Curbside Classic: 1996 Isuzu Oasis – A Full Serving of Honda, but with None of the Appeal!

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Here is an idea for a little game.  Walk into ten separate social gatherings.  Mention to everyone there that you drive an Isuzu Oasis.  Then watch the blank stares.  It doesn’t really matter that there has not been an Oasis since 1999, this game would have gone the same way back then, too.

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I will confess that the oddball side of me has always wanted one of these in order to collect as many of those blank stares as possible.  And the payoff is that you get to drive the best Isuszu ever made.  Well, that and you also get to set the cabin temperature, put your favorite music on the radio and say to yourself “Ahhhhh – my very own private Oasis from a hectic world.”  Once the oddball side of me gets out, it is hard to contain.

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The top product men at Honda and Isuzu must have grown up playing Monopoly.  “Hey Ito – I’ll trade you my hotels on Baltic and Mediterranean for that undeveloped St. Charles Place that you have sitting there.”  It must have been the same thing in real life.  In mid-1990s America, Honda was selling lots and lots of cars, some minivans, and absolutely zero of the very popular SUVs.  Isuzu was selling nothing but trucks and SUVs, but none of the highly popular minivans.  So, a deal was struck.

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Honda would get the Isuzu Rodeo SUV, that would be re-badged as the Honda Passport (CC here).  In trade, Isuzu would get a minivan – a re-badge of the original Honda Odyssey (CC here).

So, who got the better deal?  That’s hard to say.  Well, really it’s not.  Honda sold the Passport (in two generations) from 1993-2002, and sold quite a few of them.  However, they were reputed to be a few notches below what Honda buyers expected in terms of quality.  I knew of at least one Passport owner who became quite angry when she found out that her Honda wasn’t really a Honda at all.  (Of course, she found this out during a service visit that was not going well).

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Isuzu?  Well, they sold fewer than 3,000 copies of the Oasis per year, including a number used as taxis in New York City.  Strangely, the Oasis continued to be sold for 1999, even after Honda’s Odyssey entered its second American generation that year.  However, those few lucky Oasis buyers got the best vehicles ever to carry an Isuzu badge.  So, the final tally goes like this:  Passport Owners and Isuzu were the losers, while Oasis owners and Honda were the winners.

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The unanswered question is what happened back at the Monopoly table?  Why did Isuzu keep supplying Rodeos to Honda, but got no more Odysseys in return?  Did Isuzu give up on the deal because of poor sales of the Oasis?  Or did Honda turn all cutthroat with success and refuse to deal once they knew that the Gen 2 Ody was a hit?  Surely someone out there knows.

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So, now all of you are in on this little secret.  The lesson here for all of you looking for cheap wheels with no baked-in vices is this:  if you find a nice Oasis, snap it up.  Only you had better get to it before I do.  Just get ready for the blank stares.