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BALBOA ISLAND, Calif. — There's something to be said for testing a top-of-the-line model instead of having to grub around in the entry-level version. Since Honda, based an hour up the road, offers no fewer than five choices for its 2000 Passport sport utility vehicle, with the low-end two-wheel drive $22,800 LX at the bottom of the ladder and the luxury $30,150 EX-L at the peak, it was gratifying to slide onto leather seats, gaze at the wood-grain trim and know my fenders had special flares.
However, the truth is there's very little difference between all those noble models, the LX, EX and EX-L, aside from two and four-wheel drive systems. They're all four-door SUVs, share the same powerful V-6 engine, the same towing capacity and just about everything else. The major and most visual contrast is the location of the spare tire. The least expensive LX models hang the spare outside on the tailgate, while the upper end EX and EX-L hide it discreetly under the floor. A couple of other small differences: minimum ground clearance is 8" on the LX and 8.2" on the rest of the models. The high-end EX-L has a six-CD changer where it belongs — in the dash — and a moonroof, as do the EX models.
Veering toward large
In spite of being categorized originally as a compact, this is a rather large vehicle and veers on midsize. Redesigned in 1998, the 2000 model has a few cosmetic changes to the front grille for a more rugged appearance but is basically the same vehicle. It has grown two inches in height over the previous model and seven inches in length, although the wheelbase and width remain the same. With wagon-like rear windows, the Passport avoids the completely typical boxy SUV styling but its overall design and tall roofline shout Adventurous Sport Utility! and Take me Off-Road!