by Frank A. Aukofer

In the ongoing struggle for supremacy on the crossover sport utility battlefield, Honda re-enlists a veteran name for an all-new combatant, the 2019 Passport.

It has not been around for 17 years, having left the market after the 2002 model year. The original Passport was the result of a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese manufacturer, which re-badged its Rodeo SUV as the Passport.

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

The other half of the equation was that Honda re-badged its Odyssey minivan as an Isuzu Oasis.

That first Passport was an SUV of its time, built like a truck with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual gearbox and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine. A 3.2-liter V6 with 175 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional.

Though there still are truck-based SUVs around, crossover sales have been exploding, dominating sales of traditional sedans. In 2018, crossovers achieved a 38% share of the vehicle market compared to 31% for cars. Crossover SUVs are built like cars, with unit bodies and, usually, front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive.

2019 Honda Passport

Though justifiably proud of its sedans, Honda is a captive of the trend. In 2018, the company sold 624,122 crossovers — the small HR-V, compact CR-V and three-row Pilot. The number does not include its Odyssey minivan or Ridgeline pickup truck, both classified as light trucks.

In the same year, Honda sold a total of 684,815 cars, including five models: the compact Civic, midsize Accord, subcompact Fit, hybrid Insight and the Clarity, available as an electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-fueled electric.

Honda claims supremacy in sales for its Civic and Accord. But unlike other makes, it counts only retail sales to individuals, not fleet sales to rental car and other multiple-unit buyers.

2019 Honda Passport

With the 2019 Passport, Honda’s offerings likely will soon tilt in favor of crossovers over cars, no matter how they are counted. That’s because the Passport plugs a gap in the company’s crossover lineup.

It’s a midsize, based on and slotted just below the three-row Pilot and above the compact CR-V and entry-level HR-V, which is marketed as a subcompact but is so roomy it would be considered midsize if it were a car. The U.S. government classifies cars by interior volume as subcompact, compact, midsize and large. Crossovers are classified by whatever you think.

The new Passport is nothing like its predecessor. Its wheelbase — the distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels — is the same as the larger Pilot but it is 6.2 inches shorter overall. Front and rear overhangs are tidier, giving the Passport better approach, departure and break-over angles for off-roading.

2019 Honda Passport

Of course, no crossover can rival a properly-equipped Jeep or Land Rover dedicated for off-roading. But the Passport acquitted itself well at the national introduction on unpaved roads in gorgeous but desolate areas surrounding Moab, Utah, including the spectacular Arches National Park.

As Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” told it, the Passport handles competently in the “mud, the blood and the beer,” with Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. It can send up to 70% of the torque — or twisting force — to the rear wheels and 100% to the left or right wheels.

2019 Honda Passport

The tested Passport Elite, pushed too fast on a pockmarked unpaved road, went airborne over a sharp berm and seemed destined for a front-to-rear somersault, yet crunched smartly to a landing on all four wheels. Whew.

But the Passport is a slick piece of work on paved highways as well. In an era when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, are becoming standard in luxury as well as popular-priced vehicles, the Passport comes with a tried-and-true Honda and Acura 3.5-liter V6 engine that exhibits the relaxed confidence of a great athlete coach trotting along with a group of marathon-wannabe pre-teens.

2019 Honda Passport

The V6 delivers 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by the Honda/Acura console-mounted pushbutton control. The system has been faulted by some critics, but not here. It is simple and intuitive: one-finger push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.”

There are four Passport trim levels, starting with the front-drive Sport at $33,045, including the destination charge. Others are the EX-L at $37,455 and Touring at $40,325. Tack on $1,900 for all-wheel drive. The tested top-line Elite, priced at $44,725, comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Can’t get no satisfaction? Give the Passport a try.

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 115/41 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,237 pounds.
  • Maximum towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,725.
  • Price as tested: $44,725.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda