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2019 Honda Passport aims for a bit of ruggedness

Honda squeezes a new crossover in between the CR-V and the Pilot, resurrecting the old Passport name for the newcomer. It aims to be a more rugged performer but sticks to all-wheel drive. So it gets put to the test against the similarly priced Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition.

The 2019 Honda Passport definitely looks like its big brother, the three-row Honda Pilot, but with a taller stance and bulkier tires.
The 2019 Honda Passport definitely looks like its big brother, the three-row Honda Pilot, but with a taller stance and bulkier tires.Read moreHonda

2019 Honda Passport Elite AWD vs. 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition: A little bit country.

This week: Honda Passport.

Price: $44,775 as tested. (No options on test vehicle.)

Marketer’s pitch: “2019 Passport named best in class by Car and Driver.”

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports says, “There isn’t a good reason to choose the all-new Honda Passport over the two better SUVs that Honda already makes.”

Reality: Not bad, but not as rugged as advertised.

What’s new: The whole thing. Honda has pitched the Passport as a more rugged five-seater SUV than its other offerings.

But, all-wheel drive. I mean, that’s fine for Mr. Driver’s Seat — whose idea of camping involves hotels without room service — but you tough people want four-wheel drive, thick tractor tires, and winches. This ain’t that — no two-speed transfer case here — although it does offer different modes for mud, snow, and more.

In any case, it’s far better than the Isuzu version of the Passport that Honda sold in the 1990s.

Friends and stuff: The Passport offers a ticket to plenty of room for big people. It’s pretty much a shrunken Pilot, so without the third row, legs enjoy an impressive amount of room. Sturgis Kid 4.0 happily rode to the Outer Banks with us for a bit of summer fun. A middle child would not mind the center seat, where the hump is flatter than the Kitty Hawk dunes.

But with a need to offer “ruggedness,” even in faux form, the Passport requires a long climb to the passenger area (the downside of the 8.1 inches of ground clearance). And that flat hump means the passenger compartment is shorter than many. Headroom is fine, but the cargo space height is quite short. There’s just 77.7 cubic feet of space with the seat folded down, and we had a heck of a time fitting in one bicycle and a little bit of luggage while still leaving one-third of the rear seat upright.

Space behind the second row is a comparatively huge 41.2 cubic feet.

Up to speed: The 3.5-liter V-6 creates an impressive 280 horsepower, so the Passport is no slouch on the road. It gets to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver. Just ask the nice police officer I met in Eastville, Va.

Shifty: The Passport uses a 9-speed automatic transmission to transfer the power to the road. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat remarked that the PRND buttons look like a remote control all lined up there, a connection I’d never made.

Press the D/S button for Sport mode and feel the Passport really kick it. Unfortunately, it holds lower gears far too long, so it also kicks back hard on the downhills, an uncomfortable feeling. Just shift the gears yourself through the paddles to avoid this nauseating sensation.

On the road: The Passport feels its tallness on the curves, almost as if it’s going to tip over if you take them too fast. It’s comfortable for highway cruising, though.

High tech: The Passport tested featured all the latest Honda Sensing safety stuff, adaptive cruise, collision braking, lane keeping, lane departure, and road departure mitigation.

The forward collision warning might be reclassified as Honda Supersensing, or Honda Hyperactivity, as that bright orange “BRAKE!” cried wolf more times than I could count in a week — for trees near country roads, parked cars, bridge abutments, oncoming cars, you name it. Chill, wouldya?

Setting a speed: I enjoy cruise control, especially the adaptive kind. But the Passport falls short on a couple of counts. First, its set distance seems a little random. In a competitive driving environment like the Schuylkill, it’s important to be able to close the gap with the car behind you, and I could never count on the Passport to keep up.

Second, after slowing down for another car, the Passport takes half of forever to return to the designated speed.

Driver’s Seat: All that said, though, note that the Driver’s Seat is exceedingly comfortable, especially for long trips. Even when you’re parked roadside and the lights are flashing red and blue behind you.

The view from the cockpit is impressive by today’s standards as well. The windows are tall, so passing is easy. Maybe a little too easy. But at least you can clearly see the nice police officer walking back to the Passport with the clipboard.

Play some tunes: I’ve had some impressive Honda stereos in recent months, but this isn’t one of them. It played just fine, and the controls — even lacking tuning dial — were not all that difficult to become accustomed to.

But the sound quality was only a B+ or so. I moved the equalizer around over and over and could never find a way to make my favorite songs sound just the way I wanted.

Night shift: The headlights offered great illumination of the road, but the map lights interfered with the view.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 24 mpg in a fairly flat round of testing with a lot of highway miles, even despite adjusting the speed downward after the nice chat with Virginia’s finest.

Where it’s built: Lincoln, Ala.

How it’s built: The Passport gets a 1 out of 5 on Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability scale.

Up next: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition.