More than a pared-down Pilot? 2021 Honda Passport makes its case

2021 Honda Passport

What changes will make the 2021 Honda Passport different?

A lower-priced entry-level trim level would be nice, but Honda’s more likely to reissue this five-seat midsize crossover without changes for its third model year. The 2021 Passport will continue as a shortened version of the automaker’s more family-oriented three-seating-row Pilot crossover and again target a younger audience receptive to its outdoorsy image.

Passport launched for model-year 2019, was unaltered for 2020, and will continue for ‘21 with one V-6 engine and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). It provides generous passenger and cargo room, is a fine all-around performer, and comes standard with a solid array of safety features – although we’d urge Honda to make blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection available on the base Sport model for 2021.

Honda’s original Passport was a rebadged version of the five-passenger Isuzu Rodeo, produced over two design generations from 1993-2002. Today’s iteration is gives Honda a rival to other two-row midsize crossovers, such as the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Note that evaluations in this review are based on test drives of the 2019 Honda Passport. No changes to the 2020 model alter our subjective conclusions. In areas where the ’21 might be different, however, we reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

With nothing of vital importance apt to change for model-year 2021, buying a 2020 Passport is a canny decision that could save you money. In fact, if your Honda dealer has leftover 2019 models, consider one of those as well. Indeed, don’t expect this well-executed crossover to change much beyond a new color choice or two until its midcycle freshening, likely for model-year 2023.

Look for the ’21 Passport to return in four levels of trim: base Sport, better-equipped EX-L, luxury Touring, and flagship Elite. The Elite would return with AWD only. Unlike other Honda crossovers — the subcompact HR-V, compact CR-V, and midsize Pilot — Passport has not yet offered an entry-level LX variant. Don’t count on one anytime soon.

“Passport’s demographic is a bit different than that of CR-V and Pilot,” a Honda spokesman told CarPreview. “They’re looking for more rugged styling but also a premium interior…For that reason, it made sense to limit the trim offerings to those that best fit this particular customer’s needs.”

Chances are perhaps better than Honda would consider introducing a front-wheel-drive Elite for Sun Belt customers who want all the flagship’s luxury and convenience features but don’t necessarily need all-weather capability.

Will the styling be different?

Not until the midcycle freshening. Even then, Passport will continue to look very much like what it is — a cut-down version of the Pilot. Grille, headlights, and side profile are very similar. And both share the same wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles). The Passport’s body is 6 inches shorter bumper to bumper, though, and it’s an inch taller overall, reflecting its extra measure of ground clearance. (Passport has 8.4 inches of clearance with AWD and 7.8 with front-drive; all Pilots have 7.3 inches.)

Passport’s extra height makes entry and egress slightly more challenging than on most rivals, but it doesn’t take long to get acclimated to the climb. Once situated behind the wheel, analog fuel and engine-temperature gauges flank an LCD screen that display a digital speedometer and virtual tachometer. The latter can be switched off completely if the driver so chooses.

Sport grades get a small-for-the-class 5-inch touchscreen for audio functions and a single USB charging port. Stepping up to the EX-L nets two rear-seat USB ports and an 8-inch display with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. The bigger display is responsive to user inputs, but some of the virtual buttons are on the small side, requiring a precise press to activate. The large font used is a blessing for the slightly near-sighted, but it also means that only four radio presets can be accessed at any one time, rather than the five to six that you’ll find on most other vehicles.

Seat comfort is first rate no matter where you sit. Passport’s tall build means outstanding headroom, even beneath the housing of the power sunroof that’s standard on all but the Sport. The rear seats can slide fore and aft to benefit passenger or cargo volume. Passport leads its competitive set in the latter department with 41.2 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 77.9 with them folded. Roomy under-floor bins further enhance this crossover’s outstanding practicality.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The 2021 Passport will again borrow its sole engine from the Pilot: a 3.5-liter V-6 with 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. All models get the 9-speed automatic transmission that on the Pilot is exclusive to the top two trim levels. Gear selection is via a column of buttons on the center console. The layout saves some space versus a conventional shift lever but takes some time to get used to and a long time to become second nature.

