Honda Motor has delivered some daring automobiles – the early Civics with the CVCC engines stand out. The new hybrid version of the CR-V small SUV (sport-utility vehicle) is certainly intriguing, too – especially so, given that Honda has long been confused about its hybrid strategy.
Or strategies, given how many times Honda has darted here and there and everywhere when it comes to hybrids.
But I’d say that today, its most daring offering is the Passport SUV. This rig is pushing the brand right to the edge of an envelope not yet explored. Honda, it seems, wishes to take on some of the cheaper BWW everyday SUVs with the Passport. The X3 comes to mind immediately.
Which, of course, begs the question: isn’t the Acura brand the luxury side of Honda?
To explain, let me start with a number: $43,930 (freight, prep and fees included). That’s the base price of a tidy rig that Honda says in its advertising is “Your Passport to Adventure.” Pun intended, of course. The larger Honda Pilot, with seating for up to eight, starts at $43,230 — $700 less.
The starter version of BMW’s X3 goes for $48,000 – plus all sorts of extras. We’re talking about a German automaker, mind you; kitting out your car generally adds thousands and thousands to the final sticker. But you get my point.
The similarly sized Passport is within sniffing range of what is clearly a tall wagon from one of Germany’s leading luxury automakers. Maybe the leading high-volume, premium automotive brand in Germany, though Audi and Mercedes-Benz would not agree.
I can’t speak for you, but every time I take the measure of any vehicle, I start with price. And handsome and pleasant and versatile as the Passport is, I’d say it’s stretching the pricing envelope. And that’s being kind.
The irony of this might be that the Passport is essentially a shortened Pilot. Shortened in that the body is 15.2 cm shorter than the Pilot, though both share a wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) and Honda’s car-like unibody midsize light-truck platform. That the architecture on which Honda also builds the Ridgeline city pickup.
And just to be thorough, Honda Canada sells three versions, with the very fancy Touring version topping out at about $51,000. Yes, $51,000.
The base car, the Sport is perfectly well equipped, which means that unlike with the X3, you could happily settle for a rig equipped with 20-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof and even a power tailgate. As you move up, you get tings like leather upholstery and fancier alloy wheels shod with wider rubber and an ear-splitting, 10-speaker auto system.
What everyone gets, no matter what, is a 3.5-litre V-6 engine (280 horsepower) mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox. And all Passports get all-wheel drive – what Honda calls its Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) system.
Even though it’s a shorter Pilot, the cabin is big enough for large people, the windows are generous, offering an expansive view of everything all around, and the controls are generally quite intuitive.
Just to be different, the Passport has a push-button automatic transmission, which reminded me of my dad’s 1962 Rambler wagon, though less elegant. Honda has tossed the usual column or console shifter for buttons. The more expensive Passport’s have what my pa’s Rambler did not: a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Dad would have loved that wheel.
What most baby boomers will like about the Passport is the space and the high hip point. The latter makes it easier for the over-50 crowd to climb aboard. You’ll find room for four sets of golf clubs in the rear cargo area and under the cargo floor is a very clever divided space.
Yes, Honda has loaded the Passport with the standard instruments and controls you’ll find in the Pilot and Ridgeline. They’re good: a gauge cluster that’s sensible and an infotainment interface that is useful and relatively simple to operate. And the on-the-road experience is very, very pleasant – quiet enough and responsive.
Where does all this leave us: Honda, here, is targeting a somewhat upscale buyer, probably post-40, given the pricing, who does not want to dip into the German ownership experience, with its often-expensive consequences.
Where does that leave Acura and its RDX? Good question.
2019 Honda Passport Touring
Price: $50,930 (includes fees, freight and prep).
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (280 horsepower/262 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: nine-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.5 city/9.8 hwy/11.3 combined.