Every time an automaker brings back an old name on a new model, there’s some disappointment among enthusiasts. Whether it’s the Pontiac GTO or the Chevrolet Blazer, there are always fans who were really attached to the old one and had something really specific in mind for the new one, but are ultimately let down. The newest example of this is the Honda Passport.
Granted, I haven’t heard a lot of outrage about the new Passport, which was recently unveiled at the LA Auto Show. I think it’s because everyone’s realized that if an old SUV name is coming back, it’s probably going to be in the form of a family-friendly crossover. But still, there are a few outliers who are upset that the new Passport isn’t the body-on-frame off-road beast that the original one was in the 1990s.
To recap, the original Honda Passport was the very first Honda SUV when it came out for the 1994 model year — and it wasn’t really a Honda aside from the badging. Honda farmed out its first SUV to Isuzu, in case this whole SUV thing was just a fad, so it rebadged the Isuzu Rodeo to become the Honda Passport. It was available as a 4-door midsize SUV with rear- or 4-wheel drive, and it was known for its off-road competence. There was a second-gen model that ran from 1998 to 2002 that had such bad frame rust issues that they were recalled in 2010 — and Honda even bought back some of them.
Fast forward to today, and the all-new 2019 Honda Passport is little more than a smaller, moodier, slightly more rugged Honda Pilot powered by the same V6 engine. Honda is marketing it as an off-roader, but let’s face it: it’s just another unibody midsize family crossover that can do some light to moderate off-roading when equipped with AWD. It’s like Honda’s shot at a Jeep.
We could sit here and make fun of the new Passport for being a soft-roader, but I think this vehicle makes a lot of sense for Honda. The market keeps proving that what people want to drive today is SUVs that drive like cars, can be had with AWD and will make your friends think you’re outdoorsy. That’s exactly what the new Passport is — and it makes a lot more sense than a badge-engineered Isuzu.
I said it about the new Chevy Blazer and I’ll say it again: the 2019 Honda Passport might not be what enthusiasts want from that name, but it’s what people in the market for a new SUV are going to buy.