2019 Honda Passport Review

Christian Wardlaw | Apr 03, 2019

Introduction

Honda first dipped its toes into the SUV pool with the original Passport, which was a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. That experiment convinced the company to bring the CR-V to America and, well, the rest is history.

Now, for the 2019 model year, Honda addresses growing consumer interest in 5-passenger midsize SUVs by chopping some length out of a Pilot while ditching the third-row seat. Add more rugged styling cues, along with some extra ride height, and all Honda needed was a name for this new concoction.

2019 Honda Passport photo
2019 Honda Passport

With “Passport” sitting on a shelf collecting dust, Honda decided to shine it up and reintroduce the nameplate. The rejuvenated 2019 Honda Passport comes with front-wheel or all-wheel drive (AWD), and in Sport, EX-L, Touring, and Elite trim levels, all equipped with a satisfying V-6 engine.

For this review, we evaluated a 2019 Honda Passport Elite equipped with accessory storage bins underneath the cargo load floor. The price came to $44,824, including the $1,045 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2019 Honda Passport, it’s helpful to understand who buys midsize SUVs and what they like most and least about them.

J.D. Power data shows that 57% of midsize SUV buyers are men, with a median age of 55, and a median annual household income of $116,411. Nearly as many members of Gen X (those born 1965-1976) and Gen Y (1977-1994) own a midsize SUV as do Baby Boomers (1946-1964) (45% vs. 46%). The data also shows that 58% of midsize SUV buyers agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company.

Only 54% say that fuel economy is a first consideration when choosing a vehicle, yet 53% claim that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly. Responsive handling and powerful acceleration is important to this group, with 91% agreeing they like vehicles offering those characteristics.

Reliability is important to the midsize SUV buyer, with 97% saying this is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle. So is versatility and safety, with 88% agreeing that they need a versatile vehicle for a busy lifestyle, and 84% agreeing that they’ll pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2019 Honda Passport performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior

The new Passport looks like a Honda Pilot that’s gone on a diet and then to R.E.I. for a new wardrobe. A reworked front end, bolder fender trim, new wheels, and a tidier rear end broadly summarize the changes. The end result is appropriately rugged and appealing, depending on the trim level and your preference in wheel color.

Interior

Inside, the Passport looks just like a Pilot but without a third-row seat. In terms of utility, this is great. In terms of ambience, not so much.

In theory, a Pilot is a minivan wearing an SUV costume, and while Honda gave the new Passport a more appropriate and expressive look on the outside, the cabin still appears more compatible with diapers and juice boxes than snow and surf boards. Beyond this, given the adventure promised by the Passport, the lack of a panoramic glass sunroof option is somewhat dismaying.

While the interior looks dull, there is no arguing against the quality of the materials. Like nearly all Hondas, the Passport exudes attention to detail.

Seats

Easily capable of seating five adults, the Passport is a roomy vehicle. The seats are comfortable, too. But there is room for improvement.

Rather than supply a traditional center console armrest, the Passport has adjustable inboard armrests for the driver and front passenger. In my experience, they get in the way when buckling up, so I’m constantly moving them up and out of the way, then lowering them, and then adjusting them to my favorite position. Beyond this, they’re also narrow. While I do like the tray-top center storage console design Honda uses in the Passport, I’d give it up for a wider and less fiddly armrest.

Honda doesn’t offer a front passenger’s seat-height adjuster in the Passport. This made my wife, who likes to sit higher with good thigh support, unhappy. However, because the Pilot’s dashboard is fairly low, the front glass is expansive, and the seat is not mounted too low to the floor, she deemed the omission forgivable.

Our kids had no trouble getting comfortable in the back seat. Frankly, neither did I. The Passport offers plenty of room for passengers, and all trim levels except for Sport include manual side window shades. These are especially useful if you have a reverse-facing child seat containing a baby or toddler, helping to keep the sun out of their eyes.

The Passport’s cargo area measures a generous 41.2 cu. ft. and offers small storage wells on both sides as well as a large and deep bin under the floor. Maximum cargo space measures 77.9 cu. ft.

Climate Control System

Equipped with a humidity-sensing triple-zone climate control system, the Pilot gives people control over their respective environments. Heated front seats are standard with all but Sport trim, and heated rear seats are included with Touring and Elite trim. Furthermore, Elite trim gets ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

Rainy weather and unseasonably cold temperatures in Southern California necessitated use of the seat heaters, and they were effective at combating the chill.

