New Honda Passport plays in the rough

Gerry Miles/Staff photo The 2019 Honda Passport is a new crossover sport-utility vehicle that combines advanced features with the go-anywhere attitude of traditional SUVs.

The Honda Passport is a thoroughly modern new model. Joining Honda’s vehicle lineup at the start of the year, the medium-sized, five-passenger crossover sport-utility wagon shows its newness in just about every way imaginable.

The Passport rides on an advanced body platform that has structural elements arrayed for sturdiness and occupant protection.

The new model contains loads of advanced driving aids, with even the lowest, least expensive trim level equipped with distance-keeping adaptive cruise control, front-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane monitor with automatic steering aid, rear cross-traffic and blind spot monitors, automatic high beams, and backup camera with guidelines.

The new Passport loads in so much for its $33,085 starting list price that it vaults above a lot of existing models in the medium-sized SUV class.

All Passport trims come with LED headlights and taillights, LED fog lights, rear privacy glass, tire-pressure monitors, dual exhaust outlets, and big, 20-inch wheels. All have cabin amenities that often are reserved for more expensive levels of competing models. They include three-zone automatic climate control, easy-fold split rear seat backs, a powerful audio system with subwoofer and six additional speakers, push-button start, lighted controls on the steering wheel, and even floor mats (which are often an extra-cost option in other models).

“You get more for your dollar with the Passport’s safety features and its technology,” said Ryan Horgan, vice president of Rockingham Honda in Salem, New Hampshire. “Today people look at those things as a big part of the car. They’re just as important as the capabilities of a vehicle.”

For all its contemporary pizzazz, the new Passport retains the rough and ready qualities that set apart traditional sport-utilities. When promoting the new model, Honda presents it as “designed for adventure-seekers who want the superior off-road capability ... the power and towing capability ... and the more personal and rugged character of a five-passenger SUV.”

Locally, that’s exactly who the new Honda Passport is capturing, according to Horgan.

“I see it appealing to people who are skiers, and to people who go camping, to outdoorsy people” he said. “It gives Honda a more rugged vehicle with more sporty, off-road excitement.”

Rockingham Honda is part of Rockingham Motors, which also operates a Toyota dealership at its Salem, N.H. campus.

A lot of different qualities contribute to the Passport’s adventurous character.

Its cabin stands at a commanding height, with big windows for widened views. Its elevated ground clearance of eight inches above the travel surface gives it an advantage in snow and on rough terrain. The Passport’s four wheels roll on independent suspensions, for smoother and more effective passage over uneven surfaces.

Basic Passports come with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel-drive variations especially – priced $1,900 higher than front drive, at $34,985 to start – have clipped front and rear bumpers that help the vehicle nose onto steep rises and effectively step off of them. The all-wheel-drive system itself splits power intelligently separately among the four corners, delivering traction to where it can best be utilized.

The cabin accommodates a lot of gear, with abundant, well placed storage slots and bins within its five-seat passenger area. The big cargo hold in back is fully carpeted, with a hidden under-floor storage bin for items like cameras or fishing tackle. Folding down the back seats with the touch of a button expands cargo space. 

Countering a popular trend today to omit spare tires to save space, weight and cost, the Passport carries a fullsized spare under the rear cargo cover. 

For sporting drivers who bring along bigger toys on trailers, like boats, snowmobiles or four-wheelers, the Passport provides ample towing capacity of 5,000 pounds in all-wheel-drive versions. Its sturdy frame of boxed structural sections bears the load. The Passport’s 280-horsepower V6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission move it.

Honda even details the new model to look like a traditionally rugged sport-utility. Its grille, bumpers and side mirrors are black, with more black cladding around its fender arches and side sills.

This year’s Passport resurrects a model name last used by Honda 16 years ago. That earlier Passport was made by Isuzu and merely wore the Honda badge covering the Rodeo model’s name. Acura’s first SUV, the SLX, debuted in 1995 as a rebadged Isuzu Trooper with all but a few options in a comprehensive upscale offering.

To create its own, adventure-oriented 2019 Passport, Honda built from the foundation of its larger, seven-rider Pilot crossover wagon, which is tailored more for family use. The Passport and Pilot share the same structure, giving them the same front-wheel to rear-wheel measurement. But with shorter overhangs beyond the wheels, the Passport’s overall length is shorter. That complements other changes like a reshaped lip and tail for better trail clearance.

While its length reduction tailors it for five-passenger use, the Passport remains larger and more accommodating than Honda’s other five-rider crossover, the compact CR-V. With its smaller size and more car-like character, the CR-V serves more as a personally sized passenger carrier, with some SUV traits added mostly for assurance during foul-weather driving.

Thus not only is the new Passport more tailored for rugged rambles than other Hondas. Its commodious cabin also makes it the company’s middleweight passenger hauler: above the CR-V and below the seven-seat Pilot.

That’s an important position, because moving people remains the primary use for sport utilities of all stripes.

Accordingly, when I evaluated a 2019 Passport by using it as my personal vehicle for a week, its primary role turned out to be family transport. It comfortably hauled two adults, two children with safety seats, and a teenager between them on the back bench to Salem’s Canobie Park. The teen would have felt cramped and squeezed in smaller five-seat crossovers.

Hauling the same group to Hampton’s North Beach in New Hampshire, the Passport’s big rear cargo area very easily handled the many accessories the afternoon required. The floor was wide and deep enough to make loading effortless.

Those were grandparent duties. The Passport would handle parent responsibilities just as handily, like getting children, their backpacks and science projects to school. And on weekends, it can take them not only to the trails, but over the trails as well.

No wonder Rockingham Honda’s Ryan Horgan sees the new model attracting a wide variety of people.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at



2019 Honda Passport

Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive mid-size crossover utility vehicle

Price range: $33,085 to $44,775 (plus options)

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 3 years/36,000 miles roadside assistance

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Power: 280 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 262 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city; 25 mpg highway

Wheelbase: 111 inches

Length: 190 inches

Width: 79 inches

Height: 72 inches

Weight: 3,959 pounds

Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons

Turning circle: 39.5 ft.