If you bought an SUV back in the 1990s, you might be familiar with the first Honda Passport.
When SUVs were becoming ubiquitous on American streets but Honda had not yet developed one as the company worked out a deal with truck maker Isuzu to sell the Rodeo SUV under the Honda Passport name. (In exchange, Isuzu got to sell the Honda Odyssey minivan as the Oasis.)
Honda discontinued the Passport in 2002 to focus on its compact CR-V and eight-passenger Pilot crossovers. But except for the short-lived and unsuccessful Accord Crosstour liftback, the company mostly ignored the midsize five-passenger segment.
For 2019, Honda has reintroduced the Passport to fill that hole in its lineup. But unlike the old truck-like Passport or the style-focused segment norm, this new Passport is a highly sensible model with generous interior space, huge windows and a smooth ride.
Honda created the Passport by lopping about six inches off the back of the Pilot and tweaking some styling details. The company hopes the changes will be enough to woo buyers who found the roomy, bland Pilot to be too much like a minivan. Prices start at $33,035, which is a little bit more than the base Pilot, but that is due to extra standard features; comparably equipped, the Passport is a few thousand dollars less than its sibling.
The Passport’s stubbier length gives the vehicle unexpectedly endearing proportions, looking like a boxy SUV instead of a tall car. At the same time, the Passport benefits from the Pilot’s family-function design with a ridiculously roomy interior, though it does not have a sporty or luxurious vibe.
Passenger and cargo space are both best in class, and the cabin is packed with cubbies and cup holders. The front passengers feel acres away from each other, as in a full-size SUV, and the rear seat easily fits three across with ample legroom and a flat floor.
For better or for worse, the Passport also drives like a Pilot: smooth, quiet and effortless, generally polished to perfection without much excitement. It is wider than most competitors, which helps interior volume but makes the Passport a bit awkward in tight quarters.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine packs a healthy 280 horsepower but uses that strength to feel effortless more than eagerly vigorous. Gas mileage is competitive at 22 mpg in mixed driving, with front-wheel-drive and 21 mpg with all-wheel-drive; the tested all-wheel-drive Passport did beat EPA ratings to average about 25 mpg in a week of driving.
Overall, the Passport brings ultra-useful sensibility to a segment where key competitors like the Nissan Murano, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet Blazer are focused more on style, luxury or some. Like the Pilot, it is a smooth, spacious, mild-mannered minivan dressed like an SUV; the Passport just wears more convincing camouflage.
Contrast the boxy Pilot to the 2019 Nissan Murano, which we also tested recently. It exudes luxury, with its flowing lines that show off its non-utility focus. It has less cargo room than the Passport, or even Nissan’s compact Rogue, and you do not get open-air visibility. But no one is going to mistake the Murano for a 2.5-kids family car.
That is not to say the Murano is not also a useful midsize crossover. Any SUV-type vehicle this size is going to have a decently-sized interior, both for passengers and cargo. It is just that Nissan focused on design first, cubic feet second.
The current-generation Murano debuted back in 2015, but it just got fresh updates for 2019 that include styling and mechanical tweaks and a new infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. And you can now buy extra-plush, quilt-patterned leather upholstery, which makes a dazzling first impression when you open the door.
On the road, though, the Murano feels its age. Even compared to the bigger, wider Passport, the Murano has no sporty moves. Its powerful V6 engine makes more of a moan than a roar, and its steering can feel unnatural. The dashboard’s design and build quality also show their age if you start to look at the stylish Murano against a true luxury SUV, though it remains competitive in its own class.
The Murano does boast excellent fuel economy for a V6-powered crossover: 23 miles per gallon in mixed driving with either front- or all-wheel-drive. But if the Murano’s elegant aesthetics are not enough to win your heart, key competitors offer more for the money overall. Prices start at $32,415.
Shop the Passport and Murano against the flashy but pricey Chevrolet Blazer (which we are testing this week and will write more about soon); the well-rounded but less visually dazzling Ford Edge; the bargain-priced Hyundai Santa Fe; the comfortable and affordable but less-than-speedy Subaru Outback; and the off-road-ready Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for a spacious interior without demanding an ultra-quiet ride and powerful engine, check out extra-roomy compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. And if you are looking for refinement without needing maximum space, the Chevrolet Equinox and its GMC Terrain twin might be a great fit.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-passport to see more photos of the tested 2019 Honda Passport and visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-murano to see more photos of the tested 2019 Nissan Murano.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.