2022 Honda Passport TrailSport First Drive: Not There Yet

Not content to watch rivals like Subaru, Toyota, Jeep, and others rake in the dough with new off-road-oriented crossovers, Honda would like you to know it, too, has rich off-road heritage. More than 50 years of it, in fact. Pay no mind to the fact most of that rich off-road heritage occurred on two wheels, not four. Even so, with the refreshed 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport—the first vehicle of Honda’s new off-road-focused TrailSport subbrand—the automaker is giving four-wheeled off-roaders the old college try.

What’s a Passport TrailSport?

This is part of a wider midcycle update for the 2022 Passport that sees a minor face-lift and reshuffling of the lineup. But the Passport TrailSport is more of an off-road cosplay in the vein of the smaller Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road and larger Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp than a truly functional off-road upgrade like Subaru’s Outback and Forester Wilderness models, which get meaningful hardware such as all-terrain tires, suspension lifts, and skidplates. The TrailSport’s most functional upgrade is its 18-inch wheel and tire package (downsized from the standard 20s), with “rugged-style” all-season road rubber, so named because of its decorative off-roady tread blocks on the outside rim. Other changes include a front “skid garnish” instead of a skidplate, a unique exhaust treatment, black trim instead of chrome, and some orange interior accents.

Despite the rather underwhelming off-road upgrades, the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport ought to be relatively capable from the factory. Riding on Honda’s light truck platform (shared with the larger three-row Pilot, Ridgeline pickup, and Odyssey minivan), the Passport TrailSport, like all Passports, features a 3.5-liter V-6 making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a nine-speed automatic and, given the TrailSport trim’s off-road intent, standard all-wheel drive. The SUV is EPA-rated at 19/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined.

Just like the standard Passport, the TrailSport version comes with 8.1 inches of ground clearance, a 21.1-degree approach angle, a 17.3-degree breakover angle, and a 24.3-degree departure angle. With the exception of ground clearance, those figures are better than the rival Outback Wilderness but lag behind the new 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2022 Toyota 4Runner.

What’s the Passport TrailSport Like on the Road?

The upside of essentially changing nothing to make an “off-road-oriented” Passport is that the TrailSport feels just like more pedestrian-looking variants on pavement. In other words, unlike Honda’s Civic or CR-V, the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport is competent but largely unremarkable. The Passport’s V-6 adds a refreshing flavor to a segment largely full of small turbocharged four-cylinders, but its nine-speed automatic blunts most of the engine’s impact. Although it’s smoother than earlier examples of this transmission, shift speeds are slow, with downshifts in particular often taking three Mississippis to complete—a fact that might irk workers at the Lincoln, Alabama, plant that builds the Passport. The result is that the Passport TrailSport feels far slower in the real world than some of its four-cylinder rivals. It makes the Passport less efficient, too.

The Honda rides well—likely a touch better than versions shod with 20-inch wheels—dispatching with expansion joints, potholes, and speed bumps quickly, without transmitting much of the impacts to the cabin. Body roll and brake dive are well controlled, too, though steering feel is fairly numb and uninspiring.

Despite the lack of an aggressive off-road tire tread, tire and wind noise in the Passport is high for the class. Compared to Honda’s latest cars like the Civic, the Passport’s cabin is boring, too. The older infotainment system is laggy and fussy to use while driving, and the black-on-black cabin (with a splash of orange stitching on the seats) looks and feels unimpressive for the class, especially considering its $43,695 starting price. Those hopping out of a 4Runner will likely be pleasantly surprised, but those used to far more modern Grand Cherokees or Outbacks won’t be.

Is the Passport TrailSport Any Good Off-Road?

This might come as a surprise, but the Passport was already a surprisingly capable soft-roader, thanks to its relatively tidy angles, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, and well-tuned off-road modes (which consist of Mud and Sand, in addition to Normal and Snow). As such, the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport doesn’t really bring much new to the table when the pavement disappears.

But for what most owners will do with it—largely forest roads or groomed national park trails—the Passport didn’t really need to bring much more to the table. On the fairly easy 8-mile-long desert loop Honda had us run, the Passport TrailSport showed it can acquit itself well, so long as you treat it like a road-focused crossover and not a hardcore off-roader. With such low clearances and a complete lack of skidplates, patience is the key to survival. Keep your speeds low (we averaged just 5 mph and never crested 20 while on the trail) to avoid compressing the Passport’s suspension on top of an obstacle and choose your line carefully, and the Honda will get you where you need to go.

For all the Passport’s powertrain’s flaws, it’s pretty decent off-road. Even when left in Normal mode, it neither upshifts early nor hunts for gears, and in Sand mode it downshifts to the lowest possible gear to keep engine rpm high and momentum up. The Passport TrailSport’s all-wheel-drive system was sure-footed, too. As with most road-oriented crossovers, the trick to navigating obstacles where a tire may be in the air is to keep your throttle input steady when a wheel starts slipping, and let the computer sort out where to route power. Don’t get greedy with the gas. Be patient, and the system rewards you by keeping you moving.

Still, there’s room for improvement. Aside from a bit more ground clearance and actual skidplates to replace the quickly crunched “garnishes,” traction can be a problem. Although the extra sidewall these road-oriented tires provide over the standard set reduce the likelihood of a puncture off-road, they do nothing for grip. Thankfully, in downsizing from a 20-inch wheel to an 18-inch one, a wide variety of all-terrain tires will now fit the factory wheels. You can get an even greater advantage by downsizing further to 17-inch wheels (like the kind run on Honda’s rally Passport), getting both more sidewall and more puncture resistance.

Visibility could be better, too. A forward-facing camera, like the one Subaru added to its Wilderness models, or a simple 360-degree camera system would go a long way in helping Passport TrailSport owners pick the proper line off-road.

The Verdict

Is the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport worth buying? It’s a hard to make a case for it at the moment. Honda built the Passport TrailSport to give people a comfortable, roomy crossover that can be used to explore light off-road trails. Although the Passport TrailSport succeeds at that, the trouble is that the Passport already existed within the Honda family. The Passport AWD EX-L is cheaper than the TrailSport ($41,195) and no less capable. And that’s ignoring the fairly capable vehicles outside the Honda family, like the $38,120 Outback Wilderness and very capable Grand Cherokee ($39,185 to start).

Honda knows this full well. It points to the Passport Rugged Roads Concept—with its all-terrain tires, suspension lift, full-size spare, and skidplates—for a glimpse of what the Passport TrailSport’s future looks like. With more than a half-century of off-road experience, we only wish Honda had lived up to that legacy by putting in more of an effort right out of the gate with its first-ever TrailSport model.

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