Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 20, 2023
The Honda Passport has held up nicely since its debut in 2019, and is still one of our most highly recommended mid-size SUVs for its honest driving style, handsome looks, and excellent ergonomics. It soldiers on into 2023 with the same facelift from 2022, which added a softer front end that falls in line with the Ridgeline. The new Pilot shows off an even more modern front fascia which mimics that of the new CR-V, which we might see on the Passport in the next year or two.
For those who need more room than a CR-V but not quite the size of a Pilot or a three-row SUV, the Passport is an ideal choice. Every time we get behind the wheel of one, we grow fonder of its minivan-like adjustable armrests, enormous center console cubby that can swallow up our SLR cameras, and spacious rear seat accommodations with a second row that can fold flat for a completely level cargo surface.
But for a 2023 model, the Passport is beginning to show its age with a litany of scratchy black plastics and inexpensive feeling leather, especially when you take a gander at what the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are offering for the same price. The simplistic design and polish found in the new Civic and CR-V are absent here, but the tactile buttons, clear-to-read gauges, and wealth of storage space strengthen its authenticity as a genuine SUV that isn’t playing dress up.
The Honda Passport only comes with a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 delivering 280 hp and 262 lb-ft through a 9-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. There is good power from the V6 but most of it lives on the right side of the needle, so revving its lungs out will be necessary to juice out all the pulp. Lacking that low-end boost from a turbocharged unit, the tradeoff is the Passport’s more linear and predictable power delivery. There’s a proportional relationship between the gas pedal and forward thrust, a welcome benefit for beginner drivers and purists alike. Furthermore, the Passport accelerates quicker from 0-100 km/h than the Chevrolet Blazer RS, Ford Edge Sport, and Toyota 4Runner.
The Passport drives as expected: a smaller Pilot with a firmer suspension to balance out the decapitated rear end. It’s not nearly as fun as a Mazda CX-9 when wrestling along sinuous roads, and the Passport is surprisingly not as well-damped or comfortable either, ensuring every passenger feels the larger bumps and oscillations on the road. Of note, there are four driving modes to choose from: normal, snow, sand, and mud, each of which alters the throttle sensitivity, gearbox mapping, torque vectoring, and stability control for a more versatile attitude towards all-terrain driving, and the cartoonish graphics that are displayed when scrolling through the modes is an amusing Japanese touch.
The steering carries a vague on-center feel but it’s light and precise, offering a decent amount of rotational resistance. When let go, the wheel will quickly spring back to a neutral position, much like the hydraulic steering racks of yore. In an attempt to mitigate body roll and introduce better dynamics, Honda equipped the Passport with a clever torque vectoring system, and I don’t mean the brake-based kind. This is true torque vectoring, meaning the differential can re-route 70% of the torque to the rear axle, and 100% of that torque to either the right or left wheels - you can view this distribution of power in real-time in the instrument cluster as well. This allows for better handling and traction when cornering, and you can immediately tell when carrying this bruiser on a speedy turn. It doesn’t bestow a newfound athleticism, however, and you still get a similar top-heavy lean that you would get in the Pilot.
A large V6 engine without turbochargers isn’t exactly a recipe for fuel efficiency, but the Passport makes use of clever engineering to reduce that consumption. Under light power loads, the V6 will shut off three of its cylinders and decouple the rear driveshaft. It’s still not as efficient as its smaller turbocharged rivals - we averaged 13.6 L/100km on city driving alone. But drivers can save a bit by utilizing that large green ECON button that remaps the throttle for lighter acceleration, changes the shift points in the gearbox, and alters the air conditioning to act more efficiently, but will take longer to cool the vehicle.
There are no surprises here. No drama. No funky gizmos and features that overtly appeal to millennials. Instead, the Passport is a focused automotive appliance that sticks to its roots, effectively fills the gap in Honda’s portfolio, and delivers what customers want: a spacious five-seater SUV that hauls people and cargo without fuss.
Model: 2023 Honda Passport Touring
Paint Type: Platinum White Pearl
Base Price: $55,871
Price as Tested: $56,171
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,839 / 2,115 / 1,834
Curb weight (kg): 1,914
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.6
Tires: Michelin Pilot Alpin 5; P265/50R20