2020 HONDA PASSPORT

Instead of dropping major coin on a chunky off-roader that rides like a covered wagon, the 2020 Honda Passport provides the pleasure without the pain.

It's a model that the automaker claims is as comfortable tackling pavementless terra flrma as it is cruising down the freeway.

Stretch your memory back a few decades and you might recall the Passport as a near copy of the Isuzu Rodeo utility vehicle that Honda sold from 1993 until 2002. This time around, the Honda Pilot serves as the Passport's template.

For the conversion, Honda shrank the overall length by a bit more than 6 inches. All of the reduction is aft of the rear wheels so there's not enough space to accommodate a third-row seat, which the Pilot has. Unchanged, however, is the distance between the front and rear wheels, which means that those seated in the second row still have the same amount of legroom.

The Passport is more than just a junior Pilot, however. Honda uses the term "dual adventure" to describe the new model's ability to travel on and off the road. To prove the point, the product planners mapped a media-drive test route that extended well into the rugged red-rock wilderness of Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. There, the extra 0.8 inches of ground clearance (compared with the Pilot) for all-wheel-drive models, and standard 20-inch rubber increased capability, aided by retuned shocks, quicker-ratio steering gear and reduced brake-pedal travel.

The Passport wears an aggressive front clip that sets it apart from the Pilot's mostly conservative shape. A steeper rear-window angle also adds a bit more sportiness to the design.

Base price:$33,000, including destination fees

Engine:3.5-liter SOHC V-6 (280)

EPA rating (city/highway):20/25/22 (FWD)

The cabin, with its straightforward dashboard, control panel and touchscreen, is identical to the Pilot in virtually every respect. Some might decry the lack of an actual transmission shifter, but the replacement buttons are super-easy to use, they help de-clutter the floor console and improve access to the deep-dish storage bin.

In back, a sizable amount of space beneath the load floor (adjacent to the spare tire) is perfect for hiding all manner of valuables and is also a perfect spot for wet or soiled clothing and footwear.

Being Pilot-based, the Passport uses the same 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Working through a nine-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive Passports are rated at 20 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 22 combined.

All-wheel-drive versions score only slightly lower at 19/24/21. The system can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and 100 percent to the outside rear wheel while turning, which helps rotate the vehicle (known as torque vectoring).

The AWD's traction-management system has driver-selectable Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand settings. Each can vary the throttle, transmission and torque distribution, depending on surface conditions, to maximize grip. For all but extreme conditions, the default Normal setting should keep you from getting stuck.

Like the Pilot, the Passport is capable of towing up to 5,000 pounds, which is as good as or better than most competitors.

Pricing starts at $33,100 for the base front-wheel-drive Sport (including destination charges). That fee includes tri-zone climate control, power driver's seat with power lumbar support, and a full list of dynamic safety technology to help prevent collisions. Emergency braking and lane-departure warning are standard.

The remaining EX-L, Touring and Elite levels notch up the content significantly, putting the Passport firmly in luxury territory.

Unquestionably, Honda has succeeded in putting plenty of "sport" in the Passport. If your recreational activities extend to traveling deep into the hinterland, tackling rock-strewn pathways or kicking up desert sand, this one has your back.

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