If you’re not familiar with the Honda Passport name, you’re probably not alone.
It was first used back in the 1990s, but that original version was never sold on this side of the border, with the Canadian market instead getting the Isuzu Rodeo on which it was based. It was a lot like the Nissan Pathfinder in both style and substance, with all kinds of capability baked right in.
The Passport name made its way back to the lineup back in 2019, only this time it was destined for Canadian dealers, too. It just so happened to be a hit, with the chunky mid-size crossover that shares its mechanicals with the three-row Pilot proving spacious, smooth, and loaded with stuff.
Not much has changed after a couple years on the market, with the 2021 Honda Passport showcasing an adventure-ready look and seating for five.
The Honda Passport might not be a styling standout in this class of boxy five-seat crossovers, but it does come across as chunky and purposeful, sporting upright dimensions, a tall greenhouse, and a stance that’s 40 mm (1.6 in) higher than its big brother Pilot. There’s no garish chrome grille here. The only visual clues for this top-tier Touring model are its gloss-black 20-inch alloys and gloss-black bumper garnish made to look like a skid plate. With this dark blue paint, the black wheels essentially disappear. Understated, or uninspired? That’s your call to make.
While the two lowest trim levels (Sport and EX-L) go without blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, they get Honda’s camera-based system that provides a live look at what’s happening on the passenger side of the vehicle on the infotainment display. The top Touring trim skips that in favour of sensor-based blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, which joins the list of standard items including automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. All Passport models also get an automatic emergency response notification system that works in the event of a collision.
The all-wheel drive system that’s standard in Canada (the American market gets some front-wheel-drive trims) primarily sends the majority of torque to the front wheels, but if conditions dictate it can send as much as 70 per cent rearward, while a torque-vectoring system can distribute the juice left or right.
Outward visibility is excellent thanks to the commanding seating position and massive greenhouse.
Practicality is where the five-seat Passport shines. Up front is a plethora of clever storage spots (large glovebox, deep front door pockets, massive centre console bin), and behind the rear 60/40-split rear seat is a class-leading 1,430 L of storage, accessed by a powered hatch with remote foot activation on the top trim. Lifting the floor reveals more storage underneath. Fold the second row and it opens up a flat-floored coliseum of storage.
The Touring gets a 115-volt power outlet in addition to the three 12-volt outlets, plus a wireless charging pad. Roof rails are standard and maximum towing capacity for the Passport is 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
User Friendliness: 8/10
The 2021 Passport generally scores well for logical ergonomics and easy familiarity. The eight-inch touchscreen that sits at the top of the centre console is angled for easy viewing and access. Graphics are crisp and the menu structure is easy to decipher. The navigation screen responds well to swipe and pinch inputs.
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There is a volume knob, but the lack of tuning knob makes scanning radio stations a slow and distracting process. However, the voice command function works well. Kudos to Honda for offering easy-to-use buttons and toggle switches for HVAC functions, including for both seat heat and ventilation in the top trim. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well and pairing a phone is a breeze.
Initially, the odd array of buttons for gear selection on the centre console is a bit off-putting, but with use it becomes second nature. Still, it’s not the best solution, as it requires a glance in order to direct your finger to the right button.
The gauge cluster includes a clear, seven-inch information digital screen to augment the gauges. Another handy feature is the capless fuel filler.
This being the top-tier model, the Passport Touring is not wanting for much. Soft leather abounds, and the front seats are both heated and ventilated. Rear outboard passengers get seat heat as well, and of course the steering wheel is heated.
Unique to the Touring is navigation, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, interior ambient lighting, and a 10-speaker audio system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard across the Passport range.
A button just aft of the shift selector array accesses four drive modes – normal, snow, mud, and sand. There is also a sport mode that calls up a more aggressive shift pattern.
The driver’s seat gets 10-way power adjustment with lumbar and memory settings. The passenger seat makes do with either four-way manual or power adjustment, depending on trim. Overhead is a modestly sized sunroof.
Doing duty here is Honda’s ubiquitous 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddles shifters. This engine operates with linearity and smoothness, but lacks the midrange turbocharged punch of many of its rivals.
Nonetheless, once past 3,000 rpm the V6 pulls with racy enthusiasm. The green eco mode button on the dash dulls throttle response in the name of saving fuel, but all it does is make you mash the throttle harder just to get the big SUV on the move. Normal mode seems fine for day-to-day driving. Select sport mode via the drive button and the transmission switches to a more aggressive program, keeping the revs higher, and offering quicker response to paddle shifter inputs.
Combine the Passport’s rock-solid structure with all the Touring’s amenities and you arrive at a convincing near-luxury experience. It’s an impressively hushed cabin, with very little wind and road noise intruding at highway speeds. Check the specs and you see all Passport variants are fitted with sound-cancelling technology. The second-tier EX-L gets acoustic front side glass and our Touring benefits from the addition of an acoustic windshield.
The Passport’s ride quality is impressively compliant and quiet, absorbing most impacts with little fuss. Factor in the comfy front seats and you have a low-stress crossover. Second-row passengers benefit from similarly cushy seats that both recline and slide, and this being a wide vehicle for its class, three can travel in the second row with minimal discomfort.
Driving Feel: 8/10
As with most Honda products, the big Passport shows fine driving dynamics. Indeed, there are more sporty alternatives on the market, but with the Passport Honda engineers have arrived at an expert balance of comfort and engagement, the latter highlighted by direct, natural-feeling steering. There’s a fair bit of body roll if you attack a corner with too much gusto, but through it all the handling feels secure and progressive.
If you’re feeling frisky, the Passport will play along in sport mode. The shift paddles respond quick enough to make flicking through the gears and keeping that revvy V6 engine on the boil almost fun. Under all circumstances this roomy SUV feels refined, poised, and well engineered.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
With an official fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100 km city, 9.8 highway, and 11.3 combined, the 2021 Honda Passport sits about mid-pack for the segment. A week of mixed driving – using eco mode about half the time and generally keeping my loafer out of the footwell – netted a decent 10.1 L/100 km. The Passport takes regular-grade fuel.
With a list price of $50,970 before freight and taxes, this top-tier Passport Touring represents decent value considering its equipment level, but at this price some buyers might want a more upscale interior environment. Plus, the fact that only the Touring gets standard auto-levelling full LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, or full blind-spot information and rear cross-traffic alert is a tough pill to swallow. Recent pressure from Hyundai in the form of the refreshed Santa Fe is not good news for any automaker when looking at that crossover’s fetching style, interior appointments, and unbeatable warranty.
Indeed, the five-seat SUV playground is not a friendly place, but the 2021 Honda Passport is a strong offering that rises to the top of the fray. Its class-leading interior dimensions and robust V6 give it a leg up, and here in Touring trim, the Passport’s inherently comfortable ride and fine dynamics are enhanced by upscale fittings. It’s a quality, well-engineered piece that should be on anyone’s shopping list.