Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

THE 1986 FACELIFT

Honda’s small coupe got a mid-life makeover for the 1986 model year. The most visible changes for both the Ballade Sports CR-X and North American CRX were the adoption of flush-mounted headlights, now legal in the States, and a new front bumper/spoiler. The structure was beefed up somewhat, which involved extensive (though not readily obvious) changes to the body shell. The exterior styling was also tidied up and the interior trim was upgraded. JDM 1.5i and Si models now had an optional four-speed automatic, although curiously this was available only on carbureted 1.5-liter U.S. cars and not at all in Europe.

1987 Honda CRX front 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

The 1986–1987 Honda CRX traded recessed headlights for the flush halogen units that had been standard on the JDM Civic (but not the Ballade) since the 1984 model year. New bumpers increased the CRX’s overall length to 147.8 inches (3,755 mm). (author photo)

In North America, the CRX Si belatedly received the bigger 185/60R-14 tires offered elsewhere. Continuing Honda’s quest for fuel economy bragging rights, the CRX HF was retuned for 58 hp SAE (43 kW) and 79 lb-ft (107 N-m) of torque and given various tweaks that yielded 54 mpg (4.4 L/100 km) on the contemporary EPA combined cycle (46 mpg on the post-2008 scale, equivalent to 5.1 L/100 km).

The European CRX got most of the same upgrades as the JDM car, but was now offered only in a single trim level comparable to the Japanese CR-X Si. Now badged CRX 1.6i-16, the European car used the DOHC ZC engine minus the catalytic converter, claiming 125 PS DIN (92 kW) and 103 lb-ft (140 N-m) of torque. Since the 1.6i-16 still weighed less than 2,000 lb (900 kg), the result was 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than 8 seconds and a top speed of around 124 mph (200 km/h), not far off Honda’s claim. The CRX 1.6i-16 still couldn’t outrun the cheaper Renault 5GT Turbo, which had less power but more torque and less weight, but the Honda was one of the fastest cars in its price range. Critical opinion of the CRX’s handling was also much improved, thanks in large part to the newly standard 185/60HR14 tires.

1987 Honda CRX rear 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

While the midlevel CRX 1.5 (the red car, top) still had gray bumpers and rocker cladding, those pieces were now body-color on the late EA CRX Si (black car, bottom). The CRX Si also included a sunroof, alloy wheels, the same rear spoiler as the JDM CR-X Si, and, perhaps most usefully, a rear wiper/washer. (author photos)

1987 Honda CRX Si rear 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

We don’t have complete Japanese or European sales figures for these cars, but the changes made 1986 the CRX’s best sales year ever in the U.S.: more than 60,000 units, followed by almost 50,000 in 1987. The greater performance of the Si models also added to the CRX’s competition potential. The CRX made a strong showing in SCCA showroom stock and the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship, among others, and was (and remains) a popular choice for club racing and autocross events.

HONDA CRX MK2

The second-generation Honda CR-X/CRX debuted with the rest of the fourth-generation EF Civic line in September 1987. In Japan, the coupe was no longer identified as part of the Ballade line; although still sold through Verno dealerships, it was now badged simply as CR-X. Elsewhere, the car remained “CRX.”

The EF CRX looked much like its predecessor, but was a bit bigger and 0.8 inches (20 mm) lower than before with more glass area and better aerodynamics. Curb weight was up as well, though not by much. Factory figures show a gain of about 45 lb (20 kg).

1991 Honda CRX Si © 2010 Aaron Severson

At a glance, it’s not easy to distinguish the EF CRX from the late EA version despite the later car’s greater width and wider track. (Compared to the original CRX, the second-generation CRX’s tread width increased 2 inches (50 mm) in front and 1.6 inches (40 mm) in back.) This is a U.S.-spec 1991 CRX Si, which has different bumpers than the initial 1988–1989 models. The most obvious points of identification are the additional air intake slots on either side of the main radiator intake. These look like they should channel air to the front brakes, but are purely cosmetic. The North American CRX Si also lacks the hood bulge included on twin-cam European and 1988–1989 JDM cars. (The bulge was omitted on late JDM cars in favor of a slightly domed hood.) (author photo)

The previous CR-X’s roof ventilation system was gone, but JDM cars now offered an unusual glass roof option — essentially a fixed, oversize sunroof of tinted glass. The previous car’s sunroof remained optional.

While the styling changes of the new CRX (and Civic) were largely evolutionary, there were substantial changes under the skin. The first was a completely new suspension. Each front wheel now had an upper wishbone connected to a long, curved vertical steering knuckle extension and a lower “wishbone” formed by a lower control arm and a radius rod that allowed some fore-aft compliance. There was also the customary front anti-roll bar. In back, the beam axle gave way to trailing arms with upper and lower lateral links and small toe-control links. (Honda described the rear suspension as double wishbones, which was true in function if imprecise in detail.) Coil springs and gas shocks were fitted all around and there was a new variable-ratio steering rack. Speed-sensitive power steering was optional on JDM cars.

The previous CRX’s 1.3- and 1.5-liter engines were dropped in favor of the new 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) D-series four, which had the same basic block and 75mm (2.95-inch) bore dimensions as the ZC twin-cam engine, but a single overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. A dual-carburetor version of this “Hyper 16-valve” (D15B) engine was standard on the base CR-X 1.5X, making 105 PS JIS (77 kW) and 96 lb-ft (130 N-m) of torque with manual transmission, a bit less with automatic. The CR-X Si once again used the twin-cam ZC engine, now boasting net ratings of 130 PS JIS (96 kW) and 106 lb-ft (144 N-m) of torque. Both engines could be ordered with either a five-speed gearbox or four-speed automatic. The Si also had 185/60HR14 tires, a rear anti-roll bar, and four-wheel disc brakes. Honda’s three-channel antilock braking system was added to the options list in August 1988.

