Update 4/14/22: This review has been updated with test results.
You can’t kick a rock these days without hitting some kind of off-road-oriented SUV—maybe a reborn Hummer or a Ford Bronco, maybe just a Subaru Forester with a factory lift kit. You might even land a Honda, even if the big Japanese H company is better known for accuracy on the road than dirt-throwing tricks, at least when it comes to passenger vehicles. Honda wants to change that thinking, and is tiptoeing the scene as it ramps up a batch of rigs under the new TrailSport banner, the first being the 2022 Passport.
The TrailSport is self-explanatory. It’s being entered as a new mid-tier variant within the updated Passport lineup, a $43,695 offering that sits above the base EX-L model now and below the high-spec Elite. (Honda’s larger three-row Pilot gains a similar TrailSport variant for the new model year.) Except for a few minor equipment upgrades, that’s still the same passport we put on not long ago. However, a new hood, modified front and rear bumpers, and a leaky grille help address one of our main complaints from this long-term test: a rather inoffensive design that makes it all too easy to lose a passport in a Costco parking lot.
Passport’s TrailSport is processed mostly on stage, and includes a glossy black grille and badges, as well as orange TrailSport logos. The orange look extends inside, with contrast stitching and embroidered headrests to spruce up the sensible, stone-brushed cabin, which doesn’t quite match the level of elegance of the latest Accord and Civic models. Model-specific fenders with false skid plate inserts are also included, as are 18-inch wheels with a larger offset that expand the Passport track by 0.4 inches (other models wear 20-inch rollers). These wheels are wrapped in 245/60R-18 Firestone Destination LE 2 all-season tires with a more aggressive shoulder tread that delivers more bite on soft ground. There is no suspension lift, unlike the TrailSport version of the Pilot, although this model has a slightly lower baseline lift. The all-wheel drive Passport has a ground clearance of 8.1 inches, is still enough to clear many smaller obstacles, and can tow up to 5,000 pounds. In terms of efficiency, the TrailSport gets the same EPA fuel economy ratings as other Passports, which remains 19 mpg city and 24 highway for the 4WD models. We averaged just 17 mpg over a two-week period with the TrailSport, and it reached 1 mpg below its federal 75 mpg highway test rating, at 23 mpg.
The off-road prowess isn’t due to Honda’s lack of experience handling dirty. The legendary Honda off-road wallpaper with dirt bikes and other sports machines needs little introduction. The company has supported the Ridgeline truck for desert racing for several years now, and Honda engineers are currently holding a primary passport in the North American Rally competition. In addition to driving the TrailSport both on and off-road, we recently rode this version of the rally and were impressed by how much it took advantage of the production mechanics. The Passport’s standard 3.5-liter V-6 continues to deliver a solid 280 horsepower and satisfying defining momentum, and it plays well with the smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic, especially if you switch the Sport mode on a still set. High heel shift buttons. Weighing in at 4,229 pounds, our test car hit 60 mph in 6.0 seconds flat and cut the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at 94 mph — plenty of momentum to send Winnebagos out on country roads. That pace also puts the Passport toward the sharp end of the midsize two-row SUV segment, slightly ahead of similarly powerful Chevy Blazer RS and Kia Sorento SX models, although it sheds a few tenths to the more powerful (and performance-oriented) Ford Edge ST.
Contrary to how the Passport’s spacious interior feels more spacious than its dimensions suggest, this mid-size crossover appears to shrink in size on the road with a responsive, well-oiled feel. Besides a chassis setup that nicely balances ride comfort and cornering forces, much of its power stems from the flexibility of the variable all-wheel drive system and torque-vectored rear axle, both of which are standard on all but the starting EX-L model, which is front-wheel drive. Depending on conditions, the system can divert up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear end and direct up to 100 percent of that grunt to either rear wheel. The TrailSport tires only marginally affect their grip metric against our tires in the long run, dropping the skateboard shape from 0.80 to 0.77g, yet it helped shave five feet off the stopping distance from 70 mph, at 184 feet. However, moving the Honda’s steering wheel off center brings a welcome boost of effort and some feel. Among everyday SUVs, the ease with which the Passport spins around tangled mountains can almost be entertaining. As welcome, the more aggressive rubber doesn’t bring additional road noise, as our test car triggered our sound meter with a reasonable 78 decibels at full throttle and 67 decibels at 70 mph.
Get out into the wild and the all-wheel drive system helps provide good traction over rough terrain, aided by four terrain management options (Normal, Snow, Sand, and Mud) for its myriad chassis and powertrains. With low-hanging fenders and no external cams or additional underbody protection, you’ll want to be careful around big rocks and deep crevices. However, navigating the light mud, modest steep inclines, and rocky paths that occasionally tilt passport on three wheels was surprisingly quiet. The Adroit’s compression and rebound tuning of the negative dampers demonstrate impressive composure over somewhat uneven terrain—and at a speed we wouldn’t have expected had it not been for our time in the rally rider. While that car’s lack of ABS or any sort of traction management technology allows it to slip with abandon, the regular model shares a lot of agility and capabilities, highlighting the Passport’s potential should Honda decide to upgrade it further.
We got a glimpse of this passport from the company’s latest Rugged Roads Project vehicle, which features a modest aftermarket lift kit, larger tires, rear-mounted parts, and a host of other wild-themed mods. For now, factory upgrades are limited to plastic fender flares, rocker-panel moldings, and new 18- or 20-inch Honda Performance Development (HPD) wheels painted in either attractive black or bronze. But Honda insists that the great TrailSport events will be dropping later this year, likely to include both new models and parts that could bring in improved suspension systems, improved four-wheel drive and stronger off-road hardware. So the current TrailSport marks the beginning of the journey, and it will be interesting to see how far Honda can go off-road.
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