Smooth, composed ride
Standard safety technology
Comfortable, roomy interior
Good value and overall quality
Hesitant 9-speed automatic
Hybrid drivetrain unavailable
A mild off-roader, at best
2020 Honda Passport
Following a successful inaugural model year, the Honda Passport, which shares a platform with the larger 3-row Pilot crossover and Odyssey minivan, returns unchanged for 2020. Like last year, the Passport occupies a niche for buyers looking for something larger than the CR-V, but who don’t require the Pilot’s third row.
Fundamentally a Pilot, but without a third row and 4 inches shorter, the 2020 Honda Passport bears more than a passing resemblance to its larger platform-mate, sharing headlamp housings and nearly every body panel from the C-pillar forward, as well as a less-than-adventurous design.
Aside from length, the biggest differentiator is the re-worked front fascia that retains the headlamps but replaces the massive upper bar’s chrome finish with piano black. The Pilot’s body-color bumper was also swapped-out for a more aggressive dark gray center bumper/lower air intake.
The hood, windshield frame, fenders, and door panels are identical, while the Passport’s quarter-panels are shortened versions of those found on the Pilot. Differences in back are also mild, where the Passport features abbreviated taillights and a more aggressive bumper and lower valance with a pair of cutouts that reveal chrome exhaust outlets.
The resemblance, however, shouldn’t be viewed as detrimental, since the overall rendering is certainly clean and a bit uptown. At the same time, the conservative look lacks the panache of the Camaro-inspired Chevrolet Blazer, the curvaceous Nissan Murano, and the lovely Santa Fe and bold Sorento twins from Hyundai and Kia.
The Passport’s mild exterior is wrapped around an interior offering comfortable, nicely-bolstered seats up front offering plenty of head, leg, hip room and thigh support and, as a bonus, featuring inboard fold-down arm rests that help reduce upper body fatigue on long trips, and excellent sight lines out the front, sides, and in back courtesy of large glass areas. We found the accommodations in back to be equally as comfortable for three adults, with the same headroom (there’s more on the base model that’s sans a sunroof), and nearly as much legroom (39.6 inches versus 40.9 inches) as the duo up front. As is Honda’s wont, the instruments and gauges are clearly labeled and easily understood, the switches and buttons operate with a delightful smoothness, and driver sightlines are excellent thanks to the wide expanses of glass all around.
Sharing a platform with the Odyssey, you might expect versatility to be another high point, and it is, with 41 cubic feet of storage behind the back seats, that expands to 77.7 cubic feet with those seats folded - presenting a flat floor front to back that easily eclipses the Chevrolet Blazer’s 30.5 cubic feet.
The heated leather-wrapped steering wheel offers plenty of adjustment, and features controls for the adaptive cruise and lane keep assist systems, information system, and infotainment functions including phone, entertainment, voice, and Bluetooth.
Speaking of infotainment, it’s clear that Honda learned a great deal from past missteps, as the infotainment system in our Elite tester – complete with on/off-volume button, huzzah! – is one of the best we’ve used, with intuitive functions and simple, app-like menus.
At the same time, the choice of interior materials, including the hard plastic upper door panels that may be class-competitive in lower trims, falls short of competing models - in both fit and finish – that are offered by both Hyundai and Mazda. In addition, the base Sport trim lacks the slick 8-inch touchscreen, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
The 2020 Passport is available in 4 trim levels – Sport, EX-L, Touring, and Elite in ascending order – with front-wheel-drive standard and all-wheel-drive an option on all but the Elite (where it's standard).
The equipment list for Sport trim is acceptable but hardly thrilling, offering the usual power features (windows, locks, and mirrors), plus 20-inch alloy wheels, LEDs for the low-beam headlights, daytime running lights, brake lights, and fog lights, rear privacy glass, keyless push-button start, 3-zone automatic climate control, 5-inch color LCD screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with Honda’s HandsFreeLink voice recognition, and a 152-watt audio system with subwoofer.
Standard advanced safety features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane keep assist.