1991 Honda CRX Si front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson

The 1988–1989 Honda CRX was the same length as the late EA CRX — 147.8 inches (3,755 mm) — but the wheelbase was up 3.9 inches (100 mm), to 90.6 inches (2,100 mm), while overall width increased almost 2 inches (50 mm). The revised bumpers added with the CRX’s mid-life refresh for 1990 added 0.7 inches (15 mm) to the overall length, bringing it to 148.5 inches (3,770 mm). Note the mirrors: U.S.-spec EF CRX and CRX Si models had dual outside mirrors, but they were always black. On JDM cars, the mirrors matched the body color. (author photo)

U.S. cars were offered with a choice of three engines, none of them shared with the CRX sold in other markets. The midlevel CRX combined the Hyper 16-valve engine with the Dual-Point PGM-FI system from the previous federalized CRX Si, yielding 92 hp SAE (69 kW) and 89 lb-ft (121 N-m) of torque. This was the only U.S. engine available with automatic. The CRX HF combined the 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) block with a simpler eight-valve head and a more sophisticated multipoint injection system, giving an unambitious 62 hp SAE (46 kW), but 90 lb-ft (122 N-m) of torque at only 2,000 rpm and an impressive 53 mpg (4.5 L/100 km/h) on the EPA combined cycle (44 mpg adjusted, 5.4 L/100 km). The CRX Si fitted both the multipoint injection system and the 16-valve head to a long-stroke, 1,590 cc 1,590 cc (97 cu. in.) block, yielding 105 hp SAE (78 kW) and 98 lb-ft (133 N-m) of torque. The Si included the JDM models’ wider tires and rear anti-roll bar, but not the rear disc brakes, which weren’t adopted for U.S. cars until 1990.

As with the last of the EA cars, the European EF CRX 1.6i-16 was offered only with the DOHC engine, which was rated at 130 PS DIN (96 kW) and 105 lb-ft (142 N-m) without a catalytic converter and 124 PS DIN (91 kW) and 103 lb-ft (140 N-m) with catalyst. With the timing retarded a bit, even the uncatalyzed version was now able to run on unleaded fuel, gradually becoming more common in Europe during that period. The European CRX was available only with a five-speed gearbox and had rear drum brakes like U.S. cars’ until 1989.

1991 Honda CRX Si rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson

The second-generation Honda CRX looks sleeker than the EA and has a lower drag coefficient (0.29 for the CRX HF, 0.30 for other models), but we’re not sure how much more aerodynamic it actually was. Honda didn’t quote total drag area for this car, but with the wider body, frontal area may have been greater than before, so there may not have been much net gain even with the lower Cd. (author photo)

The early EF CRX was a bit faster but little quicker than its predecessor, since the gains in power were not accompanied by commensurate increases in torque. The little coupe was still very nimble and its moves were more polished than before, although the greater stability provided by the longer wheelbase and wider track eroded a bit of the EA CRX’s agility. European critics complained that the chassis still lacked the finesse of the better French hot hatches and that the ride, though improved, was still not particularly good. Also, while Honda had taken pains to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness, including adding “dimples” to the floorpan to prevent it from acting as a sounding board, road noise remained annoyingly high.

Nonetheless, the CRX remained great fun to drive and its continued string of IMSA and SCCA victories demonstrated that the little Honda’s capabilities were not just subjective. For a time, Honda also sponsored a one-make racing series, the CRX Challenge.

VTEC: THE B16A CRX

The EF CRX/CR-X got a mid-cycle revamp in the fall of 1989, including a stronger and slightly heavier body, new bumpers, and a revised dashboard. The big news, however, was the availability of a new variable valve timing system that Honda called VTEC (for Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control).

Today, variable valve timing is commonplace, but it was big news when Honda first announced it for the Integra in April 1989. Derived from Honda’s F1 racing experience, VTEC used an extra set of lobes on each cam that were hydraulically locked into place at a preset engine speed. In effect, this allowed Honda to combine the effects of a relatively mild cam (moderate duration and valve lift) for low-speed driveability with a hotter, long-duration/high-lift profile for the sort of high-end power normally associated with peaky racing or motorcycle engines.

At 1,595 cc (97 cu. in.), the new engine, dubbed B16A, had only slightly greater displacement than the existing ZC engine, but a higher 10.2:1 compression ratio, a wider 81.0mm (3.19-inch) bore, and a significantly shorter 77.4mm (3.05-inch) stroke. In Japan, the B16A claimed 160 PS JIS (118 kW) at a screaming 7,600 rpm, allowing Honda to proudly proclaim the twin-cam four the world’s first normally aspirated production automobile engine to make 100 (metric) horsepower per liter. Torque output was 112 lb-ft (152 N-m) of torque at a similarly lofty 7,000 rpm.

1990 Honda CR-X SiR rear 3q © 2006 Jefff88 (PD)

A JDM Honda CR-X SiR shows off its standard wing-type rear spoiler, dual exhausts, and VTEC graphics. With 160 PS DIN (118 kW), the EF CR-X SiR was powerful, but with air, power steering, electric windows, antilock brakes, and power sunroof, curb weight was close to 2,400 lb (1,085 kg). (Photo: “Hondacrxsirstock” © 2006 Jefff88 at English Wikipedia; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Five months later, Honda installed this engine in the CR-X. In addition to the VTEC engine, the new CR-X SiR grade featured bigger front brakes, 195/60VR14 tires, a rear spoiler, and a leather-trimmed interior. The CR-X SiR could also be ordered with torque-sensitive power steering, antilock brakes, and a viscous coupling differential derived from Honda’s AWD Civic models. At ¥1,547,000 (around $11,000) to start, the CR-X SiR was ¥217,000 (approximately $1,500) more than the still-available CR-X Si, although some of the latter’s formerly standard equipment had moved to the options list to bring the price down. A fully loaded CR-X SiR ran to around ¥2 million (about $14,000).

