Referring to its 50-plus years of building off-road motorcycles, ATVs and similar rugged vehicles, Honda likes to say that it has “a long history of getting dirty.” This new-for-‘22 TrailSport variant of the company’s midsize Passport SUV fits into that category too—although the functional differences between this and the everyday Passport are minor.
The TrailSport’s front and rear tracks have been extended 10 millimeters (less than four-tenths an inch) beyond the standard Passport’s, and its mildly aggressive all-season tires are on 18-inch wheels, which require less energy to twist over a boulder than the “street” version’s 20-inchers. Otherwise, buyers get the same 8.1 inches of ground clearance, agile coil-spring suspension, mechanical torque-vectoring rear axle and VTM-4 all-wheel drive that are standard on all Passports—except those with only front-wheel drive.
The drivetrain too is common to all Passport models: a 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine, rated for a healthy 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, and a 9-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel and mud, snow, sand and normal modes. The TrailSport also has Honda’s oddball push/pull-button gear selector and an archaic foot-pedal e-brake, but we can get beyond these two things.
The TrailSport comes with Honda’s full suite of active and passive safety systems, too, including interactive cruise control, and it gets 5-star crash-safety ratings from NHTSA, the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Its off-road flavor notwithstanding, the TrailSport is every bit as pleasing and capable on pavement as its siblings—in fact, maybe even slightly more so. As tall trucklets go, the TrailSport is not all that heavy, and it can hurry along a twisting, bumpy two-lane with composure. The transmission is always in the right gear, the engine always seems to have more steam on tap, the steering is unusually crisp, the body is eggshell-stiff, and the firm ride and progressive brakes are reassuring. Hondas are always more dynamic than we might expect, and they often seem to shrink-wrap themselves around the driver.
Also like about every other Honda, from the tiny Fit to the full-size Accord, the TrailSport seems bigger inside than out, with head- and leg-room to spare and impressive cubic footage for both passengers and cargo. With the tailgate open, I caught myself thinking several times that I was dealing with the three-row Pilot instead. Overall, the Passport is Honda’s Goldilocks SUV—not too big, not too small, just right.
Speaking of the Pilot, Honda has told us to expect TrailSport trim packages on its other SUV models also. At a starting price of $42,470 (plus destination fees), this particular TrailSport slots between the basic FWD Passport EX-L, at $37,870, and the top-line $45,430 Passport Elite.
Silvio Calabi has been reviewing cars since Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House. He lives in Camden.