But looking at the rest of the lineup, an additional $4,440 offers what we believe is the best buy - the EX-L. This model adds such niceties as heated outside mirrors with LED turn signals, a moonroof, walk-away auto locking, a power liftgate, a leather-trimmed interior, leather-wrapped steering wheel, acoustic windshield glass, rear window sunshades, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 2-position memory driver’s seat and outside mirrors (with reverse gear tilt-down), heated front seats. You’re also treated to an 8-inch touchscreen with phone connectivity, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and mobile hot-spot capabilities, and Honda’s CabinControl smartphone app integration that allows remote smartphone control of audio, entertainment and climate control functions. Additionally, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert are added to the list of standard safety features.
Skipping a trim, our top-shelf Elite tester augmented that list with standard all-wheel-drive, full LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming, power-folding outside mirrors, roof rails, front and rear parking sensors, acoustic front and rear door glass, perforated leather seats - cooled in front and heated in back, interior LED front row map lights, a heated steering wheel, ambient LED lighting, illuminated front cup holders, courtesy front door lighting, and wireless phone charging.
Under the hood
The Passport comes with a single engine and transmission. Powering it is an all-aluminum V6 with cylinder deactivation technology that delivers 280 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm.
AWD models feature Honda’s Variable Torque Management System that in extreme low-traction situations – think mud, ice or loose grave - drivers can lock the rear differential for additional traction via a button on the console, and keep it locked up to 18 miles per hour.
However, lacking a hybrid variant, fuel economy numbers across the lineup are mediocre. Despite being equipped with stop-and-go technology and a 9-speec automatic transmission programmed for second-gear starts under light load, FWD models only manage an EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon in the city, 25 on the highway, and 22 combined, while AWD versions eke out a slightly less impressive EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 24 highway, and 21 combined.
Looking at the competition, FWD versions of the Ford Edge (albeit with a 250hp 2.0 liter turbo 4-cylinder) and Toyota Highlander eclipse those numbers with an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city, 29 highway, and 24 combined, while the Highlander Hybrid dominates the class with an EPA-estimated 36 mpg city, 35 highway, and 36 combined.
On (and off) the road
The Passport offers a composed, comfortable, well-controlled ride, even over the bumpy, pothole-scarred highways and byways that Michigan typically serves up this time of year. Acceleration is brisk, and the engine exhibits near-luxury levels of refinement, even at full throttle. The acoustic glass keeps wind and road noise at bay, while the suspension does a nice job of isolating road or tire noise from cabin occupants. Body lean is minimal, the brakes offer nice stopping power, and the steering is quick, responsive, and nicely weighted.
Honda’s Traction Management system on front-wheel-drive models offers two settings – Normal and Snow, while all-wheel-drive models feature two additional modes – Mud and Sand. On either model, settings are changed via a button in the transmission cluster on the center console.
While FWD versions can tow up to 3,500 pounds and offer 7.5 inches of ground clearance, models with AWD are clearly the more capable off-road, considering the wider selection of traction modes, a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds, 8.1 inches of ground clearance, and better approach and departure angles.
But realistically, inveterate off-roaders would be far better served elsewhere, as the low-profile tires and polished alloy wheels are magnets for rock damage, while the lack of a low-range transfer case knocks the Passport out of contention for hard-core bouldering and mountain climbing.
In addition, Honda’s massaging of the 9-speed transmission remains a work in progress. Aside from the somewhat odd 4-pad push-button interface that takes a bit of practice and the second gear start in most situations – new last year – that cured many of the low-end issues, the occasional hunt for the proper gear at higher speeds still mars what should be a premium feel.
2020 Honda Passport prices, including a $1120 destination charge, begin at $33,110 for a front-wheel-drive Sport and top out at $44,900 for the AWD-only Elite – a figure which matched that of our Obsidian Blue Pearl tester.
The Bottom Line
Lacking extroverted styling, a hybrid version, and a low-range transfer case, this midsize Honda crossover is hardly everyone's cup of tea. On the other hand, the 2020 Honda Passport brings a lot to the table including a refined ride, comfortable interior, a solid roster of advanced safety features, and good, all-around value, making it a solid choice in the midsize crossover class.