Data suggests that the vast majority of Americans have never slept on the roof of a midsize Japanese SUV, but almost everyone has stayed in a hotel. I’m here to tell you that you’re all suckers, and a 2019 Honda Passport is proof.
I never really planned on making this discovery, but sometimes an opportunity falls in your lap. In my case, Honda invited me to the Belle Isle Grand Prix in Detroit. I, like most Americans, do not live in Detroit.
For most journalists, no problem. If there’s one thing automotive journalists love, it’s getting carmakers to put them up in swanky hotels. But CNBC doesn’t allow me to accept hotels or flights from manufacturers, so since I was primarily headed out Belle Isle to report for them I told Honda that I had to find a place to crash. Assuming I could find one, I asked, could Honda lend me a Passport to drive up so I could get a review in?
“Well, since you ask, I actually have a Passport that’s due to arrive in town early that week… with a roof tent on it.”
Now, I’m a far cry from an outdoorsman. I don’t know anything about camping. I don’t have any idea where any campgrounds in Detroit are. I work from home. I only really go outside when my Apple Watch bullies me about not having moved all day. At the time, I doubted anyone would want to come with me. But when you’re offered a stay in the finest tent on four wheels, you don’t say no.
Over the following weeks, I recruited my friend Colin to come. Unlike my never-seen-dirt ass, Colin spent a few weeks out on the Appalachian Trail. And he did it without a $44,725 SUV to mount his tent on. I think he slept on the ground. Yuck.
Anyway, we follow a complicated process of:
1) Clicking around on the virtual map of Michigan state parks that allow camping and
2) Googling the names until we found a pretty one that didn’t allow RVs.
Colin and I settled on Highland Lake Recreation Area. Not long after, I was able to convince my friend Nicole—a Detroit native who digs the outdoors—to tag along.
So on the Friday of the race weekend, Colin and I headed toward Michigan in his trusty Volvo. The Passport had only entered the fleet two days before, so prep time meant we had to pick it up at the fleet company’s HQ in Troy. On first acquaintance, it looked rad as hell.
I was a Honda Passport skeptic, writing it off as a chopped Pilot, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t look stellar with big black Jsport Pre Run wheels ($1,495) and a RoofNest Sparrow ($2,595) up top. At a “state of the business” lunch, Honda’s Senior Vice President of the Automobile Division made a plain case for the Passport.
CR-V buyers, he said, want something bigger and nicer. At the same time, younger buyers don’t want to jump to a three-row family SUV yet. The Passport, with its spacious two-row cabin and more adventurous vibe, helps keep those buyers from defecting to competitors like the Ford Edge.
More importantly, that focus on adventure led to Honda putting an SUV with an onboard tent in the press fleet.
With more time to kill between lunch with Honda and Dinner with Colin’s dad, I gave David Tracy a call. The man is always down for some tomfoolery, so we went by to get a tour of his many Jeeps. After some backyard offroading, we decided to go for a nice drive.
Colin and I hopped in Project Postal and David grabbed his 1948 Farm Jeep. A few minutes later, our two-Jeep convoy was cruising down Woodward Avenue and smelling like a postwar steel mill. David, who spent a not-insignificant amount of time living out of a 40-year-old Jeep, thought camping sounded lovely. Before dinner, we agreed to meet him and Nicole at the campsite later that night.
Later that night quickly became almost midnight. We were pretty pooped by the time we got there.
The beauty of a rooftop tent, though, is how easy it makes setting up a comfortable sleep environment. Within a few minutes of arriving, we popped the four latches and the tent popped up. Once the ladder was attached, we had easy access to a spacious tent with a nice padded floor. It should have a nice floor, given that it costs over two grand.
Now, if you were in a pinch or an intimate relationship, you could quite easily fit two people in this tent. You could probably fit three, but that’s an irregular intimate relationship.
That being said, I am not in a relationship with Colin, Nicole, or David. So Colin brought his personal tent, Nicole made camp in the Passport and David prepared to crash in the back of his Cherokee.
Then we set out on a night hike, something you are extremely unlikely to do at a hotel. Despite being within an hour of downtown, Highland Lake was extremely quiet and contained more trails than we had the energy to explore. There was a nice waterside bridge, some chats about life and an existential question about what in God’s name Cadillac is doing anymore. Also, we had a flashlight with many lumens. I don’t remember how many lumens, but at one point David turned on his light and said the lumen count.
“Huh, that’s a lot of lumens,” I thought. But I don’t remember how many and I’m too scared to ask.
When we got back, we all retired to our respective caves and slept through the night. Except for Colin, who had checked the weather and received assurance from his app that he wouldn’t be rained on. He didn’t put up the rain shield on his tent. Guess what woke him up.
In the morning, David provided some lovely pineapple upside down cake and we broke down the campsite. While we intended to return, a bad storm rolled in on Saturday that forced us to seek shelter at a friend’s house.
I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t proved my thesis that this was a better experience than a hotel would have been.
But I maintain that it’s true. We paid a total of $58 for two nights, with the required Michigan state “recreation passport” which any resident should just fork over the $11 annual fee for. In return, we had acres of land to explore, a quiet and tranquil campsite and way more activities than any hotel in the area. Want a gym? There’s a running path. Need a pool? How about six lakes? Want a shower? How about you forget to put your rain cover on your tent?
And while there wasn’t room service, there was a Meijer about a quarter of a mile away. I bought a family-size bag of Smart Food White Cheddar Popcorn for like three bucks. That’s how much hotels charge for six goldfish and a breath mint. Plus, Chinese takeout was just up the road. This isn’t exactly camping food, but it beats the $16 pasta room service is peddling.
While it’s not uncommon for hotels to charge $10 or $20 per day to access terrible wifi, the Honda Passport offers unlimited wifi for $20 per month. Plus, to channel my inner grandpa “something something kids these days something something who needs wifi something something go outside.”
Of course, there are some downsides. Hotels provide cleaning services, whereas it took three of us to wrestle down the pop-up tent. It’s high up and hard to tuck everything in neatly, so we found ourselves buttoning down one end just to see the other pop up.
Also, the bathroom situation is less than ideal. You can either try the port-a-potties maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or just crapping in the woods. Given the reputation of Michigan public services, both are equally palatable.
But as long as you already have a $44,725 SUV and a $2,595 rooftop tent, $29 per night split between four people is a rate that erases a lot of sins. It’s more exciting, better for groups and more interesting than any hotel. Just remember to put up your rain shield.
This story was originally published on June 17, 2019