Honda brings new Passport to New England

MIDDLEBORO, Mass. — The media coverage may be all things electric-powered or autonomous operating, however the sales charts and the industry dialogue is all about crossovers and how they are dominating sales, production and consumers’ preferences. Honda is extending its reach into this category with a new two-row, midsize crossover that resurrects a name from one of the brand’s earliest SUV offerings — the Passport.

Essentially a Honda Pilot that was left in the dryer too long, the 7-inch-shorter Passport uses the same chassis, powertrain and front interior as the 3-row Pilot. Buyers will gain a revised I-VTM4 all-wheel drive system with three drive modes for off-road use, a much larger rear cargo area (that includes a “basement” space for wet or dirty gear), plus all Passport models — Sport, EX-L, Touring, Elite — ride on 20-inch wheels on a fully independent suspension that offers 1-inch-more ground clearance than the Pilot. Add some black out trim, distinct fascia panels and variations of the 20-inch wheels, and voila — a new crossover.

Using the brand’s 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6, plus Honda’s new nine-speed automatic transmission (with the same vexing console push-button shifter actions), the Passport is quick. EPA estimates range from 19/25/22 mpg depending upon trim or FWD or AWD status, while properly equipped models can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Honda’s extensive Sensing Suite of safety and electronic driving aids — braking assist, on-road mitigation assist, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise, auto high-beams — is standard across the lineup, as is Apple/Android functionality, 8-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity, plus wireless phone charging. Honda claims best-in-class interior space, with a humungous rear cargo hold where the Pilot’s rear seats might have been.

Competition includes Chevy’s new Blazer, Ford’s Edge, the latest Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan’s Murano and the elephant in the room — the top-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee. Pricing for the Passport starts at $31,990 for a front-drive Sport. Add $1,900 for AWD and $1,045 for destination fee. Top Elite trim rings in at $44,725 with sunroofs, heated leather, top-end audio system and all of the bells.

A quick drive revealed responsive, dependable Honda operating traits plus a spacious cabin. Honda has restored a volume knob to the touchscreen, but still lacks a station tuning selector as the market has requested. Excellent packaging creates countless storage pockets.

Along with the new Passport, Honda brought two copies of the updated Civic, which has been freshened for 2019. Honda is determined to continue building the cars that America wants — the Civic and the Accord — despite Chrysler, GM and Ford essentially abandoning the segment.

Also on the evening’s agenda was an insightful presentation by Michelle Krebs from Cox Automotive, an industry research and content development firm that monitors trends and conducts focus studies for various automakers. Her wide-ranging talk covered the rapid ascent of crossovers and how cars have been kicked to the curb as buyers’ expectations have shifted.

From uber-luxury class customers at Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini to Chevy, Honda and Ford drivers, crossovers are king right now. And the automakers are not unhappy about building these hyper-profitable products either as they face mandated efforts to soon build thousands of EVs that remain minuscule selling products — especially in markets after any tax incentives are removed or exhausted.

When asked what will be next — with American families (and elsewhere) moving from sedans to station wagons to minivans to SUVs to crossovers — Michelle was hesitant to commit. One writer speculated that perhaps today’s CUVs are becoming (or will become) more City Utility Vehicles, (lighter, smaller, more nimble for tight city spaces) while SUVs are fast becoming Suburban Utility Vehicles (more tow ready, more rugged for off-roading and different seasonal driving needs), a hint of which is occurring in some of the latest luxury class compact crossovers from Lexus, Volvo and other automakers.

In our current crop of crossovers, it should not be forgotten that Toyota and Honda led the shift from five-door hatchbacks to compact crossovers with the first RAV4 and CR-V just over 20 years ago. Less than 10 years ago, Porsche, the venerable German sports car maker with rich margins and a committed, loyal customer base, introduced its first crossover/SUV in the midsize Cayenne. Despite howls of protest, Porsche is now a stronger, more viable automaker with SUVs in the lineup, of which there will soon be four.

In this wide-ranging discussion with New England’s automobile media, not one mention came up about electric vehicles superseding crossovers. Zero. There remains great skepticism about any predicted wave of EVs sweeping the market, at least at current pricing levels combined with the general lack of available recharging networks to serve any rapidly expanding EV fleet.

Passport and Civic are two winners from Honda as the brand continues to forge its own path forward. Honda loyalists will embrace the latest offerings.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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