The VTEC engine also became available on the European CRX 1.6i-VT for 1990, supplementing the still-available 1.6i-16. The new CRX 1.6i-VT now had a standard catalytic converter (as did the 1.6i-16) and was rated at 150 PS DIN (110 kW) and 106 lb-ft (144 N-m) of torque. Honda claimed a top speed of 138 mph (222 km/h) and 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 7 seconds, although independent tests suggest that both figures were again highly optimistic. The CRX 1.6i-VT didn’t offer the JDM car’s limited-slip differential or ABS.

1991 Honda CRX Si rear © 2010 Aaron Severson

The EF CRX still suffered a fairly high liftover height, but the lower portion of the hatchback was now transparent, making for better rear visibility in close-quarters maneuvering. The later 1990–1991 cars had slightly different taillights than the 1988–1989 CRX. The quickest recognition point is that the center panel on later cars is a much darker red. Note the sunroof, standard equipment on the U.S. CRX Si and most European models. (author photo)

Once again, U.S. buyers also had to do without. The federalized CRX got the same body changes as cars in other markets while U.S. CRX Si models belated got four-wheel disc brakes and a slight power boost to 108 hp SAE (81 kW) and 100 lb-ft (136 N-m) of torque, but the VTEC engine was nowhere in sight. The American CRX also lacked many of the convenience options available on the CR-X in Japan, including power steering, power windows, and automatic climate control, although manually controlled air conditioning was a dealer-installed option.

Offering the features available on the Japanese-market CR-X SiR would have gone a long way toward addressing ongoing criticisms of the EF CRX, which included some penchant for early brake lockup, steering that was both heavy and slow (demanding 4.2 turns lock to lock), and a power-to-weight ratio that was slipping toward the back of the class. However, Honda was already obviously struggling to keep list prices competitive in the face of ever-more unfavorable exchange rates. The strength of the yen relative to the dollar had pushed the list price of a CRX Si from about $9,400 in 1987 to around $11,400 in 1991. Adding the B16A engine, power steering, ABS, and a limited-slip differential would have put the CRX’s price perilously close to that of cars like the Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX and its Diamond Star (Eagle Talon/Plymouth Laser) siblings, which offered all-wheel drive and far more horsepower, or Honda’s own Prelude and Integra. (The U.S. Integra didn’t get VTEC until early 1992.)

1991 Honda CRX Si alloy wheel © 2010 Aaron Severson

U.S.-market CRX Si models had standard 14-inch alloy wheels. Late (1990–91 examples), like this one, also had four-wheel disc brakes. (author photo)

DEL SOL

Production of the EF CRX/CR-X continued into early 1991, but a new version did not appear with the rest of the new EG Civic later that year as Honda prepared to move the little sports coupe in an entirely new direction.

48 Comments

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  1. Great article about a model I’ve always found compelling. And look at the list of sources – the depth of research is what really sets this site apart.

  2. I think it can be argued that Honda replaced the CRX/Del Sol with the Insight MK I. While it never had any sporting aspirations, it did fill the same basic role as the CRX HF in that it was a small, light, extremely fuel-efficient 2 seat commuter car. To this day it still holds the title of the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered car ever sold in the US market. While it was a flawed vehicle (due to battery life issues), it was still a better effort than the CR-Z at filling the sporty commuter car role. As far as the CR-Z goes, I don’t see how it is an improvement over the same product had it just been fitted with the drivetrain from the Fit/Jazz. It would have been lighter, within 2-4MPG of the hybrid system and far cheaper to produce and buy.

    1. There is certainly a case to be made for the Mk1 Insight as the next-generation CRX, although in that case more than CRX HF than the Si or VTEC editions. You could have fun with an Insight, but it was not a sporty car in any quantitative way other than having only two seats. The original Insight was also more of a sui generis piece like the NSX; the Mk1 Insight had a bespoke (and very expensive) chassis and engine where the CRX, even the del Sol, was a Civic derivative.

      The CR-Z is, to my eyes, a neat-looking car that tries to do two quite different things at once and ends up not being great at either of them. You have a point about the powertrain; the CR-Z is more fuel efficient than the Fit on the EPA cycle, but not dramatically so (the difference between a five-speed Fit 1.5 and a CR-Z six-speed is about 17%) and if you subtracted the added weight of the IMA system and battery (something between 110 and 150 lb, if it’s comparable to the Jazz Hybrid) it would probably be a wash. On the other hand, that would itself leave people searching for the point, since you could always just buy a Fit/Jazz, add your own suspension tweaks (which at this point Honda dealers might even sell you — I haven’t looked recently), and come out ahead in just about everything but looks.

      Of course, if Honda had really wanted to cheer up the faithful, they could pull the hybrid gear and battery pack from the CR-Z and install the K20 engine. They wouldn’t win any fuel economy prizes that way, but they could probably have matched the old CRX Si (27 mpg combined on the post-2008 cycle, compared to 24 mpg for the last of the previous generation 2-liter Civic Si) and there would be a lot less moaning about the old car being better.

      I think the bottom line is that Honda appears to be really stung by the fact that Toyota has made the Prius practically synonymous with hybrid cars while a lot of Honda hybrids have gone nowhere commercially. Honda keeps looking for a space in that niche they can call their own (the sporty hybrid, the cheaper hybrid) and so far they haven’t found it.

