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2019 Honda Passport long-term update: Moab musings

I finally got the chance to hit the dirt in our long-termer.

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- 05:07
2019 Honda Passport

Ready to explore.

Lyn Woodward

We've had our long-term Honda Passport for almost a year now. And while I've driven it in the snow, taken it on road trips and spent lots of time in the Passport when we used it as a production vehicle on video shoots, I've not yet had the chance to take it out where I'm most comfortable: the dirt.

Fortunately, the campgrounds in Moab, Utah finally opened up in the wake of COVID-19, so it was time to load up my gear and head to Canyonlands National Park.

It's easy to load up the Passport. For this trip, I took two 7-gallon water containers, two Maxtrax recovery boards, a sleeping bag, a cot, a tent, a pillow and about 27 million bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper. With a total of 77.5 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded, plus an extra 2.5 cubes in a hidden cubby under the floor, the Passport still has a ton of room left over. I could have easily fit a camping refrigerator, a portable kitchen and installed a sleeping loft if I needed to. 

Which reminds me: If you plan on taking your Passport into the wilderness on the regular, Honda offers a number of adventure-ready accessories, including a roof basket or box, attachments for a bike, kayak, surfboard or snowboard, and even a six-person tent that attaches to the hatch.

After entering Canyonlands, the hard-packed dirt road turned to washboard after about 25 miles. Roads like this are tricky, as they force a car's shocks to make tiny movements quickly. I'm reminded of taking our old long-term Honda Ridgeline on a 52-mile washboard road in Death Valley, which it didn't handle so well.

But in the Passport, it wasn't so bad. Despite the fact that I can see the car's vibrations through the rear-view mirror, hardly any of that harshness was translated to my hindquarters in the comfy driver's seat. After 20 miles of constant jostling, the Passport brought me to the Hans Flat ranger station without issue, the shocks still perfectly cool despite not having any external reservoirs or a bypass to help out.

It's not gonna take on the Rubicon Trail, but this little dirt road is hardly a challenge for the Honda Passport.

Lyn Woodward

Unfortunately, the Passport couldn't go much further than the ranger station, as four-wheel-drive with low gearing was required. The Passport uses all-wheel drive, and doesn't have the extra grunt of a two-speed transfer case. But that doesn't mean it can't get you way off the beaten path.

The Passport has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. That's not as much as the maximum height of a Jeep Grand Cherokee (10.8 inches) or a Toyota 4Runner (9.6 inches), but those rigs are built to be far more dirt-worthy. Instead, the Passport stacks up better against other soft-roading competitors, like a Ford Edge or Subaru Ascent.

Ground clearance, however, is only part of the equation. A vehicle needs proper geometry, and this is where the Passport shines. The approach angle is 21.4 degrees, the departure angle is 27.6 degrees and the breakover angle is 17.3 degrees. The Passport handily beats the aforementioned Ford and Subaru. Heck, the Passport even has a better departure angle than the 4Runner (26.0) and Grand Cherokee (27.1).

This means the Passport is more capable than you might think. It easily drove in and out of rain gullies near the Canyonlands ranger station, and hung out like a boss over a few rocky climbs. The Passport doesn't have a low range, but its all-wheel-drive system can send 70% of the engine's torque to the rear axle, and put all of that power to the wheel with the most traction. Other AWD systems send power to the wheel with the least amount of traction, which is arguably better for slick driving. But off-road, Honda gets it right.

In fact, now I've tackled the Flint Trail -- where the park rangers said the Passport couldn't go -- in a friend's Jeep Wrangler Sahara, I think the Honda could've handled it. Swap out the Continental CrossContact tires for some meaty BF Goodrich KO2s, add a 1-inch lift, and honestly, I think the Passport would be good to go. 

On-road or off, the Passport is easy to like.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

When I left Moab a few days later, it rained, and turned the dirt road from Hans Flat into a slippery, muddy mess. Luckily, the Passport has Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand drive modes, each modulating the transmission's shift points, the throttle's sensitivity and the intervention of the all-wheel-drive system and stability control. The differences are small, but in Mud mode the electronic nannies didn't kick in as quickly, so I could keep my momentum going through the slick stuff. When the rain turned to snow -- yes, in June -- I debated switching to the appropriate mode, but it was melting on contact, and a less-aggressive throttle wouldn't have helped me here.

When I finally hit the pavement, I still had 11 hours to go before arriving at my final destination in Los Angeles, so I hit the adaptive cruise control and threw on a podcast through Apple CarPlay. The Passport isn't the most exciting crossover to drive, and up at altitude in the mountains the 3.5-liter V6 was definitely sluggish, but by and large, the engine's 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque were fine for this trip.

After 1,700 miles of mostly freeway driving, save for that brief stint exploring Hans Flat, I beat the EPA's rating of 24 miles per gallon highway, observing 24.5 mpg. Not bad.

That said, the trip wasn't without some quibbles. The Passport's push-button gear selector often wasn't ready for inputs when I first started the car -- the Honda kind of needed to take a breath before getting going. And on several instances, the 8-inch touchscreen multimedia system wouldn't respond to inputs, which I've noted a few times throughout our year with the Passport. Still, those are minor complaints for an otherwise flawless vehicle, and one I'd be happy to take on another trek east.

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