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The 2019 Honda Passport is the best mid-size SUV

Key Points
  • The Passport is new for 2019, slotting between the compact CR-V and the three-row Pilot.
  • It packs a ton of useful space in a manageable package with impressive performance.
  • The Passport may not have the best infotainment or the most options, but we think it’s the best mid-size SUV out right now.
The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

On paper, the Honda Passport isn't particularly impressive. The Passport was launched to fill the "white space" in Honda's lineup between the compact CR-V and the three-row Pilot.

Compared to competitors like the Ford Edge and the Chevy Blazer, with their unique designs, it seemed like a chopped-off Pilot wouldn't be very compelling. But, with bones from its bigger brother, it's more spacious, smarter and a better value than its competition.

The Good

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

If you're going to borrow parts, borrow good ones. The Passport's powertrain, which does duty in the larger Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup truck, isn't overwhelmed by the Passport's size. The 3.5-liter V-6 produces 280 horsepower, which the nine-speed automatic handles well.

Handling, too, is surprisingly nimble for a big SUV. Steering is light and precise, never feeling bloated or ungainly like some SUVs. The ride is remarkably composed, with wind and road noise adequately hushed. I noticed some tire noise, but Honda outfitted my $44,725 Passport Elite tester with aggressive tires, blacked out wheels, skid plate, and a RoofNest pop-up tent.

That's because Honda wants this to be its adventure machine. The Passport rides higher than the Pilot and has more aggressive styling details, with the hope of wooing adventurous buyers who would otherwise defect to competitors like the Toyota 4Runner.

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Make no mistake, the Passport isn't built for hardcore rock crawling or off-roading, but it makes easy work of muddy trails to campsites. It's also cavernous inside, with tons of smart storage cubbies and charging ports to make weekend excursions more manageable.

On a two-day camping adventure in Michigan, the Passport was a great choice. The rooftop tent — a $2,595 aftermarket accessory, not a piece of official Honda gear — proved helpful for impromptu adventures, while the Passport itself was big enough to hold three people's gear while still having room for someone to sleep inside. There was no shortage of places to charge your phone, including a 110-volt household power outlet.

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

But more importantly, it also was a great way to get to the campsite. All Passports include Honda Sensing, Honda's suite of adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and traffic sign recognition. Unfortunately, though, the Passport's adaptive cruise control will deactivate at slow speeds, making it useless for stop-and-go traffic.

Our Passport Elite also packed heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a wireless charging mat, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, remote start and Honda's premium audio system. The price with all of that kit is $44,725, the top end of the Passport range. While that's not a small sum, competitors like the Ford Edge and Chevy Blazer can be optioned to over $50,000 while still not offering the usability of the Passport.

The Bad

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Despite some more aggressive trim, the Passport loos like a slightly more aggressive Pilot. If you want the toughest looking, most unique SUV, this really isn't it.

The other downside of it's Pilot lineage is that the Passport — despite being an all-new model — has some slightly older tech. The adaptive cruise control, as mentioned, does not work in traffic and the collision warning system can be a bit hyperactive.

The biggest issue is that the Passport still uses Honda's old infotainment system. You'll notice its age. The graphics are cheesy, the responses are slow and the system is far from intuitive. Your best bet is to use CarPlay or Android Auto for navigation and multimedia and then use the physical climate control buttons, essentially bypassing the rest of the system altogether.

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Honda's push-button shifter is also a point of contention. I got used to it quickly and found it easy to navigate without looking at it, but in an effort to make it usable it also got big. So big, in fact, that it doesn't seem to save any horizontal space on the center console over a traditional lever. Sure, it's shorter, but it doesn't actually free up space for anything useful.

Finally, part of the reason that Honda can offer better prices is because it doesn't offer options that complicate the production lines. You can get the Passport in a variety of trims, but there's no way to, say, get a moonroof without also having leather seats.

More importantly, the Passport simply doesn't offer some features you might want. You can't get a panoramic moonroof, there's no automatic parking and no 360-degree camera. None of that is necessary technology, but if you like gadgets like that, then Honda's value-first product strategy probably isn't for you.

How we'd option it

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The different trims are packaged well enough that it's hard to go wrong, but I see the most value in the Passport EX-L. That gets you leather, CarPlay, power seats, blind-spot monitoring, satellite radio and a moonroof for $37,505 with destination charges.

This trim still packs a lot of luxury features without requiring you to pay for things like the frustrating navigation system or the unremarkable premium audio setup. I'd add the $1,900 all-wheel drive system to make the Passport more capable during weekend adventures, which brings our total to $39,405.

Final thoughts

The 2019 Honda Passport
CNBC | Mack Hogan

These midsize crossovers exist for buyers who want more space and capability than what a Honda CR-V or Toyota Rav4 can offer. The Passport nails that mission, offering a cabin brimming with clever storage cubbies and compartments. It's also has all-wheel drive, increased ground clearance and a catalog of aftermarket accessories to make it a better weekend warrior.

The Passport is comfortable on the road and offers handling that makes the big SUV feel totally manageable. There's a lot of good features on board. Most importantly, it's priced well. It's our favorite option in the segment.

Rating:

Exterior: 3

Interior: 4

Driving Experience: 4.5

Value: 5

Overall: 4.1

Price as tested: $44,725

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