      1. “You could always just buy a Fit” pretty well sums up my thoughts on most new cars under $50k. I might add “and a motorcycle”.

      2. “Of course, if Honda had really wanted to cheer up the faithful, they could pull the hybrid gear and battery pack from the CR-Z and install the K20 engine.”

        Sweet Jesus man, it is cruel and unusual to even discuss something so easily do-able and yet so thoroughly un-fulfilled; especially considering the audience is made up of almost nothing but gear-heads. Somehow, the notion feels even more tantalizingly realistic when hearing you say it. Alas, the possibility exists only in the world of engine swaps for now and, I fear, the indefinite future :(

        There seem to be a lot of these common-sense type solutions kicking around that plenty of automakers have been picking up as of late. I mean, good god, just look at Ford, Hyundai, or even Toyota with the bold-move FRS/BRZ platform and even a looming collaboration with BMW. If you can’t beat ’em, coerce ’em into helping you build something that doesn’t suck. At least they’re doing <b>something</b> to inject some vitality into the brand.

        Honda, on the other hand, seems to be sitting on their hands. The Acura brand is a great example. It has made money for them in the past, but now it withers on the vine with more than one of their models falling seriously short of sales projections in recent years. The cars have good tech, Honda’s SH-AWD drivetrain is among the best in the business. Yet somehow the final package they’ve been putting together has been falling short. The RLX is, objectively, a perfectly decent sedan in its price range, but <b>nobody</b> has bought the thing.

        It seems to come back to Honda’s corporate culture. They just don’t do U-turns. They’ve been incredibly dedicated to the parrot-face family-resemblance front grille. Nobody likes it. Nobody <i>ever</i> liked it, but that doesn’t matter to them. This is what they planned and they’re doing it, period. Over at Toyota, Akio Toyoda has been wreaking havoc, changing all manner of product plans. So far, his efforts appear to have yielded entirely positive results. They’ve gained hugely renewed consumer interest in the brand and yet none of their “core customers” are abandoning their 2014 Camry buying plans just because Akio has pushed to build a few interesting cars. All is well for them. Sadly, it seems such is not the case over at Honda.

        I deeply want to continue being a Honda fan. Some of my greatest automotive experiences have occurred in or around one of their cars. However, hardly anything in their 2014 lineup sparks my interest. I’d <i>love</i> to be driving a Honda, but I recently scooped of a ’10 Hyundai Genesis Coupe fresh off a trade-in instead. Powerful V6 engine, 6 speed manual, RWD, and all for way less than $20K even though the thing still had 30K miles of warranty left on it.

        And the thing that really irritates me is how much better my car would be if it were a Honda. Honda could *easily* build a car just like the Genesis Coupe. Only if Honda made it, its engine would be more powerful, more fuel efficient, and more refined. Its interior would be made up of much higher quality materials to make a more quiet and comfortable cabin. The gearshift would be a nearly-orgasmic joy to operate rather than merely adequate. It wouldn’t have such an absurdly small amount of front bump travel. Its handling would be snappy, agile, and precise. Its ride quality would be supple with perfect damping. Its steering would feel tingly and wonderful and perfectly weighted.

        Alas, it would have been $6K-8K more expensive and-OMG I WOULD NOT HAVE CARED! <i>AT! ALL!</i> I would <i>so</i> prefer to own a Honda-built version of my Genesis Coupe.

        Honda! Hooondaaa! Please! Please just build *one* proper enthusiast’s car?! With no hybridized whatever? Just wheels and a meaty engine and some seats and perfectly ergonomic controls and every other exquisite, driver-focused quality that we all *know* you can build into a car.

        Aaron Severson has penned an ode, yet another lovingly detailed history of an incredible strain of automobile. It is truly baffling to read it to its end and then consider what Honda’s product tree looks like right now. What a shame.

        1. It should be said that however much the recent Civic and Accord models have been lambasted by the enthusiast press, both have been selling quite well in the U.S., so they seem to be going over okay with consumers.

          As for the hybrids, the last time I checked, the Prius was by a healthy margin the bestselling car in Japan by a substantial margin and it and the Aqua (the car sold here as the Prius C) account for a substantial portion of ALL cars sold in Japan right now. By contrast, Honda has had a lot of difficulty carving out a piece of that market; Toyota has really branded itself as the hybrid company at this point, which has left Honda trying to maneuver around them.

          Also, Honda today is in a very different position than it was when the original CRX was developed. Back then, Honda was just barely edging out Mazda for fourth place in Japan during a period when the Japanese economy was really starting to boom and the auto industry (after some sluggish years in the mid-seventies) was taking off. Those are the kind of conditions that seem to inspired companies to produce their best products — periods in which there’s obviously money to be made (and thus more incentive to take expensive chances), but where the company isn’t so far out in front that they second-guess themselves to death try to hang onto their established market share.

          Today, Honda is I think still No. 2 in the Japanese industry, having displaced Nissan, and one of the top-selling automotive brands in the U.S., but the Japanese economy has been rocky for some time — the earthquake certainly didn’t help — and the auto industry in general is in a weird and uneasy place for everyone but the high-end German brands. Those are the sort of conditions that discourage companies from taking chances; there’s a lot to lose and not necessarily a lot to gain.

  3. When I first heard of it, I was really hoping that the Scion iQ was going to pick up where the CRX left off…tiny, nimble, quirky, efficient, and unapologetic about styling. Sadly, it appears to have been a flop in the U.S. at least.

    So what is the CRX’s closest successor? The MINI products are a little too form-over-function, the MX-5 is too expensive, we (U.S.) got the wrong Smart, the MR2 Spyder was apparently not as fun as it looks, etc.

