The Passport opens up new opportunities for Honda in the States. Will it work?
The Passport is Honda's latest new offering in the States, entering in 2019. Will it's odd but known name return to bring Honda access to the segment?
This one sure looks like it has a Passport to access the country of many Rodeos. (See what I did there? It wasn't funny was it...)
A brief history lesson will inform you all of the fact that this isn't the first time Honda has used the odd name. The Honda Passport has had two generations prior to this, making 2019 the re-introduction of the Passport in it's third generation. The first arrived in 1993, bringing about the procreation of an Isuzu vehicle under the Honda badge. Yes, that's right. In the 90s, Honda and Isuzu had a partnership in which they exchanged vehicles and rebadged them. For the Passport name, it meant taking an Isuzu Rodeo and changing a few bits of the body (Negligible to the commoners outside the automotive world) and the badges.
Then, in 1997 the second generation was introduced and the Passport name lived on, continuing the Isuzu underpinnings from the partnership. Now, however, in 2002 this ended. For the Passport, anyway. The name was no longer seen after that and it escaped from the face of the earth. A 2010 recall that deemed the Rodeo and Passport deeply dangerous on the basis of severe rust issues may have reignited the idea of using the name for a future project, but under Honda production. And, at the LA Motor Show of 2018, this became a reality. The Passport name was reborn and the third generation was presented to the world, sitting between the CR-V and Pilot models.
Behold! The Passport can not only use it's name to access the roads, it can bring along cargo that it has vast capabilities to tow. Although, a buggy isn't really vast.
Engine wise, the Passport comes with a single option, paired with one transmission option and two drivetrain options, as detailed below. As this is a car for the US, I'll refrain from using newton-metres and stick with the preffered pounds-feet. Just for you, my American friends:
ENGINE: 3.5 V6
POWER: 280HP AND 262LB-FT
TRANSMISSION: 9-SPEED ZF AUTOMATIC
DRIVETRAIN OPTIONS: FWD OR AWD
Due to the size of the car and the various needs of owners, it comes equipped with the well known and liked Honda 3.5 NA V6 that produces competitive power figures when compared to the competion like the Ford Edge, which has a 2.0 turbocharged I4 and 245HP (But more torque at 275lb-ft). As presented, the Passport isn't afraid of towing and is able to tow competitively. The FWD variant can tow up to 3500lbs (Lbs not kg just for you, again, my American friends) and the AWD variant up to 5000lbs. This AWD result challenges the entirety of the notable competition like the Edge, Murano or Santa Fe but is beaten by the Grand Cherokee which can tow up to 6200lbs.
As for the transmission, it's automatic only and that is probably no bad thing for America. You guys seem to prefer the automatic transmission and, for such a car, it makes sense. ZF have been regarded as the makers of the greatest automatic transmission out there right now (Their 8-Speed). But, the 9-speed doesn't seem to have the same rugged and reliable status. It's quite the premium product, the Passport, and for the price you'd always expect an automatic transmission to be an option at the least. And since we're on price, expect it to start at around $30,000.
Dimensions wise, it appears that the Passport is superior in terms of width and height when compared to rivals, thwarted only by the Murano on length. But, these dimensions seem to equal good aesthetics when compared to that Murano.
Rugged, powerful, practical...it's all looking to show that the Passport has all the requirements to access the market.
The Passport doesn't offer any revolutionary tech, focusing on what has been proven within Honda's that came before it. You get the same platform that underpins the likes of the Pilot and Ridgeline (This would be Honda's Global Light Truck (HGLT) platform) and shares the same powertrain as explained earlier. The AWD system uses the same tech as the HGLT siblings, with Honda's specialised traction systems that manage unpleasant weather in four different modes. This seems to help it off-road, presenting the Passport as a positive offering for those who like to make things exciting for the family. Mind you, it's not like anyone is going to the trails with this one.
You may be surprised to learn that the Passport, unlike the Pilot or Ridgeline, seems to be the most off-road worthy. It has the highest ground clearance of the three and and a shorter rear overhang. Honda is even encouraging that Passport customers engage with the elements by saying that they'll offer accessories that'll fit the Passport for all of your thrill seeking needs. Expect things like roof racks and kayaks.
If you're into your tech, the Passport has you covered. As standard, the infotainment comes equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, presented to you on an 8-inch display that comes paired with 7-inch gauges that twin the Pilot and Ridgeline. Things like WiFi hotspot access (4G-LTE) and wireless charging are also available to help you travel in comfort and ease, safe in the knowledge that if you do get stuck somewhere, a man in an F250 Super Duty can come to the rescue.
Clearly, inspiration for the front is a bit of a 'copy and paste' job from the Pilot and Ridgeline models, but why change something that looks good?
Similarly to the powertrain, Honda has stuck with what they know best when it comes to styling. The front end is clearly Pilot and Ridgeline, highlighting the shared nature of the HGLT platform that Honda uses. It's definitely aesthetically pleasing to me, and it works very well. The headlights are awesome, with the distinctive daytime running lights adding an edge to the car. While this isn't the case for all trims, the extended wheel arches have plasticky covers, mirroring the dark plasticky front bumper elements. This is all well and good, especially since Honda is vouching for the Passport to be used off-road. They're really keen to prioritise that in their marketing. As a few of the images used in this article show, the Passport isn't afraid of the terrain and changing conditions.
The HondaSensing equipment that (When it first came to Honda's) wasn't very well hidden before seems to be implemented very well. Sensors for things like the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) are hidden well and the use of what appears to be a 2D front-badge means that they were able to refrain from using ugly bits of trim or bad design that covered the sensors that other manufacturers are still guilty of implementing (Insert BMW rant here). It all just looks well executed. While it may not be revolutionary (and while it may make some people think that Honda is copying design ques from other models), you can't condemn them for doing what they know customers have commited to and enjoyed in other models. Yes it looks almost exactly like a Pilot, but that's not such a bad thing seeing as the Pilot is a handsome brute.
