Honda Passport vs Pilot: Which One Is the Best? [Complete Analysis]
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Americans like SUVs, and Honda has one to serve every taste — from the compact, city-friendly HR-V, to those suited for big families and active lifestyles. Its lineup is so jam-packed, it’s hard to pick the right model for you.
We’re here to help. Today, we’re going to be putting two venerable Honda SUVs to the test: the Pilot and the Passport. Although both fit into the mid-size category, there are some crucial differences that set each vehicle apart.
We’ll tell you how they differ, their strengths and weaknesses, and how much they cost. Our goal is to help you make the most informed decision when picking your next vehicle.
The Practical Honda Pilot
Honda introduced the Pilot in 2003. At the time, it addressed a gaping hole in the company’s line-up: namely, then need for a vehicle that could provide enough seating for large families, while also proving competent at day-to-day work driving.
What set it apart from the already-existing CR-V and Passport? Well, it had room for eight people, giving it minivan-style seating capacity, but with the outward aesthetics of an SUV. Other trims, we note, dropped the seating capacity to a (still respectable) seven, but replaced the middle row with two “captain’s chairs”, which offer improved levels of personal space and comfort.
Honda was able to reach these levels of seating capacity without transgressing beyond the confines of the mid-size SUV paradigm, which ultimately turns out to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. On one hand, there’s a level of practicality here, and the Pilot is straightforward to drive within urban environments. However, it does mean that the rear rows of seats are especially tight. Adults may find them uncomfortable to sit in, especially for long stretches of driving.
Another major downside of the Pilot is that trunk space is in short supply, especially with all eight (or seven) seats in use. In the 2021 model, you get just 16.5 cubic feet of space to work with. You can increase that to 46.8 feet if you opt to collapse the rear seating row.
Style was a huge driver behind the creation of the Pilot, and that’s particularly true with the third generation of models, released after 2016. Honda’s aerodynamic design language (which is present in places where you might not expect, like the Ridgeline pick-up trick) is present here. The Pilot has curves in all the right places. But it’s practical too.
While the Pilot lacks cargo space, newer models have plenty of nooks and crannies where you can store personal effects. In the 2021 model, for example, the centre console can open to expose enough room for a handbag or small backpack. Dotted throughout the interior you’ll find cupholders galore, and enough tray tables to store phones and keys.
When it comes to performance, Honda didn’t skimp out, fitting the latest model with a 3.5L V6 engine across all trims. This is more than capable of hauling the car’s beefy frame, and gives excellent acceleration speeds. Although the first few year models came exclusively with a 4WD drivetrain, Honda later opted to give customers the option of choosing a cheaper (and more fuel-efficient) FWD drivetrain.
Speaking of fuel efficiency, the newer models provide conservative levels of consumption, and you can get about 22MPG combined. While that’s quite low compared to smaller compact and city cars (and is a fraction of what you’d get with a hybrid), it’s a vast improvement on the inaugural models. The 2003 Honda Pilot achieved just 17MPG combined.
Packing your Passport
The Honda Passport has a comparatively more interesting history. Introduced in 1993, this vehicle was a response to the growing enthusiasm for SUVs in the American market. It was, in fact, Honda’s first entry into the SUV market.
At the time, Honda didn’t have much experience making SUVs for the US market, so it inked a deal with rival Japanese automaker Isuzu to rebrand its already-existing Rodeo SUV.
Although Honda didn’t handle the underlying engineering, it nonetheless allowed it to gain some valuable experience, resulting in the introduction of the CR-V (which was essentially a beefed-up Honda Civic) in 1995 and the Honda Pilot in 2003.
In 2002, Isuzu opted to leave the highly-competitive passenger market to focus on its areas of expertise: commercial vehicles and pickup trucks. This meant the end of the road for the Rodeo, and thus, the Passport. Honda ceased production of the Honda Passport that year, although sales continued for a little bit longer as dealerships cleared out their unsold inventory.
That wasn’t the end of the story for the Passport, and Honda revived the name in 2019. This third generation bears many similarities to the Honda Pilot. Indeed, it’s based on the same underlying platform.
There’s the same 3.5L V6 engine, which delivers the same 280HP and 262 lbs of torque. It uses the same nine-speed automatic transmission. Stated acceleration speeds are indistinguishable (On the 2021 model, you can expect to hit 60MPH in just 6.2 seconds).
Additionally, the proportions are virtually identical. The Passport measures 190.5-inches compared to the Pilot’s 194.5-inches. Like the Pilot, the Passport has both AWD and FWD options. To see the real difference, you have to look inside.
First, seating. The Passport maxes out at five occupants. While this might not be great for minivan-averse large families, it’s undeniably better when it comes to personal space and comfort, with improved levels of leg and head room in the rear row.
The removal of the third row inevitably means that there’s plenty of storage space, and the Passport’s cargo hold enjoys an embarrassment of capacity. The 2021 Passport has 41.2 cubic feet of storage capacity. Fold the seats down and you can stretch this to 83.9 cubes feet. Whether you’re loading the trunk with suitcases for a family holiday, fetching the groceries, or going to Ikea for some new flat-packed furniture,
Like the Pilot, it also has its share of interior storage enhancements, too, including a generous well buried within the centre console. These are a handy extra.
But it loses some ground on the all-important fuel economy, with the Passport rated at 21 MPG combined for the 4WD version, compared to 22MPG on a similarly-equipped Pilot. This isn’t a huge difference, but it’s a bit surprising, especially considering the Passport’s slightly smaller body and the fact it isn’t hauling three extra seats.
But the Passport easily bests the Pilot when it comes to towing capacity, rated at 5,000lbs compared to 3,500lbs.
2017 Honda Pilot EX-L (from $26,950)
Making The Choice
The Pilot and Passport are both premium mid-size SUVs, with a shared heritage and a huge level of overlap when it comes to features. This is reflected in the pricing. The MSRP for the base 2021 Honda Pilot is just $33,725, while the 2021 Honda Passport starts at $33,965.
It’s helpful to look at these cars, not in terms of what they can do, but rather what they can do for you. Do you need something that can fit the whole family? Then the Pilot is for you.
But if you’re looking for something that can more effortlessly crossover between work and personal tasks, then the Passport is a more compelling choice. Its larger cargo capacity and superior towing capabilities are the deciding factor here.
Whatever you opt for, make sure to check out Shift first. We make it easy to buy your next used car. There are no dealerships to visit. Prices are determined by real market data, meaning there’s no haggling either. We’ll even save you a trip to the DMV, as we take care of all the paperwork.
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2019 Honda Passport Sport (from $31,850)
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All prices are based on vehicle availability and pricing as of
April 15, 2022
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