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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Richard Truett
September 7, 1995
Honda wanted to get in on the red-hot sport-utility market so badly that it settled for less than the best. Last year, Honda began selling a version of the Isuzu Rodeo as the Honda Passport; it's basically the same as the Rodeo, but it has a
different grille and trim. The Rodeo always has been a fundamentally decent vehicle, but it has never been what you would call a front-runner. When people think of sport-utilities, they think of Jeep Cherokees, Ford Explorers, Chevy Blazers and
various Land Rovers. The rest of the pack are second-tier vehicles that sell mostly because of brand loyalty. Although Honda has a superb reputation for engineering quality automobiles, the Japanese automaker has no experience designing four-wheel
drive vehicles. To get in on the market, it was cheaper and quicker for Honda to farm out the job to another company than it was to start from scratch. PERFORMANCE The base model Passport, the DX, comes with a 2.6-liter, 120-horsepower
four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available in four-cylinder models. However, the V-6 powered Passport LX and EX models can be ordered with either a stick shift or an automatic. Our test vehicle, an LX,
came with Isuzu's smooth-running 24-valve V-6, a double-overhead cam engine that makes 175 horsepower. The engine was linked to a computer-controlled four-speed automatic - a classy and pleasing drivetrain. (By the way, along with the Isuzu Trooper,
the Passport and Rodeo are the only sport-utility vehicles available with multi-valve engines.) The drivetrain in our bright red Passport is the one part of the vehicle that comes closest to Honda's own high-quality standards. Our test vehicle started
quickly and ran great despite high heat, heavy traffic and numerous stop-and-go trips. The V-6 delivers power smoothly and evenly. It also runs very quietly. Previous versions of the Isuzu V-6 have made awailing noise when revved due, I think, to a
loud engine fan. Two buttons on the console allow the driver to choose between ''power'' and ''winter'' driving modes. The power mode makes driving the Passport in the city much easier, because a computer delays the shifting of the transmission in
lower gears and lets the engine rev higher. This makes acceleration a bit more snappy. It's not likely you would use the winter setting much around here, which is designed to let the Passport start off in third gear so that the wheels won't slip on
icy roads. The Passport's overall performance is good. Although the Chevy Blazer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee are a bit quicker and more powerful, the Passport had no problem passing slower traffic. HANDLING The Passport feels very average over
the road. It is competent in most situations, but it's not a trendsetter in any way. The ride isn't the smoothest or quietest, and the handling isn't the best. It's solidly
in the middle of the pack. The Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevy Blazer can be flung around corners almost like a mid-size sedan; the Passport doesn't have the same agile feel. For one thing, the power-assisted steering is somewhat
vague. The wheel is slow to return to center when you make a sharp turn. For another, the body can lean quite a bit when you take a corner quickly - but this is a trait of many four-wheel-drive vehicles. In the better-engineered ones, you don't feel it as
much. You won't find anything special in the Passport's suspension system, which uses double wishbones up front and a live axle in the rear. The Passport does a fair job of getting over large bumps and dips, though it can get a bit bouncy. Off the
road, I found that the Passport is much easier to drive and control by taking it slowly. In fact, in low-gear with four-wheel-drive engaged, the Passport can be a pleasing trailblazer. The four-wheel disc brakes - with anti-l
ck active only on the rear - offer terrific stopping power. FIT AND FINISH For 1995, both the Passport and Rodeo have a new dash. The Passport joins the Ford Explorer, Land Rover Discovery and Ranger Rover 4.0 in offering dual air bags. Except
for an awkward-looking panel below the air-conditioner controls, Honda has styled the dash attractively. That panel, which looks like it is there to conceal small items, such as wallets or keys, actually covers up a cluster of wires. I was surprised when
it came off so easily in my hands. It appears as if Honda donated the switchgear on the steering column. The stalk-mounted cruise control, headlight and windshield wiper switches felt like they could have come straight out of an Accord sedan. The
front bucket seats were a bit on the firm side, but they were comfortable on long trips. Rear-seatpassengers will find a comfortable amount of head, leg and foot room in the Passport. The rear seat is a nice place to be for average-size adults. It
is the Passport's rear area, though, where the vehicle really needs work. When it comes time to haul cargo, it takes three steps to fold down the seats. First you pull a tab in the center of the bottom cushions to flip them forward, then you remove both
headrests from the top half of the back seats. After that you press a button and fold the rear seats forward. On other sport-utilities, folding the seats forward is a one-step, no-brain-activity-required task. But the biggest aggravation is the
outside mounted spare tire, which blocks the rear view and makes opening the tailgate a hassle. First you have to pull a lever to free the swing-out tire. If you don't swing the tire completely over to the left, you'll chip the paint when you try to
open the tailgate. Not only that, but you have to press a button to pop up the rear window before you can open the tailgate. In other words, loading and unloading cargo almost requires you to go down a checklist of procedures. Our test vehicle
came with electric door locks but not electric mirrors. It also had a powerful AM/FM cassette radio and a great air conditioner. After spending a week with the Passport, I don't think it will do much to enhance Honda's reputation. This vehicle doesn't
have the same high-quality feel as a Honda, and it doesn't instill in you that unburstable trust like a real Honda does. Truett's tip: Although engineered and built well, the Isuzu-built Passport is not one of the most user-friendly