    I’m calling out the Mazda2…and the Fit, of course.

    1. Well, neither the Fit or Mazda2 is really the same sort of car. The Fit/Jazz is in size and purpose basically a cleverer, modernized version of the EA Civic Shuttle/Wagon five-door. (The Fit is about 3.5 inches shorter, but 2 inches wider and about an inch and a half taller.) The 2/Demio is a supermini like the Fiesta that shares its platform. Neither the Fit nor the 2 is particularly sporty — which is not to say they’re bad to drive because they’re not, but being fun to drive is really not their primary mission.

      Of the various smaller hot hatches, I would say the closest direct comparison is probably the Suzuki Swift Sport three-door, not sold here. If you want to be technical, it’s closer to the EA Civic Si than the CRX, but the Swift Sport is about as close to a “back to basics” small sporty car as you’ll find these days.

  4. I’d like to know why Honda was able to make money offering such a wide range of Civic variations back in the ’80’s. Heck, they even offered 3 versions of the CRX (CRX, CRXhf and CRXsi). Plus the Civic hatch, the 4-door Civic and the Civic Wagon.

    Now it’s 2-door, 4-door or hit the highway.

    Same with most of all the other car companies.

    Back in the ’60’s you could get a full-size Chevy in 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop, 2-door sedan, 2-door hardtop, station wagon and convertible. Most if not all in Caprice, Impala, Biscayne and 210 variants.

    Maybe the car companies would sell some more cars if they gave us some choice.

    1. Well, Honda does offer a Civic hatchback and a wagon/MPV (the Stream), just not in the U.S. Conversely, the Civic three-box sedan and two-door coupe aren’t sold in Europe. In both cases, the reason is that in the past three generations or so, interest in hatchbacks and small wagons in the U.S. has been minimal, while European buyers have a similar feeling about notchback sedans and coupes.

  5. Great article (you keep spoiling us, Aaron!). I owned a ’77 Civic CVCC and an ’85 CRX and the CRX was such a quantum leap over the Civic. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison given eight years of progress separating them, but the ’77 was such a piece of crap I swore I’d never own another Honda, so when I broke that rule and bought the CRX it was so good it more than evened the score. I figured I’d quit while I was ahead and have yet to buy another Honda (as if I could even afford a new(er) one…

  6. I had a 90 Si with a b16 and IHE, brake upgrades.
    at 50 years old I had a fast! fun, and reliable car that I drove every day.
    God, the fun I had with that car…

    1. Purchased a new 1987 CRX-Si in July of ’87, last of the original generation. Loved the way it drove. Installed a Jackson Racing suspension kit on the car and it handled like it was on rails.

      The first and second generation CRX cars were some of the best handling of all time. Light weight, great handling and excellent power to weight ratio for their day made these car instant classics.

  7. Great article! Well written and probably the only one so far which captures the fact the CR-X Ballade Sports started its existence in 1983… Although the first month of production was May 1983 (not late 1983 as written). Chassis numbers started as AF1
    The 1.6l DOHC CR-X did come out in 1984 but again as a Ballade Sports with the chassis number AS100 whilst the Si model on 1986 had the chassis number AS110.

    1. To the author: I own a 1983 cr-x ballade sports which was early build number 29 and also a 1.6 1984
      Ballade sports with the chassis AS100. I also have a parts book which shows the models if you’d like that for reference. Thanks.

    2. By introduction, I’m referring to the public announcement rather than the start of production, which for obvious reasons would have been somewhat earlier. Honda announced the new model on 23 June 1983 and according to their press release, the car went on sale through Honda Verno stores on the first day of July.

      I didn’t mean to imply that the JDM Si was not still a Ballade Sports CR-X, which it was (as can be seen by the identification on the back of the black car), and have amended the text a bit to make that clearer. The main issue was that it can get tricky to describe cars sold in distinct versions under different names without making the text very cumbersome…

  8. <cite>The factory estimated a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h) for the 1.5i, which was wildly optimistic</cite>

    I have an ’84 1.5 I purchased new from a dealer in AZ. The best I ever got out of it was 105. 124 is is wildly optimistic.

    1. The factory figure was for the more powerful Japanese-market injected engine. The car you had was the less-powerful carbureted U.S. 1.5; I don’t know if Honda ever released estimated figures for that version, although your 105 mph result is quite consistent with the independent U.S. tests.

      Either way, 124 mph was optimistic. The JDM 1.5i had probably just about the same net output as the later U.S. CRX Si (i.e., about 92 hp SAE net), which didn’t get close to that speed without aftermarket help. Even the European injected cars, which were almost certainly more powerful than the JDM version (no catalytic converter or EGR), couldn’t manage 120 mph in independent tests, much less 124.

  9. The photo of the S800 brought a tear! I owned an S600 Coupe (essentially the same car as the S800) and drove it for 18 years in and around Vancouver. With its 9500 RPM red line, what a hoot that car was! Still have the original (and incredibly detailed) shop manual for the S600, as well as one for the S800.

  10. THANKS for writing such a thorough and interesting history of the CRX! I truly enjoyed it!

    My sister’s first car (in ’88) was a very gently-used ’85 CRX (1.5) with only 34k miles on it. It was red with an after-market pop-up sunroof and oh-so-80s rear-window louvers that rattled constantly. Questionable accessories aside, it was still a blast to drive. Just a few weeks later, her best friend got a dark blue ’85 model, but with the dreadful 3-speed automatic.

