SOME PEOPLE think it's the real thing. That's okay with Honda. It'sabout appearances; if people think the 1994 Honda Passport is a genuineHonda sport-utility vehicle, so much the better.The Passport lives up to Honda's rep for quality and reliability. Italso gives Honda entree to one of the most lucrative segments of theU.S. auto market, that place where Jeeps, Isuzu Troopers, Ford Explorersand Chevy Blazers roam. So what if the thing really is an Isuzu Rodeo?So, check your pockets: The Passport's prices generally are higherthan those charged for the Rodeo, and the Rodeo generally has a betterwarranty than the one that comes with the Passport. I've listened toseveral official Honda explanations for these cost differences and,well, they don't make much sense to me.Honda once worked its way into our hearts by making things simple.Now, with the Passport, it's burrowing into our bank accounts bycomplicating simplicity.Background: Honda isn't alone in this body swap game: The MazdaNavajo is a Ford Explorer. The Ford Probe is a Mazda MX-6. The Geo Prizmis a Toyota Corolla. The Dodge Stealth is a Mitsubishi 3000 GT. TheNissan Quest minivan is a Mercury Villager.Time was when folks used to beat up General Motors for makinglook-alike cars and trucks. But it turns out that GM might've had abetter idea: Use common parts to make the same vehicle several differentways with minor exterior changes, including the nameplate. Offer them todifferent markets at different prices. In the process, cut productioncosts and increase profits.You can get the Passport in rear-wheel-drive (DX and upscale LX) orfour-wheel-drive (LX and plush EX). The base rear-wheel-drive Passportcomes with a standard 2.4-liter, in-line four-cylinder engine rated 120horsepower at 4,600 rpm. Maximum torque is set at 150 foot-pounds at2,600 rpm. A 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6 is standard in the rear-drive LXand the four-wheel-drive LX and EX. The V-6 is rated 175 horsepower at5,200 rpm, with a maximum torque of 188 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm.Five-speed manual is standard in all Passports. An electronicallycontrolled, four-speed automatic is optional for the rear-drive LX andthe four-wheel-drive LX and EX.Rear-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard on all Passports. Frontdiscs/rear drums are standard on the base rear-drive model; four-wheeldisc brakes are standard on the rest of the Passports.Air bags? No. Not one.Complaints: Pricing and warranty.Praise: The best Isuzu Honda ever sold. Also credit decent cargocapacity: 35 cubic feet with rear seats up and nearly 75 cubic feet withrear seats down. V-6 Passports can be equipped to tow up to 4,500-poundtrailers.Head-turning quotient: Looks like a Rodeo, drives like a Rodeo, is .. .Ride, acceleration and handling: Impressive all the way around in thetested, five-passenger Passport LX four-wheel-drive model with automatictransmission, especially on the snow-cover ed New Jersey Turnpike and theunplowed, potholed side streets of New York.Of special note here is the Passport's push-button "winter" gear,which allows the automatic transmission to start from third gear insteadof first, limiting wheelspin.Mileage: Truck stuff. About 16 to the gallon (21.9-gallon tank,estimated 339-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), combinedcity-highway, running with two occupants and 350 pounds of cargo.Sound system: Honda-installed AM/FM stereo and cassette, fourspeakers. Very good.Price: Base price on the tested Passport LX is $22,450, compared with$20,349 on the comparable Rodeo S V-6. Dealer invoice on the Passport LXis $19,464, compared with $17,703 on the Rodeo S V-6. Price as tested onon Passport LX is $22,825, including a $375 destination charge. The samedestination charge applies to the Rodeo.Purse-strings note: The Passport base warranty is three years/36,000miles versus three years/50,000 miles for the Rode o. Powertrain warrantyis three years/36,000 miles for the Passport versus five years/60,000miles for the Rodeo. You get guaranteed roadside assistance with theRodeo, none with the Passport. Go figure.
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