On the Road Review: Honda Passport TrailSport

Late winter in Maine finds many rural roads suffering the vulgarities of the season. Plowed roads start to heave up as the frost goes deep under the surface, while culverts drop. Even recently paved roads crack and ice seeps in to create a vicious damage cycle. The resulting undulating surface becomes the ultimate test track for a new vehicle’s chassis.

Such were the conditions experienced by our recent Honda Passport, a midsize, two-row crossover regaled in new TrailSport trim. Add some snow, more Canadian cold, and the Honda got to experience the best (worst?) of late February in Maine.

Previously, the Passport visited in late summer 2019. Another model developed from the wide-track Odyssey minivan platform (like the Pilot and Ridgeline), the Passport acquitted itself nicely, displaying the expansive interior attributes of the Honda van — wide cabin, extremely versatile console, ample cubbies and storage bins, large, expandable cargo area and roomy rear seating. The Passport earned points for stable driving dynamics, too.

Fast forward to 2022. The built-in-Lincoln, Ala., Honda has added a new midlevel TrailSport trim, starting at $43,695 — $4,600 more than the base EX-L, which has experienced a significant price increase since its debut as the supply issues ripple through the car industry.

TrailSport includes the same powertrain as other Passports — 3.5-liter, 280-hp V-6 backed by a nine-speed automatic (EPA – 19/24/21 mpg) — plus the brand’s i-VTM4-AWD, paddle shifters, leather seating (heated bottoms up front), front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot assist, moonroof, power liftgate, remote start, navigation, triple-zone climate, forward collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, 18-inch black wheels with all-season tires, TrailSport badges and interior trim accents and more. Missing are a heated steering wheel and some kind of locking button for the AWD system, to maintain grip under the pretense of being a real TrailSport.

So, unlike some rivals wanting to be better off-roaders, the TrailSport is a visual package — no hardware changes to the Passport’s off-road capabilities over any other trim level.

The Passport is the wide body of its peer group, with the visual impression of more cabin space than Ford Edge, Chevy Blazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Santa Fe or the Kia Sorento. Overall length is mid-pack, at 189.1 inches, while wheelbase is near the lower end of the group at 110.9 inches. Power output is also mid-pack, but with peak torque output nearer the lower outputs of its rivals, at 262-pound/feet.

This is relevant only when comparing the Passport’s driving manners immediately against its competition, several of which employ turbocharging with smaller displacement motors. Turbochargers produce peak horsepower and torque low in the rev range, the sensation that we enjoy with lighter throttle pressure. The Honda’s V-6 likes to spin at higher revolutions, hence its power must be prodded with a heavier foot or acceleration can be considered lazy as the nine-speed seeks the appropriate gear. Our realized fuel economy reflects this, and the coldness of winter, barely reaching 22 mpg.

Taking several back-country hikes during the Passport’s visit, the cabin proved to be more than capable of handling snowshoes, wet boots, icy grippers and poles, as well as several weeks’ worth of dump-run detritus — all without folding the second-row seat. The golfers among us will find the Passport’s cargo bay well-suited for large bags and carts.

Remember the torture track roads mentioned above? The Honda’s ride proved to be pretty good over winter-ravaged roads; not quite as supple as our previous summer experience, but with less pounding than other vehicles on the road, as observed by their gyrations.

The Passport did, however, exhibit three episodes of “phantom braking,” where the vehicle’s automated emergency braking assist activates dash warnings, sounds an audible alarm and shakes the steering wheel in your hands when it detects a forward obstruction, which in our repeated experience with Honda’s is nonexistent. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is looking at 1.7 million Hondas that may be affected by issues with this system, due to the number of consumer complaints. Other automakers, like Tesla and Nissan, have similar investigations.

The complexity of meeting any standard for autonomous driving is daunting. While many of these electronic driving aids provide a margin of safety for some drivers, it is clear that these systems are far from perfect. The danger is getting drivers comfortable with relying on this safety net, and then it not performing as drivers pay even less attention to their vehicle’s operation.

The Passport remains a solid transportation device. The spacious, versatile cabin provides minivan-like accommodations in a two-row design that neatly fits today’s crossover craze.

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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