The relic age of body-on frame SUV’s is now an obsolete method of development when it comes to the modern advancement of unibody structured crossovers. This also means, the technology behind proper four-wheel drive performance is also changing. We look at crossovers such as the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee as SUV’s that allow us to explore beyond the world of paved dirt roads. However, as technology advances in all-wheel drive systems, it’s crossovers such as the all-new Honda Passport that changes our perspective on the true capabilities of a progressive all-wheel drive system.
Bringing back the Passport name is a far cry from the once, Isuzu based Rodeo. The compact SUV of its time period nearly two-decades ago represented those of an active-lifestyle, discovering yonder the monarchy of traditional formed lands, so what better way than to bring it back with a whole new outlook. Based on the mid-size light-truck platform shared with the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline, the Passport sees a more rugged, reinforced structure capable of going far beyond the grocery store parking lot. With power stemming from Honda’s corporate 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6, there is no slouch when it comes to seeing 0-60 mph in nearly six seconds. Conformed to a newly updated 9-speed automatic, things are kept well in place as shift points maintain smooth, snappy transitions as it sends 280-horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque through all four-wheels. Even with a sport option on the push button gear lever and steering wheel paddle shifters, things can get mildly entertaining.
As most crossovers in this segment see four-cylinder options as form of efficiency, Honda is attempting to stay ahead of the game with the ability to shut off three of its six cylinders as well as the rear driveshaft under smooth driving conditions. This, all in the hopes of better fuel economy puts the EPA MPG rating at 22-mpg combined with mix city and highway driving. Unfortunately, with daily city life and the mountains we crossed all six-cylinder were under constant use as we saw an average of 17.4 mpg combined.
What makes the Passport unique is the interesting development behind its all-wheel drive system. Using a torque-vectoring arrangement noted as Intelligent Variable Torque Management or i-VTM4, alongside its Intelligent Traction Management allows us to choose between four terrain modes with Normal, Snow, Sand and Mud. The Passport sees quite a capable side when it comes to a rough terrain as torque-vectoring system astonishingly transmits torque through the rear-differential to each wheel that requires the most traction. When slippage occurs, power transfers from one wheel to another wheel so fast it’s almost nearly impossible to measure. The terrain mode then changes the dynamic of how power and traction is disturbed – the modes also changes throttle responsiveness and gear mapping so that in extreme situations such as mud or sand, the gearing will hold out longer before shifting into the next gear. Crossing through muddy and rocky landscape, the Passport masterfully conquered the territory showcasing an impressively capable AWD system.
However, despite its impressive composition, the Passports roughness may only go as far as its intelligence. Our top-trimmed Elite at $43,680 come standard with all-wheel drive where it’s normally a $1900 option on lower grade models. With 8.1-inches of ground clearance on AWD models and standard 20-inch wheels, even on the entry-level Sport can bear problematic when crossing rough ground turning an afternoon delight into a slow and steady rock crawling pace to avoid puncturing a tire or scraping the undercarriage.
Sticking to what most crossovers are designed to do, which is sticking to the urbane blacktop, the Passport drives quite similar to its larger three-row sibling, Pilot – if you couldn’t see the resemblance. Its smooth linear acceleration and light steering makes the Passport feel at home on the pavement. The suspension is subtle and quiet with limited road harshness. Braking is firm with positive feedback from the brake pedal that ultimately responds quickly to abrupt situations.
When it comes to the interior, if you’re trying to spot the differences between the Passport and the Pilot, it’s a game you won’t win. Nearly every single surface is shared with the Pilot from the seats, dashboard, center console, digital cluster, to the center armrests and door panels. Seeing how the Pilot uplifted a level of comfort, the same follows into the Passport. The rear seat even slides and tilts like the Pilot and where the third-row would have sat, there is now an under storage container boosting the level of storage capacity.
Starting at $33,035 for the entry Passport Sport, there is a level of boosted premium carried with its exterior rugged demeanor with LED lighting and aforementioned 20-inch wheels. Sharing similar design elements with the Ridgeline and Pilot, there is crossbreed occurring with a rough, sporty agenda mixed with a family friendly vibe. All Passports come standard with Honda Sensing that incorporates all the latest road safety pre-collision system such as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision alert with emergency braking, lane-keep assist with road mitigation and automatic high-beams. Our top-trimmed Elite saw the simpler life with a large 8-inch touch screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front/rear seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear window shades, three-zone climate control, blind spot monitoring, power-folding mirrors and power lift tailgate.
With the Passport giving it another go, the idea of having a mid-sized crossover for those that don’t quite seek a three-rower but don’t quite want the compact helps fill a missing branch that Honda hadn’t quite tapped into for a while. With the intelligence backed by off-road capabilities and family-like lovability – the Passport opens a new light into those seeking an adventurous thrill. Just don’t go too far off the beaten path.
Model: 2019 HONDA PILOT
Starting Price: $31,990
As Tested: $44,725 (ELITE AWD)
Engine: 3.5-LITER I-VTEC V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 280-HORSEPOWER / 262 LB-FT TORQUE
Transmission: 9-SPEED AUTOMATIC
Drivetrain: INTELLIGENT ALL-WHEEL DRIVE
Fuel Economy: EPA RATED: 19-CITY / 24-HWY / 21-COMBINED
(AS TESTED: 17.4 MPG COMBINED)
Fuel Range: 390 MILES
0-60 MPH: ±6.0 SECONDS