Infotainment System

Honda, once known for ergonomic mastery, flubbed the infotainment system revolution by emphasizing minimalism over user experience. However, there are signs that the automaker is getting its mojo back. The Passport has a volume knob, for example. Now it just needs a tuning knob.

Honestly, if you just re-train yourself to use the steering wheel buttons and voice controls, the lack of physical controls is not that big a deal. But neither of those solutions is preferable to employing best practices on the screen itself. Also, it would be great to have a larger screen with a split display showing both the navigation map and the radio station at the same time.

Then again, lots of people simply use their smartphones for everything. “Hey Siri, give me directions to such-and-such.” Honda’s got you covered with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a subscription service that turns the Passport into a Wi-Fi hotspot. You need to get EX-L trim at a minimum, though.

Upgrade to Touring or Elite trim and a 10-speaker premium audio system delivers decent sound, filling the roomy Passport with your favorite music. Or that of your children (ugh).

Storage and Space

With the Honda Passport, you are not going to have a problem finding places to put things. There is a ton of storage, everywhere you look.

In addition to a big storage bin in the center console and a large glove box, Honda provides shelving in the front door panels and a handy tray on top of the center console. My family of four, which seems to travel with armloads of things no matter what we’re doing, loved this aspect of the Passport.

Visibility and Safety

Forward visibility is outstanding thanks to the Passport’s door-mounted mirrors and front quarter glass. Add large side mirrors and a multi-angle reversing camera and this SUV delivers what appears to be class-leading outward visibility. Get Touring or Elite trim and the Passport includes park-assist sensors and full LED headlights, too.

Every Passport is equipped with Honda Sensing, a suite of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. All but the Sport also have a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. Full crash-test results are unavailable for the Passport, but the federal government does give the SUV a 4-star (out of 5) rather than a 5-star rating for frontal-impact protection. That makes Honda Sensing even more critical, but some of the technology doesn’t operate in a smooth, refined fashion.

For example, when using the adaptive cruise control the driver is constantly aware of small braking inputs to maintain speed and/or following distance, and it comes across as a system uncertain of its own capabilities. The adaptive cruise also has pretty big blind spots off both front corners of the SUV, too, so you need to be careful when other vehicles merge into your lane of travel.

Engine/Transmission

Now that Honda has resolved the shift quality of its 9-speed automatic transmission, the Passport’s powertrain is a real delight. However, when you select Park and let your foot off the brake pedal, the transmission still allows excessive vehicle movement. Honda might want to automatically engage the parking brake and then automatically release it the next time the Passport’s owner shifts into Reverse or Drive.

Sounding terrific when revved—and providing plenty of power—the Passport’s smooth and refined 3.5-liter V-6 engine is fairly fuel-efficient. The optional torque-vectoring AWD comes in handy when punching it to exit your subdivision onto a busy street, and in the mud the Passport acquitted itself well, churning through wet but not deep muck without concern. Flooring the gas pedal from a stop on dirt produced rapid acceleration thanks to the AWD system.

Fuel Economy

On my testing loop, the Passport Elite returned 21.2 mpg. That compares favorably with the official EPA rating of 21 mpg in combined driving with AWD. I will admit, however, that light traffic and well-timed traffic lights helped with city efficiency.

Driving Dynamics

Like any Honda, the Passport’s ride quality is firm but not harsh, and handling is superior to most competitors. Steering is a little heavy at speed, but is fine around town. It feels secure on center, and naturally responsive off-center, neither darty nor slow.

Like most Hondas, the Passport’s brakes could use an upgrade. They look small, peering out from behind the black 20-in. aluminum wheels, and after descending a grade with the adaptive cruise control engaged, during which time the technology continually pulsed the brakes to maintain speed, we exited the highway and the brakes shuddered a bit under light application.

Overall, though, it is a pleasure to drive a Honda Passport.

Final Impressions

A couple years ago, my own family replaced a 5-passenger 2-row midsize SUV with a more expensive, 7-passenger 3-row SUV. I can count on one hand the number of times the third-row seat has been used.

Unless you’re regularly serving as a school carpool or Little League shuttle driver, you probably don’t need three rows of seats. When it comes to the Honda lineup, this also means you can save a few thousand dollars by getting a Passport instead of a Pilot. Besides, not having a third-row seat might give you an excuse to, you know, NOT be a shuttle driver.

As far as the Passport itself is concerned, if you like the way it looks, and you don’t need to carry more than five people, and you can accept its few flaws, you’re probably going to be quite happy with this new midsize SUV.

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