New Car/Review

Honda

The Honda Passport EX
For the Rugged Individualist

by Larry Weitzman

Honda Full Line factory footage (16:28) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

The Passport is Honda's first foray into the true sport ute category of motor vehicles. The smaller four cylinder CR-V is a refined sport cute of unibody construction, whereas this Passport is a body on frame, V-6 powered 4X4 brute, designed for going anywhere. A real sport ute.

The V-6 is a modern design. It is a 75-degree, double overhead camshaft (DOHC) 24 valve unit that puts out oodles of power. 205 hp at 5,400 rpm and a strong 214 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,000 rpm. This engine can be driven through a 5-speed manual (LX model only) or a 4-speed automatic. However, if you want the luxury features of leather and other touches, you must choose the EX model and that only comes with automatic.

Perform is what the Honda does best. It runs with the best of them. The Passport knocks off 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds. Not a world beater, but certainly respectable and it actually feels more responsive than the times would indicate. Its passing times indicate this obvious responsiveness. 50-70 takes an average of 5.6 very quick seconds. Going up a steep freeway grade slows the Honda to 9.0 seconds. These are excellent times for a 4,000 pound midsize sport ute. The engine's low rpm torque curve really makes itself felt.

Fuel mileage I obtained was better than the EPA predicts. I averaged approximately 20 mpg during my test period in El Dorado county with two runs to Sacramento and a lot of time spent burying the left pedal. Free revving, quick motors like this are hard to stay out of. The EPA estimates are 16/20 mpg, but 20 mpg is easily approachable in El Dorado County. The Passport comes with a 21 gallon fuel tank which gives you plenty of range for going far off road and great long distance cruising.

Okay so it quick, but what about the rest of the truck. The Passport has a rugged look to it, with fender blisters, cleans lines, standard fog lights and a roof rack. The forward slant of the "C" pillar and rear glass gives an aggressive stance to an otherwise muscular body. It sits up high on some huge 245/70X16 Goodyear Wranglers on a set of 16X7 good looking 8 spoke alloy wheels. The view of the road is commanding from the driver' seat.

The overall size is 184.1 inches which puts it 4 inches smaller than an Explorer, about two inches longer than a Grand Cherokee, nearly identical in size to a Blazer and a few inches bigger than both a Forerunner or Pathfinder. Cargo capacity is 81 cubic feet, again smaller than the Explorer and slightly larger than the rest of the mid size sport utes. The spare tire resides outside on the rear tailgate. This gives a large flat area available for storage and cargo behind the rear seats.

Inside, the Honda is all business. Not as plush as some other sport utes (at least in the non leather EX model I tested), the Honda provides comfortable seating for five. The front buckets are large and firm, maybe a little too firm, but not uncomfortable. they are manually adjustable with a recline feature for the seat back.

The rear 60/40 split bench is also reasonably pleasant, with plenty of leg room. The center section is a comfortable perch for the middle passenger and there is almost no center tunnel to get in the way of feet. Both passengers get grab handles and the operation of dropping the rear seats to make a flat floor is an easy ten-second job. The rear tailgate is a two piece affair. The rear window lifts up and the lower portion opens as a door from the right. It allows direct access without a drop down tailgate getting in the way, but hauling plywood or long objects don't get the benefit of a tailgate as well as a tailgate's primary use as a seat when camping.

The entire interior is covered in a durable, thick soft cloth, which is warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The door panels also get the same material, but with little padding to make the door panels soft.

The dash is straight forward and well laid out. The pod in front of the driver contains a large tach (red line is 6,250 rpm) and a 125 mph speedo with a smaller temp and fuel gauge left and right. The tach and speedo are split by a gear indicator, a nice feature. To the left of the pod are three switches, one for electronic control of the four wheel drive shift on the fly system, the other two are for cruise control and the fogs. To the right are three switches for the rear window wiper, washer and defroster.

In the center of the dash and vertical part of the console are the A/C vents with the simple to understand controls underneath. Below is the am/fm stereo cassette with six speakers. The center console has the gearshift and to the right another shifter for the 4 wheel high/low. Underneath the center armrest is storage and cupholders. This sport ute comes standard with power windows (the rear windows go all the way down), locks, adjustable steering column and even lighted vanity mirrors.

The purpose of a sport ute is to be a go anywhere, reasonably good handling machine. The variable assist rack and pinion steering is predictable, with moderate understeer. Turning circle is a tight 38 feet. Maneuverability is the key word.

The Honda is suspended with independent double wishbone in front and a live axle with coil springs in the rear. The ride is firm but smooth. Ponderosa Road was not unpleasant with little jarring and a reasonable job was done absorbing the washboard surface and bumps. I was expecting worse. The rear end stayed planted in the bumpy corners.

Green Valley Road was a breeze. You can push this sport ute hard in the corners. Understeer will become apparent, but the handling is nimble and sure. The twisties of Apple Hill offered no problem for the Passport. It is fun to drive.

The freeway ride does not exhibit any of the bobbing and weaving that you might expect from a sport ute with big tires and wheels. It is smooth and tar strips are not felt.

Off road, the Passport handled steep gravel dirt roads with plenty of ruts with ease. Shifting into four-wheel drive wasn't even necessary as the rear axle has standard limited slip. The traction was excellent. 4X4 traction will probably become necessary only when in mud, snow and ice, otherwise two-wheel drive limited slip will probably do the job.

The brakes are front and rear discs with antilock. The pedal feel was excellent and the stops were sure and straight.

The Passport is sold without any factory options. The dealer can do some customizing with brush guards or in dash 6 disc C/D changer but the Passport I tested stickered for $29,515 with destination. It had everything but a C/D changer and leather. A leather model is available for a $1,000 more.

A two wheel drive LX with a five speed, which comes standard with power windows and locks and other niceties lists for $23,265. A LX four-wheel drive automatic lists for $27,565.

The Passport presents Honda's alternative to the popular world of sport utes and acquits itself well with the competition.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                     $23,265 to $30,515
Engine
   3.2L DOHC, 24 valve                    205  hp @ 5,400 rpm
                                          75 degree V-6214 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm
Transmissions
                                          5 speed manual
                                          4 speed electronically 
                                          controlled automatic
Transfer Case
                                          2 speed with electronic 
                                          shift on the fly.
                                          Maximum speed in 4 wheel high
                                          is 65 mph.

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                                 106.4  inches
Length                                    184.1  inches
Width                                     70.4   inches
Height                                    68.8   inches
Ground Clearance                          8.2    inches
Curb Weight                               3926   pounds
Fuel Capacity                             21.1   gallons
Tow Capacity                              4,500  pounds

PERFORMANCE

0-60                                      8.9    seconds
50-70                                     5.6    seconds
50-70 uphill                              9.0    seconds
Top Speed                                 Faster than you will ever 
                                          want to go, but well in excess
                                          of 100 mph
Fuel Economy                              EPA 16/20 mpg city/highway.  My
                                          estimate is near 20 in El Dorado 
                                          County and 22 plus on the highway

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