While some car companies like Ford are thinning their model lines, others like Honda are filling them out trying to offer a just-right Goldilocks vehicle for every type of buyer. To wit, the new 2019 Honda Passport, a cute ute that the company wants you to know can handle rough terrain, too.
Honda is pitching the 5-seater compact SUV against the likes of Nissan's Murano, Ford's Edge and Toyota's 4Runner. The Passport is a more conservative dresser than those models, and more rustic than the Murano and Edge--yet it's not quite as brawny as the 4Runner.
In this price range, however, the Honda Passport's best feature is the standard Sensing package. It comprises emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow (a godsend in stop-and-go traffic), and lane-keeping assistance, which will gently steer you back into the lane should you stray.
A base front-wheel drive version of the Passport starts at just under $32,000 (not including tax and destination charges). For our tests, we drove the fully loaded all-wheel drive model (watch the video), which is priced just under $44,000 (again, not including tax and destination fees).
The Passport is shorter than the Honda Pilot, so it also doesn't have the third row of seats. It does come with a V6 engine and a 9-speed automatic transmission. Compared to the longer Pilot, the Passport has a tighter feel to let you know you've driving something that could go off road should the mood hit you (say, on the way to the grocery store).
Certainly, people will poke fun at the idea of putting the Passport over hill and dale, but doing so demonstrates that it can handle those days when one has to deal with the hard realities of global warming: slick winter roads and sloppy spring drives. To handle those situations (and more) the AWD model uses active torque vectoring, which can transfer power to individual wheels, front or back, to help keep you on the road.
There's also a driving mode setting for different conditions. I tried out each one, including snow, mud and sand in the AWD version of the Passport. Mud mode was most effective in sloppy conditions, delivering a little more rear slide, but then feeling tardy when on dry rocky surfaces. So you'll want to switch back to normal mode once you're out of the messy stuff. (You'll also find you can't use things like adaptive cruise control if you leave the vehicle in mud mode.)
After our rough off-road excursions, my Passport was unscathed, but other models needed some serious re-alignment after the treatment they received. I found the SUV was very well behaved over rocky, chassis-twisting terrain. It didn't yank or pull the wheel out of my hands. On paved roads, the handling was easy but not too light. I never found it wandered or failed to point in the direction intended.
The Passport's adaptive cruise control with lane keeping worked well enough with subtle steering to keep me from crossing the center line. Like other systems, it did occasionally have trouble seeing the right-hand white lines, but in all it's a capable safety package that's less intrusive than most (indeed, some drivers may not even notice the small steering corrections).
On the Passport's connected in-dash system, Honda includes basic voice recognition (for music and navigation, for example, but not heating and A/C). There's also no head-up display, an option that I admit to being enamored with. Once you've got speed and nav instructions up in the windshield, you'll never go back. Hopefully, Honda will be able to add this in the future.
For the infotainment system, Honda will be relying more and more on apps via Android Auto and Apple's Carplay. So far, so good on that front, although the automaker has ambitions to include a single payment system so that once you enter your credit card info, you'll be able to pay for everything from gas to coffee to parking without re-entering the information each time.
For shoppers in this category (just one kid and still going out glamping or skiing on weekends), the 2019 Honda Passport is a competitively priced option with superior standard safety features. And that's really what technology packages should be all about.