Let's be honest: Most SUV buyers don't need three rows of seats. And with utility vehicles of all shapes and sizes in greater demand than ever, automakers are finding new opportunities with two-row, mid-size offerings, like Chevrolet's new Blazer, or the redesigned Ford Edge.
Honda now joins the fray with its 2019 Passport, a midsize SUV that slots between the compact CR-V and larger, three-row Pilot. It's nicely poised to take on a growing crop of five-passenger SUVs. And with its solid on-road chops and a roomy, well-appointed interior, the new kid on the block might actually be the best of the bunch.
If the 2019 Passport looks awfully familiar, it's because most of its design is shared with the Pilot. The fact that these two crossovers share their underpinnings is in no way a bad thing, but I really wish Honda would've worked harder to differentiate the two vehicles' designs. Especially against the sharply styled Chevy Blazer, not to mention more fashion-forward offerings like the Nissan Murano, the Passport struggles to stand out.
From the front, you could be forgiven for thinking the Passport is just a Pilot with some sort of sport appearance package. But from the profile or rear, the proportions aren't as handsome. The Passport is six inches shorter than a Pilot, but stands an inch taller. That just makes the SUV look... chonky. It's not bad, necessarily, just a little weird, and not in a good way.
All Passports wear the blacked-out fascia you see here, and 20-inch wheels are standard across the board -- only the top-end Elite gets these black, five-spoke rollers. Different Adventure and Urban exterior packages are available as options, the former adding things like die-cast running boards and crossbars while the latter focuses on appearance upgrades like underbody spoilers and side sill trim. None of these additions seem particularly necessary, but hashtag-active-lifestyle folks ought to check the huge accessories list, where Honda offers everything from bike mounts to roof boxes to kayak and snowboard attachments. You can even buy a tent that extends off the Passport's tailgate.
The Pilot connection is even more obvious inside. The Passport's dashboard, center console and seats are ripped right from its larger stablemate. It's all easy to like: The seats are comfortable and supportive, while the dash offers a handsome design and intuitively laid out controls, plus a reconfigurable digital screen in the gauge cluster. And just like the Pilot, overall fit and finish is superb.
In typical Honda fashion, the Passport is a nicely packaged SUV, with lots of room up front for passengers, and more than enough storage space for smaller items. The center console is capacious -- big enough for a large handbag or a Costco-sized box of Cheez-Its -- and different-sized nooks and crannies in the doors serve as places to collect your tagalongs.
Back-seat accommodations are generous, with plenty of space for three passengers. Headroom is ample, and the Passport actually has one more inch of rear legroom than the larger Pilot. Taller folks will have no trouble getting comfortable back here, and my Elite tester features heated rear seats, as well as individual climate controls and a pair of USB charging ports.
Naturally, the Passport isn't as accommodating as the larger Pilot in terms of cargo capacity, but the difference isn't as big as you might think. The Passport only gives up about 6 cubic feet of space compared to the Pilot. And with 77.9 cubic feet of available space with the rear seats folded, the Passport is far more accommodating than the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano. Turns out that tall shape is good for something.
It won't shock you to learn that the Passport's infotainment tech is also identical to the Pilot's, with a bare-bones, 5-inch touchscreen standard on the Sport model, and a more robust, 8-inch Display Audio system on EX-L, Touring and Elite trims. Honda's infotainment tech is solid, but unremarkable: It's easy to navigate, with clearly labeled icons and crisp fonts. The Garmin-based navigation interface is a little behind the times, but generally works well and offers intuitive destination input.
Models with the 8-inch Display Audio system come with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and the top-level Elite offers wireless phone charging. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also standard with the 8-inch system, and both offer a better nav interface than the standard Garmin setup.
The Honda Sensing suite of active safety tech is standard across the board, meaning every Passport comes with lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights. Blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert joins the party on EX-L, Touring and Elite models, as well.
The Passport genuinely feels different than the Pilot behind the wheel, despite both cars using the same powertrain. You'll find Honda's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 under the Passport's hood, producing 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's a refined engine, with smooth power delivery and ample midrange punch. The nine-speed automatic transmission mostly fades into the background, though I wish it were a bit more urgent when I kick down to command a downshift. And I still don't love the weirdly styled push-button shifter on the center console. Every Pilot is available with all-wheel drive, and it's standard on the top-level Elite.
With front-wheel drive, the most efficient Passport should return 20 miles per gallon in the city, 25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined, according to EPA data. All-wheel drive reduces all those figures by 1 mpg, which makes the Passport about as efficient as other V6-powered competitors. That said, the Chevy Blazer and Ford Edge offer more frugal four-cylinder options, if that's your top purchase priority.
The Passport has different steering and suspension tuning than the Pilot, and the result is an SUV that's a bit more engaging to drive. The steering offers more weight on center, and more feedback as you turn. The ride quality definitely errs on the side of comfort, and the Passport has no trouble eating up long stretches of highway miles. But overall, the Passport gives off less of a tall minivan vibe -- it's more SUV-like than the Pilot, and I think it strikes a great overall balance.
Honda is positioning the Passport as a more rugged alternative to the Pilot, and Roadshow reviews editor Jon Wong was able to put it through some light off-roading during a media event earlier this year. Make no mistake, the Passport won't take you to the ends of the earth like a Jeep Wrangler or Grand Cherokee. But with the all-wheel-drive system's different traction-management modes for snow, sand and mud, it's better poised to get you off the grid than, say, a Nissan Murano. Plus, all-wheel-drive models can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is plenty for a small camper or a pair of jet skis.
Passport pricing ranges from $31,990 for a front-wheel-drive Sport to $43,680 for an all-wheel-drive Elite, not including $1,045 for destination. A fully loaded Elite actually feels like solid value for the money, especially in a world where a Chevy Blazer Premier can crest $50,000. Even the $36,410 EX-L and $39,280 Touring trims offer a lot of car for the money, the latter unlocking standard equipment including LED headlights, a power tailgate, navigation, heated front and rear seats, a premium audio system and parking sensors.
Trim for trim, you'll pay a grand or two less for a Passport than you will for a comparably equipped Pilot, and unless you absolutely need three rows of seats, it seems like the smarter way to go. With its excellent interior packaging and solid on-road manners, the Passport truly feels like the most well-rounded SUV in the two-row mid-size class. For the vast majority of crossover buyers, the Passport looks to be a smart choice.