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The Honda Passport Is Honda’s ‘Rugged’ New SUV

As you probably know, Honda’s SUV lineup currently consists of three models. There’s the small one, the Honda HR-V, the medium one, the CR-V, and the larger one, the Pilot. These all seem to do very well, and it’s very clear who should be buying what, and they’re each very popular. Given this fact, and the general popularity of SUVs, it’s no surprise that Honda wanted to make another one — and so now we have a fourth: the Passport, which slots between the CR-V and the Pilot in Honda’s lineup.

But is there actually a slot between the CR-V and the Pilot in Honda’s lineup? Not exactly — so Honda created one. The Passport is smaller than the Pilot and larger than the CR-V, but its main party trick is that it’s "rugged." It’s the off-roader of the Honda lineup. It has a sand mode.

The intent here, it seems, was to rival the Toyota 4Runner and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, both of which are pitched as "off-roader" midsize SUVs, and both of which are enjoying massive success right now, largely due to the popularity of SUVs and off-roaders in general. Honda wanted in on that. So, we have the Passport. And is it body-on-frame? Rear-wheel drive? Does it have a transfer case? Low range? A locking differential? No to all of that. What it is, instead, is basically a shortened Pilot with two rows of seats rather than three rows, and a sand mode. Oh, and it’s more expensive than the Pilot (in the base trim). This does not sound like a recipe for success.

And yet, I get it. Developing a body-on-frame SUV to rival the 4Runner is costly — and it’ll take years. Offering Grand Cherokee-level off-road prowess, too, is costly — never mind the differences between the "Jeep" name (synonymous with off-roading) and the Honda name (not). So Honda figured it would go this route, and then see what happens.

On paper, it seems crazy: an "off-roader" SUV without the usual off-road gear at a price point that’s higher than a larger vehicle. But when you consider it another way, it makes sense: buyers want SUVs. Buyers really, really want SUVs. Honda wants to make more SUVs to capitalize on this. Shortening the Pilot is easy, cheap and simple — and now, boom!, Honda has a new SUV.

More importantly, Honda wagers a lot of people are shopping for this sort of car — and I tend to agree. Many young shoppers who want a crossover or a SUV, but don’t yet have kids will pretty much turn down any 3-row SUV on the grounds that it seems like a suburb-mobile, a mom car or a family van-like SUV. No, thanks. So creating a 2-row vehicle, and marketing it as an off-roader, can catch this crowd — a crowd that’s currently diverting to the 4Runner (without the optional third row) and the Grand Cherokee, as well as the Ford Edge and the Nissan Murano. It makes sense for Honda to get a vehicle in this segment.

And after driving it, I think it might make sense for a lot of shopping lists. If you’re in that world of people who want an SUV, but doesn’t have a family — a surprisingly large world — and you think something like the CR-V, with its small size and 4-cylinder engine, is just a bit too "wimpy" for you, the Passport is the car Honda wants you to turn to. And with a starting price of around $33,000, and a relatively muscular engine under the hood — a 280-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 — I think Honda may capture some of those sales. It’s like the fun, cool, hip way to get a Honda crossover.

On the road, the Passport carries a lot of the Pilot’s traits, including its commanding driving position and general size, save for about a foot lopped off the back end. Even the dashboard is the same. The engine is also the same, and it’s a good one: a 3.3-liter V6 with 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. The engine feels peppier in the Passport, largely because of its smaller size, though the steering and handling end up feeling about the same — overassisted and light, as you’d expect from a modern crossover. Interior room is good, though, of course, you get two fewer seats than you would in a Pilot.

Overall, I think the Passport is a good vehicle. I do question the price point — although, at around $33,000 to start, it’s only marginally more expensive than the Pilot, though I still think it should be cheaper (and in the upper trim levels, it actually is) — but I think it’s generally a good idea, and I think it should find buyers. Most importantly, in today’s car industry, there seems to be no such thing as a lineup with too many SUVs.

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