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2021 Toyota Highlander vs Honda Passport

2021 Toyota Highlander vs Honda Passport

2021 Highlander vs Passport - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

Are you in the market for a new third-row SUV for 2021? If so, you might want to give the Toyota Highlander and the Honda Passport some consideration. Both are capable vehicles with plenty of seating, but one has a few advantages over the other. That is not to say that one is absolutely better than the other, but depending on your needs, one might be a better fit for you and your family.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander is hot off of a full redesign from 2020. This model year, the only new thing is the addition of the sport-oriented XSE trim level. The XSE slides right into the middle of the trim level tier and comes with special sporty styling elements. It also has a sport-tuned suspension, a built-in navigation system, and interior ambient lighting. Otherwise, expect everything else on the Highlander to carry over from 2020.

The Highlander provides drivers with a quiet and comfortable ride. Everyone gets a cozy seat, and even the third row is decent enough for kids to ride in. For the driver, the vehicle is easy to see out of, so you will not need to rely too heavily on the back-up camera or blind-spot monitoring system. But, of course, they are there if you need them. Also, the V6 gives a strong performance that blends power and fuel economy with ease.

The drawbacks to the Highlander? The amount of cargo space you get is smaller than average for this segment. You only get 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. However, if you do put the third row down, you get 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which feels pretty generous. The third row itself is kind of cramped and not meant for two full-sized adults to sit in.

The 2021 Honda Passport does not have many changes from the previous model year, but the standardization of the 8-inch touchscreen display with smartphone app integration is the one big change. There is a lot of space inside of the Honda Passport, and you can easily make your way into the third row. Of course, the third row is - like most others in its segment - restricted to kids or small adults. The average adult will have some difficulty fitting back there.

Up front, you get an abundance of comfort from the seats as well as a commanding view from behind the steering wheel. All throughout the cabin, there are plenty of generously sized small item storage compartments. You will not have to creatively hide your gadgets; the Passport allows you to securely conceal them in convenient locations.

On the downside, adaptive cruise control only works down to 20 mph, not all the way down to 0 like other systems do. Also, given that the seats are placed somewhat high, the driver's seat might be a touch too high for some drivers.


The Powertrain

Let us start off by comparing the powertrain options on the Highlander and the Passport. Having a good balance between power and fuel economy is important and not something many third-row SUVs achieve. But both of these competitors manage to do pretty well.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander is powered by a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that is able to generate a power output of 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The front wheels receive their power through the matched-up 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available as an option for every trim level. If you want something even more fuel efficient, there is a Highlander Hybrid available. However, the gas-powered version does well, getting 23 mpg combined on the AWD version and 24 mpg combined on the FWD. In this class, that is about 1-2 mpg better than most competitors and makes for a pretty strong selling point.

What about the 2021 Honda Passport? Well, it is powered by a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts forth a power output of 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired up with a 9-speed automatic transmission, which delivers power to either the front wheels (FWD is standard) or all four wheels (AWD is optional on all but the Elite trim, on which it is standard). The AWD gets 21 mpg combined while the FWD gets just slightly better.


Just what makes a vehicle a pleasure (or a pain) to drive? It is not just how strong the engine is, although that certainly is one of the many factors. When we talk about drivability, we are also taking about how well a vehicle accelerates, brakes, steers, handles, provides ride comfort and quality, and how well its technology functions. In other words, it is all about how well-rounded of a performance the vehicle demonstrates.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander offers a surprisingly immediate response from its sturdy V6 engine. Other third-row SUVs struggle to offer such rapid acceleration. This vehicle can get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a swift 7.5 seconds, which bests much of the competition. In fact, it puts the Highlander right up there with the powerful Kia Telluride, although we think that the Highlander has a slightly quicker spring in its step.

The Highlander is much more agile than it used to be, handling twisting mountain roads with ease. Body roll remains composed as you round through turns, and handling balance can be improved when you opt for the torque-vectoring AWD system. It also gives you a lot of extra traction when you are driving on a slick road surface. However, the Highlander does still feel like a large vehicle. Applying the brakes in an emergency situation can feel a bit iffy, but daily driving is at least relatively low-effort for the driver.

