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The 2019 Passport’s styling projects more offroad potential than any of Honda’s other crossovers. (Honda)

Honda fills a gap with 2019 Passport

You may think that by now, just about all full-line automakers have every crossover/SUV segment covered. Small, medium and large, just like it used to be with sedan.

Honda didn’t see it that way, though. The best-selling CR-V is the company’s “small” crossover (assuming you don’t altogether consider the smaller HR-V a crossover) and the 3-row Pilot is the large entry—with nothing in between.

With so many new and established “upper-midsize” competitors such as Chevy’s Blazer, Ford Edge and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Honda didn’t see the CR-V as adequate for the midsize segment, particularly those with upscale aspirations. Honda being one of the more effective re-purposers of existing vehicle architectures, its engineers and planners looked at the Pilot and saw potential for sawing out the third-row seating and creating what essentially is a two-row version. Recalling the Passport nameplate leverages the fairly positive equity the badge had when last produced in 2002.

Two rows, similar dimensions

A Pilot with similar dimensions and just two rows of seats is an efficient way to get a midsize crossover that’s roomier and a little more sumptuous inside than a CR-V—and the new Passport’s 6.2-in (158-mm) shorter length on the same 111-in (2819-mm) wheelbase as the Passport imparts a certain purposeful stance; the extra 1 in (25 mm) of ground clearance, at 8 in (200 mm) overall for all-wheel-drive models, collaborates with the new Passport’s tougher-looking front fascia to create some visual distance between it and the soccer-mom CR-V and Pilot. And yes, you could interpret that difference as being more “off-roady.”

Lara Harrington, chief engineer for the 2019 Passport, takes a determined run at supporting Honda’s assertion that the new-age Passport has heightened off-road capabilities, but apart from the raised ground clearance and the improved approach and departure angles it enables, as well as a bit of up-tuning of the suspension, the Passport doesn’t really bring anything tougher than the Pilot (and Ridgeline pickup truck) Global Light Truck architecture doesn’t already offer.

At least give us a couple of vestigial skid plates, journalists beseeched. Or a locking rear differential. But Honda sees the visual cues as sufficient for the purpose. Given how almost all SUVs are used, we can’t argue.

Particularly when the 2019 Passport’s road manners are so decent. The damping is supple and not at all knobby or wobbly and the slightly quicker steering ratio permits a certain harmony with twisting roads, although the Passport can’t quite be called a pleasure to hustle through the curves. And since roughly 56% of the body structure is high-strength or ultrahigh-strength steel, there’s a definitive feeling of solidity in cornering or off-road pounding.

The Passport driveline also is taken from the existing GLT-platform models, its direct-injection 3.5-L V6 generating 280 hp and 262 lb·ft (355 N·m). The only transmission is Honda’s new-ish 9-speed planetary automatic supplied by ZF, manipulated by Honda’s polarizing pushbutton arrangement in the center console that looks pretty hip and certainly does save space, regardless of your opinion about its functionality. And we do think it could find its favored ratio with a bit more alacrity.

The Passport’s three lower trim levels—Sport, EX-L and Touring—are front-wheel-drive, with AWD being a $1,900 option. It’s not everyday AWD, though: like the Pilot and Ridgeline, the 2019 Passport is fitted with Honda’s over-achieving Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) that imparts “genuine” torque vectoring (single-wheel overspeeding) at the rear axle; up to 100% of the maximum 70% of drive torque that can be directed to the rear axle can be apportioned to either rear wheel.

The i-VTM4 system also incorporates Normal, Sand, Snow and Mud settings that are surprisingly effective at optimizing traction and torque delivery and is another feature that inspired Honda to expound the Passport’s off-road potential; the company provided bountiful (and beautiful) off-road driving in Moab, Utah to prove its point—and we’ll admit that we put the Passport through banging and pounding that we wouldn’t consider advisable for many of its competitors, although the hard-pack and rock trails wouldn’t be considered impassible for most crossovers if taken at slower speed than we blasted through in Passports for which we aren’t making the monthly payments.

Purposeful interior

The new-generation Passport’s cabin essentially is standard-issue Pilot/Ridgeline fare, which is to say adequately upscale without being overly luxurious. And that’s okay—the perception is sufficiently upmarket from the CR-V while not being so luxurious or fussy as to make one feel irresponsible if it does get smudged with some trail mud.

The most obvious advantage to the Passport’s packaging is the abundance of cargo space with the absence of a third-row seat. The second-row bench slides fore and aft and with the seatbacks lowered, there’s a bounteous 77.7 cu ft of cargo space, plus bonus storage in the clever underfloor locker.

Of course there are USB ports and all the connectivity anyone could desire and all Passports come standard with the Honda Sensing package of advanced driver-assistance (ADAS) features that includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation and forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist and road-departure mitigation.

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