The Aviator nameplate is returning to Lincoln and another automaker may also be looking at dusting off one of their old SUV nameplates. That company is Honda, who is rumored to be resurrecting the Passport name for a mid-size, two-row crossover. Should it return, it’ll be quite a bit different from the first two generations of Passport.
At the time, Honda lacked SUV knowledge. The Civic-based CR-V was still years away and Honda was resorting to rebadging the Land Rover Discovery for the Japanese market. The lack of SUVs to sell was a big problem in the crucial North American market. The Ford Explorer was selling 300,000 units a year and Honda had nothing to rival it until they approached Isuzu.
It was a splendid arrangement for the two companies: Isuzu was terminating passenger car production and needed a replacement Gemini and Aska for the Japanese market, while Honda needed an SUV. Later, Isuzu would borrow the Honda Odyssey to sell as the Oasis in North America and Honda borrowed the Isuzu Trooper to sell as the Acura SLX.
If Honda had had the wherewithal or resources to build an SUV from scratch, it probably wouldn’t have been like the Passport. Isuzus typically didn’t have the same level of refinement as Hondas and the Rodeo-derived Passport was no exception.
The second generation was a bit more polished, ditching the recirculating ball steering for a rack-and-pinion setup and switching from rear leaf springs to a five-link, coil spring rear suspension. The base four-cylinder engine was also dropped and the newly standard DOHC 3.2 V6 gained 15 hp and 26 ft-lbs, for a total of 205 hp and 214 ft-lbs. Finally, the second-generation Passport wore smoother, more elegant, evolutionary styling. Passports had a unique grille but otherwise looked identical to the Rodeos they shared their Indiana assembly line with.
The second-generation Passport didn’t really feel like a Honda, undoubtedly because Honda’s involvement ended at badges and trim. It was adequately pleasant on-road and sufficiently capable off-road. Gas mileage, interior quality, and handling prowess were all rather mediocre but that was par for the course for a mid-size truck in the late 1990s; the V6 Rodeo and Passport did stand out somewhat from the crowd by being rather peppy, although they could ride a little rough and sound a little harsh.
While the Passport sold only about half as well as the nearly identical Rodeo – around 20-30k units per year – it crucially provided Honda with a larger SUV offering while they developed the Pilot. Should the name return, it will undoubtedly be on a more refined, car-like crossover. Most importantly, it’ll be a real Honda.
Passports photographed in October/November 2016 in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico and Los Angeles International Airport, California, USA.