The company’s first SUV for the U.S. market

The Honda Passport was the Japanese company’s first entry into the SUV market in the United States. The Passport was born from a partnership between Honda and Isuzu as a badge-engineered version of the Rodeo. The Passport arrived in the U.S. for the 1994 model year, three years after the Isuzu Rodeo. The second-generation model was introduced for 1998 and production came to a halt in 2002.

Launched to compete against the Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee, and Nissan Pathfinder, the Passport was Honda’s desperate answer to the SUV craze that was taking off in the U.S. And even though it wasn’t impressively popular back in the day, it gave Honda a good start in the crossover field ahead of the CR-V’s American launch in 1997. The Passport is bound to return for the 2019 model year, so let’s have a closer look at its predecessors from the 1990s and early 2000s.

1994-2002 Honda Passport Exterior

First Generation

  • Identical to Isuzu Rodeo
  • Boxy and rugged
  • Unique grille
  • Almost featureless profile
  • Tailgate-mounted spare
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The first-gen Honda Passport is identical to the Isuzu Rodeo save for the front grille

Essentially a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo, the first-generation Honda Passport is identical to its Japanese counterpart save for a few minor details. Much like any SUV from the early 1990s, it has a boxy design and lacks the sporty cues we see on modern crossovers.

Up front, the rectangular grille is flanked by rectangular headlamps with turning signals placed toward the fenders. Honda revised the grille, making the plastic surround on the sides thinner than on the Rodeo. Everything else remained unchanged though, including the headlamps and the sturdy bumper with the black upper trim and the thin vents underneath.

The SUV’s design is far from exciting onto the sides. The panels are almost featureless, with only the fenders showing some character lines that made them seem beefier above the wheel arches. The squared off doors have clean cuts, as do the windows. However, the trim between the wheel arches make for a very low beltline, while the rear windows stood higher in the body and climbed into the roof. Honda offered various wheels, most of them different from the Isuzu Rodeo’s.

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The rear fascia is equally simple, with vertical taillights placed at the corners of the fascia and a clean lower tailgate that carries the spare wheel.

The angled rear window sets it apart from other SUVs from the era though.

The black bumper attached to the lower apron gives the Passport a rugged, purposeful look.

Second Generation

  • Notable second-gen upgrade
  • Upscale range-topping trim
  • Two-tone option
  • Bigger rear bumper
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The profile remained relatively unchanged in terms of shape and size

In 1998, Honda adopted the exterior design of the second-generation Isuzu Rodeo. However, while Isuzu made some extensive modifications to grille and front bumper, Honda kept the kept the grille similar to the old model. Down below, it adopted Isuzu’s new daytime running lights mounted deep in the bumper, but went with a familiar outlet setup with three wide and thin openings. By contrast, Isuzu used a narrower and taller vent split into eight smaller openings.

The profile of the crossover remained relatively unchanged in terms of shape and size, but the fenders became cleaner, while the black trim on the doors became body colored, giving the SUV a less rugged, more upscale look. The door windows became rounder at the edges, the C-pillar grew a bit thicker, and the rear window now had the same height as the door glasshouse. Although Honda continued to offer an entry-level model with black lower inserts and bumpers, customers had access to more refined trims with body-colored elements.

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The rear fascia kept its clean design and tailgate-mounted spare wheel, but the taillights were reshaped, while the bumper grew larger.

The range-topping LX trim had the spare mounted under the trunk though. Of course, Honda added new wheel options.

1994-2002 Honda Passport Interior

First Generation

  • Simple and cheap looking
  • Two-tier dashboard
  • Rectangular design
  • No A/C on base model
  • Well-equipped top trim
  • Airbags added in 1995
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Compare the first-gen Passport’s interior with a modern SUV and you can draw only one conclusion: it looked dreadful. But that was the norm in non-premium vehicles back in the day. The dashboard looked boxy, there was plastic everywhere, and most companies, Honda included, had a bad habit to make the steering wheel in the same color as the dash. This was fine when everything was black, but looked terrible when ordered in light grey.

Also borrowed from the Isuzu Rodeo, the Passport had a two-tier dashboard design.

This was cool, because despite the lack of niceties, it provided plenty of room for small items, especially in the simulated tray atop the passenger side. Everything in sight was rectangular: the A/C vents, the center stack, the instrument panel cover, and even the center section of the steering wheel. The instrument cluster has two classic analog clocks and four big buttons on each side. Naturally, the steering wheel is simple and doesn’t feature controls like modern units do.