    In 1990, shortly before I turned 16, my sister graduated high school and my dad bought her an ’86 Nissan 300ZX from a friend. Even though I always loved her ’85 CRX, I wasn’t thrilled to get my big sister’s hand-me-downs. But if I didn’t take the CRX, it was very likely that I’d be getting my mom’s ’77 Cutlass Supreme….so I took the CRX! =)

    Four months later, I lost control in a curve and put it into the guard rail at 70mph+. I walked away with just a few bumps and bruises, but the CRX wasn’t so lucky. I replaced it with a white ’86 CRX Si and kept it for almost two years, until I graduated high school in 01/1993.

    I went thru a series of Integras, Accords, a Prelude and even a Legend over the years. In 1999, when my daily driver was a ’94 Legend GS, I ran across a deal on a black ’90 CRX Si that I couldn’t pass up. It was pretty tired with just over 200k miles on the clock, but it was still fun for to play with for a couple of years until the head gasket blew.

    For the record, I hated the del Sol, but the current CR-Z could have some potential! Screw the hybrid crap, borrow the powertrain from the Civic Si and I’ll be first in line to buy one!

    1. I suspect the CR-Z won’t be around much longer. I saw news the other day that the Insight on which it’s based has ceased production and since CR-Z sales have never been great, I have to assume there isn’t a strong business case for continuing the CR-Z much longer. If it had become a cult favorite, keeping it might make sense as a goodwill-building gesture, but the people who might have made the CR-Z that kind of success have largely turned up their noses at it.

  11. Excellent article. I owned an 87 CRX DX for a few years and still own a 1997 Del Sol VTEC (bought new, but sadly the rust belt is about to claim another victim), but noticed you claimed the suspension didn’t change between the second generation CRX and the Del Sol. The Del Sol inherited the same suspension used in the same generation Civics (which is why most of the parts I’ve been buying lately are Civic parts), which is a true double wishbone up front and a trailing arm multilink arrangement in the rear. It is a funny looking double wishbone, I’ll grant you, with the two wishbones connected by an extended hub (Honda calls it a knuckle). There are some exploded parts diagrams of the suspension on OEM parts sites if you want to verify my statement (assuming Majestic Honda hasn’t yanked the Del Sol from their online parts catalog). I’ve been toying with the idea of replacing the Sol with a CRZ but for some reason the insurance rates for one in my neck of the woods are outrageous – I can insure a Pontiac Solstice GXP for less. Now if only I could afford the GXP… and the maintenance…

    1. I wasn’t trying to imply that suspensions were identical or interchangeable, but that they were substantially similar in layout. However, you’re quite right about the lower wishbone change — I’d missed that when I was looking at the itty-bitty diagrams in the del Sol press kit. One could argue (as I imagine Honda engineers would have) that a wishbone formed by two links is still functionally a wishbone; it sort of comes down to how picky you want to be. In any case, I’ve amended the text on that and to better describe the extended steering knuckles, which are shared by both generations.

      1. Agreed, though I think they’d need to be really picky indeed to argue that a lower control arm that consists of two pieces bolted together and attached to a single ball joint at the bottom of the knuckle isn’t a wishbone. It could have just as easily been a solid piece (indeed, some aftermarket arms did just that) with two horizontal pivot mounts on the car side connecting to a ball joint on the knuckle side. I don’t fault you for scratching your head at the diagrams, I just stared at one now and had to puzzle through what was what, and I’ve held the arms in my hands before. The steering tie rods almost look like they should be a load bearing piece. And I’m sorry, I didnt mean to infer that they would be interchangeable either, just that the design had changed between 88-91 and 92-95. Thanks again for the informative article. Oh, and if you haven’t read “The Honda Myth” before I can’t recommend it more highly… It’s a really compelling story about Honda’s history.

        1. My dilemma with the diagrams was that I originally looked only at the del Sol press kit, which has only one very small image of the front suspension — and that from an angle where the lower wishbone is completely hidden behind the knuckle. I went back and looked up the press kit for the Civic line, which had a more complete set of illustrations from several angles. (I assume since the del Sol followed on the heels of the other Civics, Honda didn’t see the need to belabor the point.)

          It’s sort of interesting that they went back to a solid lower wishbone. A lot of times automakers go the other direction, principally because creating a “wishbone” of several links gives you more flexibility in tailoring bushing compliance in different directions. I suppose it might have been a cost-saving thing, since by that point the Japanese economy was a mess and Honda was fighting to hold the line on export prices. It might also have just been an about-face in terms of philosophy for any number of reasons — I really don’t know.

          I have read the Masaaki Sato book, which was fascinating. There was a lot of stuff about Honda’s early history I really hadn’t known and it gave me a new perspective on some things, like the proposed auto industry consolidation that prompted Honda (and Mazda) to get into the passenger car business in the first place.

  12. Hi, i own a 1984 Honda city cabriolet and am desperately sourcing for the front shock absorbers and rear tail lights. Appreciate any assistance i can get.
    Thank you.
    Kannan nair
    MALAYSIA

    1. I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on parts or repairs and I really don’t know where you could find spares for something like the City. Sorry!

  13. I remember when the CRX first debuted here in North America. I was 10 yrs old at the time, and I thought it was the ugliest thing Honda had produced. I thought the Civic was better looking than the CRX. As time went on, I saw it as more of a cute little runabout for a single person to commute to and from work, or a couple who only needs one car. I like it more than the more recent Honda CRZ.

  14. Hi, excellent article as always. From a European perspective I would like to add that the CRX (certainly the first generation) is conceptually and stylistically similar to the Alfa Romeo Sprint, based on the Alfasud. Certainly the second generation Sprint is very similar to the first generation CRX. At the time, the CRX was considered something of a spiritual successor to the Sprint, much like the MX5 is considered a spiritual successor to many British roadsters. The main difference being, of course, that in the Japanese reinterpretations of these concepts, you actually stood a pretty good chance of completing your journey without ending up by the wayside with a smoking car.

