When Honda brought back the Passport three years ago, it positioned it as the most rugged SUV in its line-up. Now, it’s amping things up with a combination of new exterior trim and improved off-road capabilities.
The new model will also get a new badge as the first entry into a brand-within-a-brand Honda has dubbed TrailSport. The Japanese automaker is the latest on a growing list of manufacturers hoping to take advantage of a back-to-nature boom, joining competitors like Subaru, Chevrolet and GMC in creating unique off-road sub-brands.
“Some may not realize the true rugged, off-road capabilities of our light trucks,” said Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. “Now they’re getting tough, rugged looks to match, and the addition of TrailSport will further enhance the off-road capability of our vehicles in the future.”
“A more emotional appearance”
The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport gets distinctive design features, starting with a major update from the A-pillars forward, including standard LED headlights. There’s also as a new rear bumper, as well as larger dual exhaust pipes. The goal, the automaker says, is to give the TrailSport model a “more emotional and adventurous” appearance.
The TrailSport model rides on machined 18-inch wheels with Pewter painted highlights. The front and rear track have been widened 10 mm to improve appearance and stability.
Inside, the EX-L package adds contrast stitching on perforated leather seats and the requisite embossed “TrailSport” logo. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The rugged exterior looks are for more than just appearance. The TrailSport’s ground clearance increases to 8.1 inches and it comes standard with Honda’s i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive syste with torque vectoring. Power comes from a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a 9-speed automatic.
Heading back to nature
The original Honda Passport was launched back in 1994 as the automaker’s first true SUV. Produced by Japanese rival Isuzu, it remained in the line-up until 2002. Honda relaunched a crossover-based Passport in 2018, slotting it in-between the existing CR-V and Pilot models. But it was also positioned as a more rugged offering, a senior executive at the time suggesting it was “more personal, powerful, and off-road-capable.”
But the off-road game has been amped up during the last few years, and for good reason, Americans spend an estimated $900 billion annually on everything from kayaks to camping gear — and they’re looking for vehicles that not only can get them to a backwoods cabin but take them out to places like Moab, Utah and down the Rubicon Trail.
Ford is awash in orders for the new Bronco family and Jeep’s Wrangler is setting new sales records seemingly every month. Ford unveiled the new Timberline version of its big Expedition SUV at the Motor Bella show in Detroit on Tuesday. Subaru, meanwhile, is getting ready to bring out the second entry into its new Wilderness sub-brand, a ruggedized version of the Forester SUV. And Chevrolet is introducing an off-road-ready ZR2 version of its 2022 Silverado.
More to come
In Honda’s case, it plans to expand TrailSport into a full line-up of more rugged crossovers, though it has so far confirmed just one, the new version of Pilot.
As a midcycle addition, Honda was limited in what it could do with the Passport variant. It plans to take things further going forward, however.
“Over the next few model years,” it said in a release, “the off-road capability of the Passport TrailSport will increase further with possible future upgrades such as more aggressive tires and off-road tuned suspension.