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A Brief History of the Honda Passport

Honda may be thinking it’s time to renew its expired Passport. Not the document — the SUV. For those old enough to remember the ’90s, there was a brief time in Honda’s history when it had a rugged, body-on-frame SUV in its lineup, which was cleverly named the Passport. In truth, this SUV wasn’t a Honda at all, but a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo with some minor modifications.

From the outset, the idea of Honda using an Isuzu product in their lineup raised eyebrows throughout the industry. But, the SUV craze was taking off in the U.S., and Honda needed something to answer the challenge put forth by the Jeep Cherokee, the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Blazer. At the time, Isuzu’s Rodeo was enjoying robust sales thanks to its modern appearance, roomy interior and available V6 engine, as well as its formidable off-road ability. Honda needed something to offer its customers ASAP, so in the fall of 1993 the 1994 Honda Passport arrived at dealerships. There was little to distinguish the Passport from its Rodeo cousin, save for a different grille, the Honda logo and some different wheels. Some early models featured rear axles from General Motors and Dana, and true to its off-road nature, the Passport offered options like a 2-speed transfer case, gas-pressurized shocks and, later in the model run, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive.

Initially Honda offered the Passport in three trims: DX, LX and EX. The base DX trims were rear-wheel drive only and used a 120-horsepower 2.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual was the standard transmission. Moving to the LX offered the option of a 4-speed automatic, 4WD and a larger 3.2-liter V6 good for 175 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. These three LX options were standard on the top-line EX. In 1995, the Passport got a redesigned dashboard and front airbags, and in 1996, the V6 saw its horsepower jump to 190. By 1997, the DX trim and the 4-cylinder engine were dropped from the lineup. During this run of first-generation Passports, Honda felt so good about its relationship with Isuzu that it decided to try the same formula with its Acura luxury division. This time, it was the full-size Isuzu Trooper that got a makeover, debuting in 1995 and the Acura SLX.

1998 brought the second-generation Passport to market, offering refined styling, a 205-hp V6 and a few more Honda engineering touches. Regrettably for Honda, this generation would also come back to haunt the company due to an extensive recall involving severe frame rust near the rear lower control arms. In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration order a recall of nearly 150,000 vehicles produced from 1998 to 2002. Many of the vehicles were so far gone that Honda simply ended up buying them back from owners. The recall, along with other issues, doomed Isuzu, which ended up leaving the U.S. market in 2008.

As for Honda, by the time the second-generation Passport debuted, the company was already working on plans to build its own SUV, one sharing its platform not with a competitor’s truck, but with Honda’s own Odyssey minivan and Accord sedan. Timing couldn’t have been better for just as the Rodeo was exiting the stage, the 2003 Honda Pilot arrived to take its place. With three rows, the Pilot was larger than the Passport, leaving a gap between the entry-level CR-V and itself. That gap has remained in the Honda lineup for nearly 16 years, but now, rumors are swirling that a new, 2-row SUV bearing the Passport name is in the works.

According to reports by Automotive News, the Passport is set to debut this month at the 2018 Los Angels International Auto Show, with sales starting sometime early in 2019. The new Passport will be a 5-passenger crossover on par with the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Nissan Murano, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ford Edge. Plans appear to suggest the next Passport will be assembled in Honda’s Lincoln, Alabama plant.

Joe Tralongo
Joe Tralongo is a longtime contributor who started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2002 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He’s well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to translate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations. Joe has worked for a number of outlets as... Read More about Joe Tralongo

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