    There are famous stories about the Alfasud and its (even by Italian standards) terrible reliability: its factory was an attempt at economically developing southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno), but the workers were accustomed to agricultural labour instead of industrial labour and often went on strike while the unpainted bodyworks of new cars rusted outside – before they even made it to the showroom… These bodies were then gingerly used to build new cars whenever the strike was (momentarily) resolved.

    1. I would grant that the ‘sud Sprint is the sort of car Honda’s R&D people would probably have examined and would likely have appreciated from a dynamic perspective, although I don’t see a stylistic resemblance beyond a certain stubbiness and the cropped Kamm tail, which of course is an aerodynamic feature that predated both cars. (Kamm-effect tails are very common on small cars because it’s challenging to achieve even a quasi-teardrop shape that still has room for human occupants.) The Sprint to my eyes looks more like the Mk1 Scirocco — as I recall, Giugiaro did both — and I don’t see much of either in the Honda except insofar as the Scirocco, the Sprint, and the CRX were all coupes based on cut-down C-segment family cars. In that line, there’s also the Peugeot 104 coupe, which I mentioned in a separate article. Again, I assume Honda R&D was cognizant of all of these, but there’s no one precedent that screams of being an obvious conceptual inspiration.

      As I study more about the Japanese auto industry, I become increasingly frustrated with the Western assumption that everything Japanese is a copy or knockoff, superior or not, of some European or American original. There are of course cases where that was true, but the U.S. industry did its share of borrowing, particularly stylistically, and yet for all the bad things European or British critics have said about Detroit (gaudy, vulgar, uncultured — choose your epithet), one seldom hears similar accusations made of American cars, even the ones that have been consciously and sometimes clumsily patterned after Japanese or German models. Nissan did of course build Austins under license once, but then so did BMW. In any case, if one wants to point out that the Datsun 240Z looks like the adolescent result of a late-night liaison between a SII E-type and a Ferrari 275GTB/4, or that the first Lexus LS400 bore a more than passing resemblance to a W126 S-Class, I won’t argue, but the notion that all Japanese cars are somehow categorically a reinterpretation of some European concept is awfully reductive.

      The Alfasud is a fascinating car and an interesting story of its own that to tell properly would require a more nuanced grasp of Italian labor issues in the ’60s and ’70s than I presently can claim. The ‘sud was a political response to the enormous northerly migration that had been taking place in Italy since the late ’50s, which in U.S. terms was loosely comparable to the combined population of Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia showing up in the greater New York area within the space of about a decade, looking for work, housing, and schools. As with many other politically driven efforts to establish industrial sites in economically depressed areas, the Alfasud project underestimated the considerable logistical and organizational problems of building a factory far from a nation’s existing industrial base and infrastructure. There’s probably a good book to be written about the whole affair, although it would be a worthy thesis project for some graduate student in labor history, industrial relations, or business administration.

      1. Excellent points, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the CRX was a knockoff. In fact, I was at a car spotting age when it came out and recall the general consensus being that people were happy that at least <em>somebody</em> cared enough about the concept to develop such a car, as Europe’s car industry – and certainly anything owned by Fiat – fell into a lethargy concerning specialty cars, instead betting the house on hot hatches. With quite some success, it must be said. The CRX made sure that, together with the VW GTI’s, Honda usurped much of the classy, affordable and sporty image that Alfa once owned – at least in Europe. That was the point I tried to convey: both the CRX a and the MX5 are continuations of concepts that European manufacturers no longer cared about, often markedly improved. That doesn’t make them knockoffs but rather like chapters in a continuing story that many people (including me) are very grateful for, since it provides much extra color to an automotive world that tends toward beige.

        To continue on your assessment of the Japanese car industry, I haven’t your depth of knowledge, but I always believed that Honda found its distinctive style in the early eighties – the generation before the CRX, in fact my dad owned a 2nd gen Civic and I have fond memories of it, if not of the interior space it provided. A style that has waxed and waned through the years (I’m sure you’re aware that European Civics of recent vintage are considerably more “daring” than those for other continents, with decidedly mixed results). Other Japanese marquee were not far behind, if at all. Of course, we didn’t get the Datsun 510 in Europe, so the CRX a was probably one of the first Japanese cars to get an emotional reaction in our neck of the woods.

        1. Functionally, I think what happened to the European specialty car market was that cars like the Golf GTI demonstrated that automakers could snare most if not all of the same buyers and create a comparable fan base with a much more modest tooling investment. The eternal struggle with specialty cars is that even if you have a bone-stock chassis and running gear, the body costs as much to tool as a family car’s, the resulting product sells in smaller numbers, and it can easily price itself out of the market if the price is too high. That’s why you ended up with cars like the Mk3 Capri and late MGB, which sold well enough to keep them alive with an occasional de minimis warming-over, but not well enough to bother redesigning or creating from scratch. The hot hatch is a much less risky bet because unless you’re doing something REALLY extreme (e.g., the ’90s Escort Cosworth), the tooling costs are modest.

          The Japanese eventually ran into a similar problem a decade or so later, after the bubble burst, which was compounded by the weak dollar driving up exchange rates and prices for U.S. exports. In the ’80s, the home market was healthy enough to absorb a variety of interesting indulgences not sold elsewhere (including a surprising fad for four-door hardtops, which will be covered in an upcoming story), but the Japanese market sagged in the ’90s and never really perked up in any sustained way. (Looking at JDM new car sales by model now is rather sobering.) So, the only really unique models the home market can support by itself are not sporty specialty cars, but minicars, which are sustained by a series of regulatory loopholes that don’t exist in the U.S. or E.U.

