2019 Honda Passport

Okay, the Passport is touted as all-new for 2019, but let’s start with the question that I (and everyone else I showed the Touring-trim test vehicle to during my time in it) asks:

What’s the difference between this and Honda’s other, very similar vehicle, the Pilot?

Because at a glance, they look a lot alike to my eye, both are pretty much the same size (and use the same engine, and depending on the trim level, the same transmission) and be honest, they look alike. In fact, I would cavalierly say that you could just just think of it as a Pilot without the third row of seats, but that wouldn’t be quite correct.

Both vehicles use the same engine, a 3.5L six-cylinder that promises a capable 280 horsepower (and 262 lb.-ft. of torque), and a nine-speed automatic transmission (at least in the case of the Touring trim models, which was the case with test car; and both can be had with all-wheel drive.

The Passport, is slightly shorter, end-to-end, and also slightly wider and taller on a wheelbase that is almost the same (it is three whole millimetres shorter with the Passport). Oddly, despite this, the Passport’s turning radius is greater than the Pilot. Oh, and Passport has more second row legroom, owing to not having a third row squeezed in behind it.

This fine by me, and possibly for most potential customers, as I don’t need or use the third row in any vehicle I test, and the seats get folded down to make for more cargo space – which the Passport offers plenty of, boasting an interior cargo volume of 1,430 litres.

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So there’s that. Mostly though, it dishes out a Honda-level utility vehicle experience and brings its AWD platform and ground clearance to the real world where I recently drove one around for a week.

As I always enjoy mentioning, my city is fraught with potholes and uneven road surfaces, and in the summer we love to compound that by tearing up all the streets and major thoroughfares at once; in order to provide the residents with a delightful challenge – hence the desirability of an SUV or crossover vehicle.

I actually beat the NRCan fuel economy projection (11.3L/100km) after a week in the Passport, running it in Eco mode most of the time.

It handles all the bumps very well (including those ruthless extra-large speed bumps they put in quiet, children-infested neighbourhoods, those really tall ones that’ll rip your underside off if you’re driving a low-slung sports car) and a pretty capable suspension smoothed the ride and kept everything comfortable inside the cabin in both rows.

Some credit for Passport’s bump absorption must go to the seats. Well padded affairs, wrapped in leather upholstery and fairly roomy for people of almost any size, they are comfortable in either row and the driver’s perch offers a good range of adjustment.

Fire it up via push-button start, and appreciate the clean look of the instrument cluster – easy to read with all the major gauges obvious and use. The steering wheel houses a number of buttons, which you may also appreciate, as you may be using the steering-mounted controls more than the touchscreen interface (because the touchscreen has almost no buttons – although Honda at least brought the on/off/volume control knob back). You know what I figure it could use, is a central control knob on the centre console, such as you’d find in Mazda’s products.

Meh, I’m not sure I can fall in love with this.

What you do find on the centre console is the gear selector, which is the ‘strip-of-buttons’ arrangement found on most Honda (and Acura) vehicles. I have never really liked this thing, although really, it doesn’t offend anything but my dinosaurian sensibilities, which demand a proper shifter.

Boiling it all down, the Passport is an option for people who like the Pilot for its overall size and capabilities, but don’t need to stuff up to eight people into it. It also comes with a sticker price a few grand less than Pilot: the model I drove, Touring trim, came to $50,911.25 including freight and PDI

And, for those who like the size and configuration, but don’t care for Honda’s interface and controls, check out competitors like Toyota’s Highlander, the Kia Sorento or Hyundai’s Santa Fe (among many others, of course. This is a crowded segment, gentle shopper, with lots of choices available).

Mazda3 tackles 2019

2019 Mazda3 GT Sport, AWD

This is one of those vehicles that I never hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a compact car, and Mazda has expanded the choices for 2019 with the introduction of an all-wheel drive option for their likeable sedan (or hatchback).

I love a mainstream family car with some curb-appeal on the outside, and enough attention to comfort and technology in the cabin that it never feels like the only reason for buying it is sheer value-for-money.

2019 Mazda3 GT sedan, front wheel drive

Indeed, the Mazda3 feels and looks and drives like a much more expensive car than it is, and is one of those marques that has moved the bar for all manufacturers by showing how well it can be done.