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The range-topping trim enabled the Passport to compete with more upscale SUVs

The base DX trim was devoid of most modern comfort features. There was no air conditioning or rear window defroster and the seats were basic and didn’t offer much lateral support. However, Honda loaded the range-topping EX with plenty of premium-like features. Besides A/C and an electric defroster, it also came with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, reclining front bucket seats, a tilt-up moonroof, dual heated power mirrors, rear privacy glass; AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, power windows and door locks, and cruise control. This trim enabled the Passport to compete with more upscale SUVs.

Originally launched without airbags, the Passport was fitted with safety features for the driver and front passenger for the 1995 model year.

Second Generation

  • All-new layout
  • Taller dashboard
  • Better looking steering wheel
  • Optional leather
  • Softer surfaces
  • Extra standard features
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The redesign brought a new interior. Although the two-tier dashboard remained in place, it was significantly different now. The upper tier was taller and it no longer had a tray on the passenger side. The center stack grew taller, with A/C vents and controls moved at the top, while the radio and cassette player remained on the lower level.

The square design of the instrument panel was abandoned in favor of a more modern, rounded cover.

The instrument cluster itself was upgraded too to a more modern design, while the steering wheel ditched the rectangular center section for a layout with four integrated spokes. The Passport how had more storage compartments and cup holders, new seats that offered increased comfort, and softer surfaces on the door panels.

The second-gen SUV had more standard features than its predecessor, including air conditioning and cruise control

With the DX discontinued for the second generation, the EX became the base model. Fortunately, it had more standard features than its predecessor, including air conditioning, cruise control, power door locks, powered windows, and a tilting steering wheel. It also came with a defroster, driver and front passenger airbags, AM/FM radio with cassette player, and power steering at no extra cost. The leather upholstery remained optional for this trim though.

The LX model offered leather seats and steering wheel as standard, which kept the Passport competitive against more upscale SUVs.

1994-2002 Honda Passport Drivetrain

First Generation

  • 2.6-liter four-cylinder
  • 3.2-liter V-6
  • Up to 190 horsepower
  • Optional AWD
  • Five-speed manual
  • Four-speed automatic
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Also borrowed from Isuzu, the 3.2-liter V-6 delivered 175 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque at launch

A badge-engineered Isuzu Rodeo, the Honda Passport featured the same engines under the hood. The first-generation SUV was offered with a choice of two drivetrains.

The base model featured a 2.6-liter four-cylinder unit. Called the 4ZE1, it was shared with many Isuzu models sold in the United States and overseas. Rated at 120 horsepower, the engine wasn’t exactly powerful given the Passport’s size and weight, so many customers went with the more powerful V-6 option.

Also borrowed from Isuzu, the 3.2-liter V-6 dubbed 6VD1 was offered in the Rodeo and Trooper models as well. Output was identical at 175 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque and increased to 190 horses for the 1996 model year. The four-cylinder engine was dropped from the lineup for the 1997 model year, right before the Passport was redesigned.

Both rear- and four-wheel drive versions were offered and the latter received positive reviews in the media. The Passport’s off-road capabilities were quite good thanks to its robust frame, modern rear axles from General Motors and Dana, and optional two-speed transfer case and gas-pressurized shocks.

Transmission choices included a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

The manual was standard on the base model, while the automatic was included at no extra cost on the range-topping version.

Other notable features included an anti-lock braking system, rack-and-pinion steering, and a coil-spring suspension for a smoother ride on public roads.

Second Generation

  • Four-cylinder discontinued
  • V-6 upgraded to 205 horsepower
  • Power front disc brakes
  • Towing at 4,500 pounds
  • Severe frame rust issues
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The four-cylinder engine did not return for the second-gen Passport, so the SUV soldiered on with the V-6 only.

Honda used the same Isuzu-built 3.2-liter unit, but output increased from 190 to 205 horsepower.

Just like before, the standard crossover came with rear-wheel drive, but the four-wheel-drive system remained optional. The same five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions were offered.

Power front disc brakes and rear drums were standard on all trims, while 4WD models featured a limited-slip differential. Although fuel consumption wasn’t one of the Passport’s strong points at 16 mpg, the SUV was quite impressive in the towing department, being able to pull as much as 4,500 pounds. That’s almost as much as the 2019 Honda Pilot, rated at 5,000 pounds!