          I think the Japanese automakers in Europe are suffering from an unfortunate catch-22: to capture European buyers’ respect, the Japanese really need products that are more specifically tailored to European tastes, but existing and past efforts in that direction have had very mixed results, as you say, and such dubious prospects don’t exactly encourage companies to make a big additional investment!

          I know the 510 Bluebird was sold in some European markets, if not the U.K. I say this because not long ago I was looking through some old Norwegian brochures for it! Export strategies are sometimes a little mystifying.

          1. The 510 Bluebird was sold in the UK as the Datsun 1400 or 1600, depending on engine displacement. Of course, we got only the 1600 engine in the States.

          2. Thanks! I knew some later Bluebirds were sold in the U.K. (even retaining the Bluebird name, in some cases), but I wasn’t positive about the 510 generation.

  15. “The initial price for the CR-X Si was ¥1,503,000 (about $6,300), roughly £200,000 (about $850) more than a CR-X 1.5i.”

    Boy, the Pound really took a beating in the ’80s, didn’t it? ;)

    1. Oops! Yes, that would be some pretty serious markup. Luckily, it was just a typo and easily fixed.

  16. This article is freaking deep. Excellent work!! Definitely gonna keep on browsing through this site.

  17. I’m a bit late to the party but I have a 84 with a weber carborated 1.3 anyways my question is regarding the aftermarket digital dashboard. I was wondering where one might go about finding one.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t help with parts or modifications — I haven’t the foggiest. I suppose it might be possible to mail-order the pieces for the JDM digital dash, but I really don’t know how available something like that might be at this late date.

    2. i have a 85 and one 87 (soch 101hp/dohc 130bhp) but pretty much everything on these cars are hard or impossible to come by so take care of that old girl ;D

      1. I can imagine. I once had a third-generation Prelude that at that time was approaching the end of its factory parts availability window. (It wasn’t past it, but it was getting there.) Even then, parts took quite a while to arrive and were always sourced from one specific warehouse, which I once joked to my mechanic must have been located somewhere deep in the Andes, accessible only by burro.

        I don’t think that’s a problem specific to these cars or to Honda, but rather endemic to moderately priced economy and family cars that are typically driven to death and discarded rather than preserved.

  18. Hi. In the article, you wrote that the claimed drag coefficient for del Sol SiR/VTi was 0.40. Can you tell me, what is the source of this information? I was browsing, trying to find del Sol’s drag coefficient and depending on site, it was said that it is either: 0.35, 0.35-37 or 0.42, so there are some significant differences between these values. I’m currently looking into del Sol’s aerodynamics, and it would be very interesting for me to have a reliable reference value of drag coefficient for a stock del Sol.

    1. The 0.40 Cd figure came out of the specifications in a CAR Giant Test in July 1992. The Japanese press kit’s otherwise comprehensive specifications don’t quote a Cd — curious, since they did for both the two previous generations — nor do any of the brochures I’ve checked. U.S. brochures brag about the aerodynamics, but also decline to state a figure. Judging by what the manufacturer data DOES say, it appears the priorities were minimizing lift and top-off turbulence rather than reducing drag.

      It’s entirely possible that the 0.40 Cd figure is an average value, since with a car like the del Sol, the aerodynamics would naturally differ depending on whether the roof panel is on or off; the average of 0.37 and 0.42 would be 0.395, which one might round up to 0.40. Looking at the car, 0.37 for the wide-tired SiR/VTi/VTEC with the roof in place and 0.42 with it off sounds reasonable, with the 0.35 perhaps applying to a buttoned-up base car with narrower tires. I’m afraid I don’t have anything more authoritative than that, though!

      1. Thanks a lot for the reply and your efforts to find out the answer, I really appreciate it!

        1. No problem. I was curious about it myself — the press info for the first generation included not only Cd, but CdA figures; the second generation had Cd and not CdA; the del Sol listed neither. It’s hard not to assume that the reason the figures were omitted was that they didn’t look terribly impressive.

          1. I think that these figures look OK when you compare them with similar type of cars (open roof). However, in comparison with the 2nd generation CRX, they do look pretty bad, and I agree that they wouldn’t be a good selling point.

            On the other hand, second generation supposed to have a better Cd and CdA than the first one, so there was no reason to conceal CdA there. Maybe, at some point they also changed their policy about the data that could be released to the press.

          2. Frontal area isn’t all that common in official specifications, admittedly, and including a single figure for models with different combinations of features that would affect the total raises some questions about how it’s calculated. (Ditto Cd, but that’s another can of worms.) I doubt it was a policy decision so much as whoever on the product team was responsible for putting together information to hand off to the communications office either not having those figures handy or not including them for whatever reason. Honda had fairly recently gotten some flack, at least from the American press, for the CB Accord being less aerodynamic than the CA in the interests of a more upscale, conservative look, so it’s possible some senior engineers were touchy about that — I really don’t know.

            As far as the CRX goes, my strong suspicion is that the 2nd-generation car’s CdA was either unchanged or a bit worse than before. The Cd was lower, but with the increased width (by 50mm, not insignificant), the frontal area was certainly greater, and I don’t think the Cd was enough lower to compensate. Looking at European tests of the first- and second-generation 1.6i-16, with the twin-cam ZC engine, there’s no improvement at all in 0-100 mph acceleration or top speed, which doesn’t suggest a net aerodynamic improvement considering that the gearing and power were about the same. (With the ZC, the second-generation uncatalyzed cars had a bit more power, but I wouldn’t expect 5 PS to make a noticeable difference at speeds over 120 mph.)

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