Hmm...reminds me of something I've seen before. No plastic on this 'elite' trim's wheel arches.
The good aesthetics continue round the back, with clearly defined angles and shapes that reinforce the rugged look of the Passport. It's got the dark, plasticky bumper elements at the bottom and applause-worthy real exhaust tips that sit on both sides of the rear end. They're real and large, and anyone who does it these days deserves a pat on the back (Insert Audi and Mercedes rant here). Those tailights though. Seem familiar? To me, they do. They look like Ford Explorer tailights, with a triangulated side profile to differentiate themselves. But, if you were to look at it directly from behind, you could be fooled that it's an Explorer from afar.
The side profile has clearly defined lines running just below the windows and a sideskirt extension that gives it real girth and a tough attitude. It's sharp and bold, and you could only be pleased with positively enhanced aesthetics in this class (Since SUVs aren't the most interesting vehicles out there).
Interestingly, the rear gives of hints that it is a car with many personalities. Generally speaking, the rugged SUV look is what Honda has gone for. The dark plastic elements and the ground clearance sure do prove this. But, the 20-inch rims and the dual exhaust tips, paired with the large spoiler show off another side to this car. A sporty-vibe. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a GLC 43 AMG or anything but, it's got a near 300HP V6 and plenty of performance to spark the attention of Officer Phil coming out of Dunkin Donuts. The Passport seems to present dual-personality characteristics, adding to the appeal of the thing.
Yes! Accord infotainment. No! The weird button gear selector.
If you're familiar with modern Honda's, you'll get comfortable with the Passport immediately. It takes the best that Honda has and implements it in a logical and pleasing fashion. The infotainment that conquered as my favourite infotainment in the Accord has been put in the Passport and this is a very good thing. It's easy to navigate and has a volume knob, with shortcut buttons to help you access the various functions such as going to the home screen or dimming the screen if neccessary. That dimming button is particularly awesome. I'm a bit bias here, because my 2006 Accord Tourer has this button and it allows you to completely turn off the infotainment screen and it's just such a wonderful and simple idea for when you drive at night. I don't care that there are night colours, I just want to drive without my peripheral vision taunting me. Some manufacturers don't really allow for this so, kudos to Honda for doing it.
I've never liked the new Honda button gear selector thing. What's wrong with a good old gear knob for the automatic transmission? It's not like they've made space for a separate feature like an infotainment wheel or driving mode switches. I don't like the idea of it, and the buttons don't give me confidence in confirmation of gearing like a lever does. But, that might just be me and my slighlty old-fashioned thinking.
Simple to navigate, logically positioned and well made. What more do you want?
Unlike my '06 Accord, the infotainment screen and climate control functions are separate. It just adds to ease of use and user-friendly engagement. It's such a no-brainer and it doesn't have a silly seperate screen like some modern cars (Audi and Jaguar Land Rover, I'm looking at you in this rant). It's just dead easy to use and the digital display adds modern feel. The screen doesn't look too bolted on either, it appears to be well integrated and that would help those that hate the iPad look of some offerings. Doesn't really bother me. Another neat touch is that the climate buttons are quite large, making it easy for you to use them with gloves on in winter. These little things add up to reinforce the appeal. Access to USB Ports and the Power Outlet is presented just below the climate control unit, observable immediately after entrance. As is the space between the climate and power outlets for, I'm not actually sure what would fit there. They had space, they made a hole and voila! Sizeable seat heating buttons could've gone there to reinforce my climate button size point. They're quite small, aren't they? As for that USB and Power Outlet, this is also good design. Some cars have it hidden in the glove compartment and that just isn't good practical design. More points for the Passport here.
Digital dials are definitely not the best on the market, but they work. They give the Passport a refreshingly modern aesthetic that rivals lack. Fuel and engine temperature remain analogue. As they should.
Remember how I mentioned the dual-personality of the Passport? Let's add technology to that too. As mentioned before, various systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on this and pairing it with the great infotainment means it's perfect for the tech savvy. You've got a screen, outlets, wireless charging and digital displays to please the technologically-oriented minds out there. It's all shaping up to lead to a positive verdict. This technological personality aspect is also reinforced by the digital dials or, rather, screen. You've got a large and clear icon for the gear selection and a large font for the screen, with highly positioned rpm graphics. Otherwise, things like the temperature and mileage are acutely corned at the bottom since they're not as important as the rest of the information presented.
As you might have guessed, this article of mine leads to a positive verdict. My opinion is focused around positivity and I think that the Passport might be the best in class, even though it isn't even available yet. It offers great technology as standard. It comes prepared for dangerous conditions and gives you a relaxed sense of confidence, making you realise that it's prepared for most terrains that you steer it towards. It isn't excessive and too wild in it's design like the upcoming Santa Fe with that new Hyundai SUV design language and it isn't old-fashioned and dated like the Nissan Murano.
It's aesthetically pleasing and shares design ques from it's Honda siblings, reinforcing the brand image and defining itself with a rugged and aggressive look. It's practical, too. Honda's going to offer you all of the gadgets you would want to co-exist with your Passport if you choose to buy one, allowing for an ease of purchase when thinking ahead to what you'll do with it. They've really marketed this well, I think. On the one hand, it's a competitive SUV that surrounds you in a good-looking shell while also giving you access to a relaxing and reliable environment for your travels.
You'll love it, your family will love it and your friends will love it to. Top marks Honda, I think the Passport will do well. Especially since it's your own car now, and not an Isuzu with a fancy badge.