Having had the chance to get into a one of each earlier this summer, both in the top-line GT trim (so, you know, with more leather and a higher price tag than the entry-level) and came away impressed. In fact, picking a favourite mainly revolves around how much you feel you need the AWD drivetrain.

Otherwise, what you get in either package (the AWD is the red Sport hatchback in the photos, the grey sedan is the regular front-wheel drive) is a welcoming interior with comfortable seats and an array of controls that manage to remain easy-to-use while looking suitably high-tech and 21st century.

Here are the common stats for both these vehicles:

• 2.5L 4-cylinder engine (with cylinder deactivation)
• 186 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. Torque
• 6-speed automatic transmission
• Heated seats, heads-up display, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and backup camera
• 8.8 inch information display
The Sport hatchback is about 65kg heavier, owing to the AWD system

Hopping into either model, I’m greeted by a heads-up display (or ‘Active driving Display’ as Mazda bills it), a little cooler hologram projected on the windshield just above the steering wheel. This is a great feature in any vehicle, for keeping important information – like the vehicle’s speed, for I live in the land of radar traps – right in front of you.

Firing the car up with the keyless start button, and the SkyActiv 4-cylinder engine shows off… well, let’s not call it a ‘sporty’ engine note, but a pleasant one; and also a quiet engine, which I like.

I didn’t find a big difference between the Sport AWD and the front-wheel drive sedans steering and handling (although the Sport is heavier), and frankly I doubt most drivers would, unless you jump from one model to the other back-to-back. For a mainstream family car, the steering feel is very good indeed, bringing a more tight and connected sensation with little ‘play’ in the wheel and just heavy enough that there’s enough feedback through the wheel to keep a driver engaged.

A lot of this is due to Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain and the incorporation of the company’s G-vectoring Control system; which they tout as a grand enhancement to the car’s overall stability. Heck, I’ll just quote directly from their press kit, as I wouldn’t want to get the wording wrong:

“GVC maximizes tire performance by focusing on the vertical load
on the tires. The moment the driver starts to turn the steering wheel, GVC controls engine drive torque to generate a deceleration G-force, thereby shifting load to the front wheels. This increases front-wheel tire grip, enhancing the vehicle’s turn-in responsiveness”.

And, well, I have no reason to doubt them – the handling is very good, and twisting and cornering in the car is genuinely fun.

Inside the cabin, in either of the models I drove (both GT trim level) the driver gets the best seat in the cabin – a ten-way adjustable power affair with excellent lumbar support in my test cars, thanks to the inclusion of the Premium Package option (which also gave it the heads-up display). This $2500 package also includes rear crossing brake support and parking sensors, rear parking sensors and a traffic sign recognition system; all in all a pretty good addition to the car.

All the seats are quite good throughout, passengers aren’t punished by either the seating or the ride, and cabin quiet has been further bolstered by seals and damping, and sound insulation. All the better to listen to the Bose sound system, I suppose.

As for fuel efficiency, well it goes without saying that the AWD models consume more gas that the front-drive ones, but frankly not that much more.

The NRCan numbers for the Sport are 8.2L/100 km (combined), and the Fwd sedan is rated at 8.0L, but here’s an interesting anecdote for you: when Mazda entered both models in this year’s EcoRun competition, each of them achieved some pretty astounding results (which you can see here, alongside a number of other entrants), with an incredible 5.4 and 5.7L/100km, respectively.

Styling is one of the key selling points for the entire Mazda lineup as well – the company has really got their game on (finally, after a few years of that odd ’smiley face’ grille they were doing). Front-to-back, the 2019 Mazda3s rule the segment, I like their looks better than most of the competition.

The only thing I’m going to bring up is the new, fattened C-pillar on the hatchback model, which I don’t especially care for, both aesthetically and from a rear visibility standpoint. Now obviously, things like the blindspot monitor and rear traffic detection help make up for the compromised sightlines, but I am one of those old people who still enjoys things like shoulder-checking and, y’know, looking around.

All in all, it comes down to whether you prefer a hatch or a sedan, and AWD or front-drive. Speaking for myself, I’ve always liked a five-door body, but there is a decent trunk on the sedan, so you tell me – which one?

As for pricing, both vehicles were loaded up with the Premium Package option, which added $2,500 to the sticker, but the GT sedan (in optional Machine Grey Metallic paint) came to $30,695, all in, and that fancy-lookin’ Soul Red Crystal Sport model with all-wheel drive showed up at $33,645

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