaging, the Honda utilizes every inch of available space for small article storage; door pockets, the roomy and versatile console, even the dry bin under the rear cargo deck all support your traveling needs. Back seat space is very comfortable with excellent leg room on an upright split-folding bench that reclines and folds for a flat load deck. With the seatback vertical, rear cargo room is an impressive (and very user-friendly) 41 cubic feet, a number that grows to 78 cubic feet with the seatback lowered.
While not the quietest midsize crossover, the Passport did protest some on worn pavement. Otherwise, and at less than highway speeds, it was far easier to enjoy the audio system and have a discussion at the same time. Consumers will be pleased that Honda’s touchscreen has returned to a volume knob, yet still lacks a tuning knob for station presets. The touch-toggle function is just a non-starter while driving.
Like many newer models today, the Passport features a forward braking assist system that alerts the driver to impending hazards. The Passport’s automatic forward braking system activated 12 times during its visit, detecting an oncoming threat that just wasn’t there. Flashing a brilliant BRAKE warning across the dash and quickly shaking the steering wheel to grab your attention, this disconcerting intervention in normal driving will alarm the best of drivers. Something in the forward sensors, or the program managing the sensors, thinks that a car is coming at you on a curve — sometimes even in a straight line — or, some other movement warrants intervention, now.
Several hundred Nissan owners have filed a class-action lawsuit about the forward braking assist system in certain Nissan models after these incidents have led to crashes, while Volkswagen and Honda have also received many complaints. It is clear that the rush to autonomous driving remains in the “Beta” phase, and needs much more development — even as many of the current electronic driving aids do improve driving safety for many operators.
Passport pricing starts at $33,085 for base Sport FWD models, rising to $45,695 for our fully loaded Elite AWD with all of the bells and whistles: heated and cooled leather seating, power liftgate, sunroof, tri-zone climate, Apple/Android/Wi-Fi hotspot, front and rear parking sensors, plus Honda’s full suite of Honda Sensing electronic driving aids.
New crossover, older name, yet the model that leaps to the front of the pack in many areas. The Passport will make many drivers forget all about their Accords and other sedans.