The Highlander's ride quality is nothing short of comfy. Any size of road imperfections can be quickly dispatched by the well-tuned suspension, and the optional sport-tuned suspension on the XSE adds an appropriate amount of firmness. The third row of seats could be better though, as the seat bottoms have a relatively thin layer of padding to them. The seat cushions themselves are also pretty low, and the accessway is narrow.

The first two rows in the Highlander do provide a plethora of space. Taller drivers might want a little more range from the telescoping steering wheel since it can prove to be a bit of a reach. Outward visibility is excellent thanks to the slender roof pillars. The back-up camera is helpful, as are the blind spot monitoring system and the surround-view camera system. You can rotate its view to be able to see all around the vehicle.

Speaking of technology, Toyota has really stepped it up in recent years. The massive optional 12.3-inch touchscreen display is quick to respond to your inputs, but its surface casts a lot more glare than you would probably prefer. There are no USB ports in the rear, but you can get up to five ports in the first and second rows. You do get a large list of standard driver aids to enhance the vehicle's safety. More on that in our next section.

The 2021 Honda Passport offers swift acceleration from its standard V6 engine. The 9-speed is a great pairing for it since it provides such smooth shifting between gears. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph takes just 6.8 seconds, which is one of the fastest times in this segment. Its handling capabilities are better than average for the segment too, and the well weighted steering system offers a lot of responsiveness and remains light while rounding through turns. The brakes are the one sour point for the driving performance. They modulate well in regular driving situations, but emergency braking can produce some nosedive and takes a little longer than average for the vehicle to come to a stop.

That being said, the Passport is comfortable. Small bumps get easily absorbed, and the suspension feels slightly firmer than the smaller Pilot SUV, which helps keep body roll under control. The cabin itself remains quiet, as very little in the way of wind and road noise makes its way in, even at highway speeds. The heated and ventilated front seats feel cozy, and the tri-zone climate control system does a thorough job of keeping the cabin at the desired temperature.

The Passport's interior is well designed overall. There is plenty of space for all heads and legs, especially in the first two rows. The vehicle's seats are positioned somewhat high, which might make getting into the cabin a little difficult for shorter people. You do get excellent outward visibility, and even the touchscreen system is easy to use.

The optional sound system that comes on the higher trim levels is nothing short of awesome. It pumps sound throughout the cabin really well. Pinch and swipe gestures can easily be made on the touchscreen when you are using the navigation system. Smartphone app integration comes standard on every trim level, and you get plenty of driver aids included on the Passport.

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As we already mentioned, both vehicles are well equipped with suites of standard driver aids among other safety features. The 2021 Toyota Highlander comes with the Safety Sense suite of standard driver aids. This bundles together frontal collision mitigation (which will warn you of a potential frontal collision and apply the brakes for you if necessary), adaptive cruise control (which adjusts the vehicle's speed to keep a safe following distance between the Highlander and the vehicle in front of it), automatic high beams, lane tracing assist (which makes small steering adjustments to keep the Highlander centered in its lane), and a traffic sign reader.

The 2021 Honda Passport comes with the Honda Sensing suite of driver aids. Lane keep assist will gently steering the Passport back into the intended lane when it detects any straying over the line. Forward collision mitigation works as it should, but adaptive cruise control only works down to 20 mph, not 0.

Which Has the Best Value?

Both the Highlander and Passport have a lot of value. However, we have to hand it to the Highlander for managing to best the Passport's fuel economy with an equally powerful V6 engine. That lends a lot of value to a vehicle in a segment where fuel economy is not that high. You also get plenty of standard features for the cost even on the lower trim levels.

Which is Better?

While the 2021 Honda Passport is undoubtedly a strong performer, the 2021 Toyota Highlander has the edge. Its fuel economy is slightly better, and the driving performance is well rounded over all. The Highlander shows a lot of spunk for a third-row SUV, and it is certainly a family-oriented vehicle that has an abundance of space.

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