After a roller-coaster ride that ended in devastation 17 years earlier, the Honda Passport rose like a phoenix from the ashes. The Passport came onto the scene in 1994, but then things went south. Something that started so good turned pretty sour in just a few short years, costing Honda untold money and, no doubt, a lot of gray hairs. Here’s a little bit about how it all came about.
The Honda Passport’s origins
Back in 1993, Honda had to come up with something revolutionary to offer the market that wasn’t boilerplate. So they snuck over in the dead of night to talk to Isuzu. Actually, it was probably in the middle of the day in business suits or whatever automobile design engineers wear but just go with the imagery.
The Isuzu Rodeo was the new cool kid on the block, so Honda decided that if they wanted to be cool too, they should collaborate with Isuzu. In reality, according to AutoTrader, they just dressed up a Rodeo in Honda logos and wheels and rolled it onto the Honda showroom as the brand-new 1994 Honda Passport. Consumers had an option of three trims: DX, LX, and EX. Legend has it that, like a prince from a frog, it was actually conjured up from a motorcycle.
It underwent some minor modifications to the dashboard in ’95, as well as the addition of front airbags. In ’96, the V6 got a boost up to 190 hp. In 1997, Honda dropped the lower level DX as well as the four-cylinder engine from the Passport offerings. The Passport was the fairest in the land, and life was good. It was 1998, and Honda decided it was time for the second generation, offering a stylish, more powerful V6.
Where things started to go south for the Honda Passport
The problems had to have seemed like a curse to Honda. Suddenly, there was a massive recall due to “severe” rust near the rear lower control arms. What that really means is that the part that connects to the body and supports the motion of the axles was rusting badly. It didn’t get better. By 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 150,000 models made between 1998 and 2002.
Honda had to have been hemorrhaging money. Things got so bad that they just started buying back cars. The worst model, the 1999 Honda Passport shows 313 problems logged with Car Complaints. The top offenders were brakes, suspension problems, and engine issues.
Coming in closely behind those were body/paint problems and fuel system issues. Remember, these are the top complaints in 1999. Yet, Honda seems destined to repeat their mistakes based on the latest round of recalls for faulty fuel pumps.
That is an impressive yet disconcerting list, and it is only a fraction of the complaints for the ’99 year model. With a history like this, you would think the Passport would be the black sheep of the Honda family, exiled forever. Yet, Honda kept cranking them out for another three years before retiring the Passport in 2002. It’s a mystery why that seemed like a good idea.
Is there a happily ever after?
Honda never filled the gap left by the Passport. Like Goldilocks, consumers found the Pilot was too big, and the CR-V was too small. However, the ill-fated Passport had been just the right size. When Honda reintroduced the 2019 Passport, J.D. Power gave it a respectable 82 out of 100. Yet, late last year, TorqueNews told us that they weren’t selling, so discounts were generous and bountiful.
Is it the ghost of years past or just bad design? You would think that if Honda wanted to revive the Passport instead of building a new midsize SUV to fill out their lineup, they would at least rename it.