Despite being a half-foot shorter than the Pilot, Passport is less than 100 pounds lighter. As such, acceleration is very similar. The engine prefers to deliver power in a smooth, linear manner instead of jumping off the line. An Eco button on the dashboard softens throttle response and dials back accessories to benefit fuel economy. The programming is very aggressive, so we left this function disabled for most of our review time.

With sure-footed cornering and composed high-speed cruising, Passport’s road manners reflect the athleticism built into most every Honda. But we don’t believe it’s quite as athletic as the Pilot. We attribute this somewhat surprising conclusion mostly to its taller build and steering that gives up some road feel to its larger sibling.

Don’t anticipate a Passport analog to the 300-plus-horsepower Blazer RS or Edge ST, both of which are significantly more expensive than the Honda. Against mainstream versions of any competitor, however, you’ll find Passport plenty satisfying to drive every day.

This is no back-country warrior, but that relatively generous ground clearance, along with a terrain-mode selector accessible through the dashboard screen, will again give AWD Passports more off-road ability than a Blazer, Edge, or Murano can muster. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is still king of the trail in this segment, but it tends to cost more than the Honda when comparably equipped.

Active Noise Cancellation is standard across the board, and Honda’s implementation is outstanding. The engine sounds great, and no unwanted wind or road noise intrudes into the cabin. Modestly sized wheels and tires are a Honda tradition, but all 2021 Passports will again come standard with 20-inch alloys and relatively low-profile all-season tires. Rolling stock this size can be detrimental ride quality, but not here; expect the ’21 Passport to take bumps in stride, even on heavily cratered roads like those we traversed during our review period.

Will fuel economy improve?

Very unlikely, and probably only if Honda releases an entry-level Passport with smaller wheels and tires.

With that unlikely for model-year ’21, expect 2021 Passport EPA ratings of 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 19/24/21 mpg with AWD. Our AWD Elite review sample returned 22.3 mpg in our suburban test loop. All Passports use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

Only if Honda opts to add an LX grade to the lineup, but that model would have less content than the Sport. Expect all 2021 Passports to again come standard with the Honda Sensing safety suite comprised of lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, adaptive radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and automatic high-beam headlights.

Blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection has not been offered on the Sport but has been standard otherwise. This driver assist is standard on even the least expensive versions of many other Honda vehicles, and we believe it ought to be here, too.

All ’21 Passports will again come standard with LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, keyless entry, pushbutton ignition, remote engine start, and three-zone automatic climate control. The EX-L will again add leather upholstery, heated front seats, 10-way power driver’s seat with two-position memory, 8-inch infotainment screen, CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, power rear liftgate, and manual rear side-window sunshades.

Expect the 2021 Passport Touring to again include full LED headlights, a hands-free power rear liftgate, imbedded GPS navigation, HondaLink telematics, built-in mobile hotspot, upgraded audio system, heated outboard rear seats, front- and rear-obstacle detection. The range-topping Elite would continue to add rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and a wireless smartphone charger.

Will 2021 prices be different?

Count on them to rise along with year-over-year model inflation. Estimated base prices here include a Honda destination fee figured to be around $1,050.

With front-wheel drive, estimated base price is $34,000 for the 2021 Passport Sport, $38,300 the EX-L, and $41,000 for the Touring. Look for AWD to again be a $1,900 option on those models. The 2021 Elite probably will remain AWD only and start around $45,500.

Honda does not offer any factory packaged or standalone options. Any extra-cost items for the ’21 Passport will again come in the form of dealer-installed accessories. For example, expect the Adventure Package and Urban Package to consist of assorted dress-up items that range in price from $900-$3,856, depending on trim level and buyer preference.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2021 Honda Passport release date in winter 2020.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]