Alabama winters are not normally cold. We may bottom out at somewhere around 30 degrees at the lowest, but it's usually a rather mediate climate with highs in the 50s and 60s. But things haven't been normal this year, and as I looked at the thermometer peak at 32 degrees, there's honestly no place I wanted to be more than in the heated cabin of this one 2019 Honda Passport EX. That very well could have been a mistake.
On paper, the Passport is Honda's idea of a sportier crossover with adventure on the brain. There's good reason for that, as the original Passport, a darling of a 1990s joint venture between Isuzu and Honda, was the manufacturer's first sport utility vehicle. The OG was based upon the chassis of the venerable Isuzu Rodeo (or MU...MU Wizard...Cameo...honestly the amount of times that chassis was produced in different versions is worth an article in its own right), which gave it a lot of halfway decent off-road prowess. So naturally, giving that name to a unibody, car-based CUV in this day and age would go over just about as well as the new Jeep Cherokee and Chevy Blazer would have. Nevertheless, I like the Cherokee and Blazer, so I kept hopes high.
Upon first entry into the Passport, my first thought is how well put together everything was. If there's anything that you can give the current crop of Honda CUVs, they are built quite well. But despite the tank-like quality, the design of the interior was terribly bland and safe. The first thing that came to mind was how Jeep, in their wide range of Trailhawk models which promote the same ideals of adventure that the Passport is suppose to convey, they add small touches to give it a sense of ruggedness. The Passport has none of that, instead opting for a very safe and sound interior typical of a Honda. Well, you can't really fault them for sticking to what they know best.
That's definitely a Honda interior. Picture courtesy of Honda North America.
With all due respect, I have to give the Passport some top marks for technology. Honda's infotainment system seems a tad daunting at first, but it's actually easier to use than most of their competitors. Everything you could ask for was here in the EX I tested, including multiple forms of connectivity and ease of access. On the other hand, that push button shifter is still finicky to me. Sure, it may not be as bad as GMC's shifter in the new Terrain, but why couldn't we just have an old-fashioned lever?
After a solid ten minutes of pressing buttons and murmuring "Ohhh, I see" to myself, it's time to drive. I jam my index finger onto the "D" button, and off we go. First impressions are typical of a crossover. It's smooth and fairly quiet. Power response is good. None of the wheels have fallen off, so it's got that going for it. It drives just as you'd expect a car should, but therein lies the issue.
Now I'm not expecting earth-shattering driving capability that would make even a Miata faint at the first corner in comparison, but I think what I was looking for was something that made it all interesting or worthwhile. Bringing back the comparison to Jeep's Trailhawk models, there's something about driving those that definitely makes it feel like it's different from a standard Cherokee Latitude or Renegade Sport. They feel more athletic, they react to the road differently. I spent an afternoon driving a Renegade Trailhawk in downtown Pittsburgh last year and was very happy with how the taller ride height and off-road springs managed to handle the pothole-ridden Pennsylvania roads with ease. The Passport has nothing like that really going for it. It feels just like the cars it's based upon, like a tall Accord, or a short Pilot.
Not pictured: advanced ground clearance.
Now, this is the part where I tell you about all the off-roading capabilities of the Passport, and believe me, I'd love to. Except for the fact that the Passport I drove was a base front-wheel drive model. Such is my luck. Either way, Honda offers an advanced i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system with various modes for different terrains. Judging by what I've seen, Passports fitted with the system can hold their own fairly well in the rough stuff, but definitely pale in comparison to a Jeep, let alone something like a Land Rover. With or without the AWD system, each Passport comes with approximately 7.4 inches of ground clearance, a number that's bested by even my 2012 Subaru Outback...and that's a station wagon.
"But Dak," you surely exclaim from behind your freshly fingerprinted smartphone glass, "Is there anything the Passport is good for?" The answer is a resounding yes. The Passport may not be a revolutionary off-roader, or a particularly spartan performance-driven crossover, but it is a very good daily driver. The average fuel economy is fairly well, somewhere in the high 20s, but it manages to boost economy in various other ways while driving. The amount of space in the cabin is fairly spectacular, I'd say you'd be able to fit four adults with comfort and ease, plus a load of luggage. Or just flip down the rear seats and stow any various amount of items within it's nearly 100 cubic feet of space. As far as crossovers go, this fits the definition about as well as you can get.
Picture courtesy of Honda North America.
I don't hate the Passport. I'd hardly even call myself disappointed, but this is not the sporty crossover Honda wants you to think it is. But that's okay, because it is the mid-size crossover they want you to buy. And buy it you should, I'd highly recommend it just from my short time with it. It may stretch the true meaning of "sport" but stretch the true meaning of a family hauler it does not, and I think that's exactly what Honda truly wanted from it all along.