Review: Honda Passport’s excellence shines through its benign demeanor

Larry Printz
Tribune News Service

Appearance no longer seems to matter much.

We live in an era where torn jeans are considered fashionable and a glamorous room is one decorated with rotted old barn wood and rusty metal tables. Today’s design aesthetic seems to be a perverse poverty chic.

This is why the 2020 Honda Passport is the perfect embodiment of today’s anti-aesthetic aesthetic.

2020 Honda Passport

Resuscitating a name first used in 1993 on a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo, the sensibly subdued Honda Passport slots between the compact CR-V and midsize three-row Pilot. Actually, it's 6.5 inches shorter than the Pilot but shares its wheelbase and overall width. But the absence of extra seating provides for a massive 41.2 cubic-foot cargo hold that expands to a minivan-like 100.7 cubic feet with the second row folded, as much as nine cubic feet less than the Pilot but still impressive. The abundant space is a result of the Passport’s sensible shape that does little to delight the eye but does much to appeal to America’s practical nature. This is a device for family duty, an automotive utility knife; the excitement it delivers is from its down-to-earth, Conestoga-like sensibility.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When it comes to family transport, the Passport’s best surprise is its lack of them.

That said, Honda is trying to pitch the Passport as more off-road worthy than its other offerings, although it’s hard to notice except for the 1.1 inches of additional ground clearance compared to the Pilot. There are no underbody skid plates, nor any of the expected driveline enhancements for serious off-roading such as hill descent control. The Passport is more an affectation for inclement weather or the occasional unpaved road.

Otherwise, the Passport performs as you’d expect it to given its genetics.

2020 Honda Passport

The 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and nine-speed automatic transmission provides for ample power delivery tempered by good fuel efficiency with none of the commotion common to a turbocharged four. In the interest of fuel economy, three of the engine’s cylinders deactivate and the rear driveshaft decouples under light loads. The test vehicle, an all-wheel-drive Elite model, uses computerized torque vectoring to send up to 70% of the powertrain’s torque between axles, and 100% between wheels for better traction while cornering.

For those who have driven the Pilot, the Passport’s ride and handling will feel familiar, with a benign buttoned-down efficiency that delivers a fairly firm ride that ably soaks up the rough stuff without undue fuss or excitement. Visibility is excellent in all directions, and seat comfort is good. Accessing the second row is easy thanks to wide door openings. Honda’s advanced safety systems are standard, and includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane keeping assist. Blind spot warning is standard on all but the base Sport trim level.

The interior is a picture of unromantically functional Honda design that’s shared with its larger sibling. Ambience is agreeable but hardly lavish given the Elite’s $44,875 price, although most buyers will choose a lower-priced model (base price is $33,085). Nevertheless, make sure you skip the base Sport model so that your Passport has all available technology, including a Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen and wireless phone charging.

The Passport’s functionality will serve any family well despite its benign demeanor, and its appearance won’t look foolish decades from now, unlike 1970s station wagons, 1980s minivans, or the barn wood accent wall you recently installed in your home.