The Honda Passport is a mid-size SUV, but not one that is the first to come to mind when you think about going off-road. The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport is trying to change that.
(Correction: I had a brain fart and originally called the Passport full-size, but it is mid-size, apologies for the error.)
(Full Disclosure: Honda gave me a Civic to drive to Borrego Springs, California, to drive the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport, then gave me a 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport to drive back to Los Angeles. Honda also supplied me with enough alcohol and food to kill a small horse.)
Honda is not typically a brand that you associate with off-roading. Honda makes very good, very reliable cars, and but not off-road warriors, unless you count some versions of the Ridgeline, which Honda also races. I say this as a Honda owner myself; Honda’s brand is that they make competent cars for city and suburban folk, nothing more, nothing less.
The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport is a different idea, though. It is the first Passport to be specifically for overlanding and off-roading and the like. It is going after the same market that is the four-door Ford Bronco and four-door Jeep Wrangler.
It is still the third-generation Passport that was introduced in 2019, and not a midcycle refresh, exactly, but a new trim for Honda to seize on the current moment, which is to get the hell out of your house but not with other people. It is to overland, since that was in fashion even before the pandemic. Honda wants to be rugged and adventurous now, which is definitely of the moment, though I’m not sure that who is asking Honda to do that, other than Honda itself.
It is a four-door SUV with unibody construction, an independent suspension, and all-wheel drive with four different drive modes for normal driving, sand driving, mud driving, and snow driving. There is a snazzy visual one can activate that shows you how much torque is being sent to each wheel while you are driving.
The car is for people who love the idea of going off-roading, and need a vehicle that can do that, or at least aspire to. It is also a car for people who are honest enough to know that that idea is merely an aspiration. It is a car, in other words, for Californians, though I’m sure plenty of people elsewhere will buy it, too.
The car has a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, which Honda notes is better than a Toyota 4Runner. It has a nine-speed automatic transmission, which you never think about.
The TrailSport trim features 18-inch wheels, which are smaller than the 20-inch wheels in the EX-L and Elite trims, which is better because off-road you want higher-profile tires to help avoid punctures. Honda says there is more legroom and passenger volume than the 4Runner, and cargo volume, too. Honda also notes that the 2022 Passport gets a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while the 2022 4Runner gets four stars.
Honda and Toyota should get a room and sort out their differences. The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport starts at $42,470, and comes in six different colors, but not green.
A ride-along in a stripped-down 2022 Honda Passport Trailsport that had most of its interior ripped out in favor of a roll cage was eye-opening, in that it proved that the car really is capable of performance, if it needs it. A separate drive on a sandy trail in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park showed off the various drive modes, which was a display of how much four-wheel drive has evolved to all-wheel drive, and how much traction control has evolved, too. If you are an enthusiast and some kind of rear-wheel drive, manual transmission freak, well, this car is not for you.
The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport also has things that rear-wheel drive, manual transmission freaks don’t care about, but the rest of us do, like driving assistance features that we’ve come to expect from most new cars. I’m speaking of things like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking. In stop-and-go traffic, the car can more or less drive itself, provided you put your hands on the wheel every so often.
The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport does not have a full-size spare tire, which is a hint at what this car really is, which is Honda seeing a marketing opportunity in the American market for off-road things and going for it. Honda says that a full-size spare might come in future versions, but I got stuck on that detail, because, if you’ve ever been off-roading, you know that tire punctures are a big concern.
Of course, most people who buy the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport will never go off-roading and that is Honda’s bet as well, and they are right. Honda, nonetheless, says that better things are coming in future versions, including better ground clearance (currently 8.1 inches), that needed full-size spare, more protection for the underbody, and more off-roady tires, though you can get those aftermarket already, of course. What the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport really is is the beginning of Honda’s rugged Passport ambitions, though also a little strange, because there is nothing hybrid or electric about it, and it gets just 21-22 mpg combined.
There are other trims of the 2022 Honda Passport, namely the base EX-L and the top Elite, but Honda, for now, wants you to know about the TrailSport, which is new and just under the Elite, and which looks cool and is built in America and drives like a modern car, which is refined. If you want to go on trails for real — and you probably don’t because you’re a sensible person — you probably want something else, like a Jeep Wrangler, but the 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport is for those of you who want to cosplay, which is fine. That encompasses almost all the cars in this category, anyway.