Unfortunately, the second-gen Passport, as well as the Isuzu Rodeo, suffered from severe frame rust issues. In 2010, eight years after Honda discontinued the SUV, the NHTSA issued a recall for almost 150,000 units due to excessive corrosion at the left or right rear suspension link. Since U.S. federal regulations didn’t allow automakers to fix problems on vehicles that were ten or more years old, Honda had to buy back the Passports with severe rust damage. This issue eventually prompted Isuzu to withdraw from the U.S. market.

1994-2002 Honda Passport Pricing

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Pricing for the Passport started from $15,820 when it was introduced for the 1994 model year. V-6 models started from $19,960, while the range-topping LX version with all the goodies fetched $22,170.

The second-generation model came in at $22,700, with the top model priced from $28,950. In 2002, its final year on the market, the Passport retailed from $23,300 in base trim and $29,550 in range-topping spec.

Nowadays, you can buy a 2002 Passport in good condition for around $3,000 to $4,000.

1994-2002 Honda Passport Competition

Ford Explorer

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The Explorer was introduced in 1990 as a replacement for the Bronco II and it was redesigned for the 1995 model year. Sporting a decidedly more American design, the Explorer became much more popular thanks to its more potent drivetrains. The base 4.0-liter V-6 delivered almost as much as Isuzu’s range-topping engine at 160 horsepower and 220 pound-feet, while the range-topping 5.0-liter V-8 generated a solid 210 horses and 280 pound-feet. In its final year on the market, the Passport met competition from the third-generation Explorer, a much improved SUV with a new 4.6-liter V-8 that delivered 238 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of twist. The Explorer was also significantly more affordable than the Passport, coming in around $3,000 cheaper through some model years.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

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One of the most popular midsize SUVs in the 1990s, the first-generation Grand Cherokee debuted in 1992 and remained in production until 1998. The boxy Jeep had impressive off-roading capabilities and a fairly smooth ride on the highway. It was also more powerful than the Passport in almost all trims. While AMC’s 4.0-liter inline-six delivered up to 190 horsepower, the 5.2-liter Magnum V-8 engine was good for 225 horses and 300 pound-feet of twist. Launched in 1998, the second-gen Grand Cherokee had a more modern exterior and better technology for the driver. The 4.0-liter inline-six was upgraded to 195 horsepower and 230 pound-feet, while the new 4.7-liter V-8 generated up to 265 horsepower and 330 pound-feet in certain trims.

Nissan Pathfinder

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One of the oldest Japanese SUVs sold in America, the Pathfinder dates back to 1986. The first-generation model remained in production until late 1995, so the Passport went against a somewhat dated model in its first years on the market. However, in 1996 Nissan brought a new model to the market, ditching the traditional body-on-frame layout for a unibody configuration. While Nissan didn’t offer a V-8 for the Pathfinder, the 3.3-liter V-6 was plenty powerful at 168 horsepower and 196 pound-feet of torque. In 2001, Nissan introduced a new 3.5-liter V-6 with 240 horsepower. The second-gen Pathfinder remained in production until 2004.

Toyota 4Runner

Introduced all the way back in 1983, the 4Runner was a compact SUV for two generations. It was the third-gen model, launched in 1995, that grew larger for the midsize market and it was around just enough to witness the Passport’s discontinuation in 2002. Just like Honda’s SUV, the 4Runner came with a four-cylinder engine under the hood in base trim. The 2.7-liter delivered 150 horsepower and 177 pound-feet, which made the 4Runner more potent than the Passport. The 3.4-liter V-6 was also more powerful than Honda’s V-6 choice at first with 183 horses and 217 pound-feet on tap, but it eventually fell behind when the second-gen Passport arrived.

Final Thoughts

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Honda’s decision to use an Isuzu vehicle to enter the North American SUV marked raised quite a few eyebrows back in the day. It was an unprecedented move, but the U.S. market was taking off at an incredible rate and Honda needed an option against offerings from Ford, Chevy, Jeep, Toyota, and Nissan. Although the Passport was somewhat short-lived and nothing more than a rebadged Isuzu, it helped Honda break into the SUV market until it designed its very own vehicle, the Pilot.

Although it wasn’t as refined as Honda would have wanted, the Passport filled an important gap, and more importantly, it was well received and praised for its ruggedness, reliability, and impressive towing capacity.

  • Leave it
    • Just a rebadged Isuzu
    • Big rust-related recall

Further reading

Honda Is Reviving the Passport Name Plate for 2019 at the L.A. Auto Show
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Read our full speculative review on the 2019 Honda Passport.

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