New Car/Review

1998 HONDA PASSPORT EX 4X4

by Tom Hagin

honda

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 28,950
Price As Tested                                    $ 29,495
Engine Type               DOHC 24-valve 3.2 Liter V6 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                 193 cid/3165 cc
Horsepower                                   205 @ 5400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               214 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.4"/70.4"/184.1"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3943 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  21.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      245/70R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five/door
Domestic Content                                 55 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            16/20/19
0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
Max. cargo capacity                           81 cubic feet
Max. towing capacity                            4500 pounds
     * Multi-point fuel injection

Small, medium or large. For the sport utility buyer, that seems to be one of the major criteria for a purchase. Honda has all three bases covered in one way or another, be it the Honda-designed mini-SUV, the CR-V, the luxuriously large Acura SLX, or the meduim Passport.

Our test this week comes from behind the wheel of a top-line Passport EX, an all-new design that is the best Passport yet.

OUTSIDE - Passport's slim physique is accented by rippling fender bulges and a sharply raked rear pillar and tailgate. The whole package retains its original familiar shape, but it's been beveled and cut to give it a more sophisticated look. The relocation of air vents at the rear quarter windows to the wrap-around taillights help give it a less-cluttered look. Passport buyers can now choose between having the spare tire mounted on a swinging mount on the tailgate, or under the floor and out of the way. The new model is nearly eight inches longer, 2.5 inches taller and almost two inches wider than before, but the wheelbase was shortened by 2.6 inches to accomodate the under-floor location of the spare tire. Our EX test model has standard features that include alloy wheels, a power moonroof, body-color outside mirrors, a beefy roof rack, fog lights and rear privacy glass.

INSIDE - Passport's interior is roomy, and the control layout is well-planned. The front bucket seats are comfortable enough, but the short, flat seat bases don't provide enough thigh support. A long, wide center console has a pair of molded beverage holders, with one big enough to hold a one-liter bottle of water. In back, there's ample room for two across; three if necessary. To increase cargo space, the rear seat bases flip forward, then the seatbacks fall in a 60/40 split to provide a flat floor. The tailgate is also split, where the glass swings up and the gate swings out, and now While all Passport models come with items such as power windows, air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control and a powerful cassette stereo, EX models add keyless remote, woodgrain trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

ON THE ROAD - Passport powertrain choices are simple: there is just one engine and two transmissions available. The lone engine is the best yet. It's a 3.2 liter V6 with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. This all-aluminum engine uses multi-point fuel injection and direct ignition to produce and impressive 205 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. It is much smoother than any before it, and its strongest point is its ability to accelerate and pass. Acceleration is no doubt helped by that fact that Passport is now nearly 300 pounds lighter that it used to be, and the extra 15 horses and extra 26 lb-ft of torque over the previous engine. Much of this torque appears down low in the rpm range, where it comes in handy for towing and off-line launch. Four-wheel-drive activation uses a dash-mounted button to engage the front hubs and transfer gears "on the fly," while a floor lever selects high or low range. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on LX models, while an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic is standard on EX versions.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Underpinnings are new this year as well. A lightweight six-crossmember ladder-type frame serves as the backbone of the new Passport. Attached to it is a front double A-arm suspension with torsion bars for springs, and a live axle setup in back, now better controlled with a pair of upper arms, a pair of lower trailing arms and a Panhard rod. Its freeway ride is good, considering its full-frame construction, a truck-like trait, and its remarkably rugged off-road prowess. And when the road disappears and turns to trail, its undercarriage is protected by skid plates under the radiator, fuel tank and transfer case. New variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering replaces the previous model's recirculating ball setup, and now gives better on-center feel and quicker response. And all 4X4 versions feature four-wheel disc brakes with a four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) that gave us smooth, controlled stops on wet or dry pavement.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and ABS are standard.

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