Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

Recipe for a cult hit, Honda-style: Take one competent C-segment hatchback, lop a few inches out of the wheelbase, tidy up the suspension tuning and aerodynamics, and repackage the results as a pint-size sports coupe. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the 1984–1991 Honda CRX (née Ballade Sports CR-X) and its erstwhile successors, the del Sol and CR-Z.

1987 Honda CRX tail badge © 2011 Aaron Severson

THE RISE OF HONDA

The growth of Honda as an automaker was remarkable by any standard. Established in 1948, Honda first branched out into passenger cars in 1962 and by 1969 was building more than 200,000 cars a year. The company suffered a serious downturn in 1970–71 due to much-publicized allegations of defects in the popular air-cooled Honda N360 kei-car and the commercial failure of the bigger 1300, but Honda recovered quickly thanks to the launch of the new water-cooled Life and Civic in 1971 and 1972. By the end of the decade, Honda had tripled its 1969 production volume, achieving fourth place in the Japanese industry behind Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi.

What really put Honda on the map in the seventies was the CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine, launched in late 1973. With its unique stratified charge head, the CVCC engine enabled the Civic was able to meet 1975 U.S. emissions standards and qualify for Japan’s low-emissions purchase tax credit without the use of add-on catalytic converters or thermal reactors, something most U.S. automakers — and some Japanese ones — had insisted was technically impossible. Toyota, which had been among those, actually licensed the technology from Honda for use in Toyota’s own products, a remarkable coup for one of Japan’s smaller automakers. There was also strong interest from Ford and even General Motors.

yellow 1975 Honda Civic CVCC three-door front 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

A 1975 Honda Civic CVCC. The Civic was launched in July 1971 with an all-aluminum 1,169 cc (71 cu. in.) four, but the subsequent CVCC used the larger 1,488 cc (91 cu. in.) ED engine, initially rated at 63 PS JIS (46 kW) in Japan and 53 hp SAE (40 kW) in the U.S. North American Civics were 9.8 inches (250 mm) longer than their Japanese counterparts due to the bigger 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers then required by U.S. safety standards. This car also has a five-speed gearbox, newly optional in the U.S. for 1975. (author photo)

Since CVCC-engined Civics were also surprisingly fun to drive and returned fine fuel economy, American buyers stung by the recent OPEC embargo snapped them up, as did customers in Japan. The larger Honda Accord, introduced in 1976, met a similarly warm reception, selling more than 1.5 million units through 1981.

VERNO AND BALLADE

The Accord marked the first step in Honda’s expansion and automotive diversification, but not the last. The next followed in 1978 with the launch of the Honda Prelude sports coupe and establishment of the Honda Verno sales channel.

One of the factors that had kept Toyota and Nissan on top in the Japanese domestic market (JDM) was that these automakers each had a strong sales network with multiple sales channels. Each channel’s dealers offered distinct — though not necessarily different — products, many of them essentially very mildly restyled versions of one another with slightly different model and option selections. (For our American readers, the most direct parallel would probably be latter-day Fords and Mercurys, although in most cases the Japanese models are not sold as different makes.) By contrast, while Honda had no shortage of dealers, many of its franchises were very small, lacking even service facilities, much less the large, well-lit showrooms of Toyota’s Corolla Stores.

1980 Honda Ballade front 3q © 2006 Jimbo 2600 (PD)

The original Honda Ballade sedan was based on the four-door Civic sedan, but had slightly different styling and a different model range. Notably, the Ballade was available with both the 1,335 cc (82 cu. in.) and 1,488 cc (91 cu. in.) engines while the contemporary Civic sedan, positioned as a more upscale model, was available only with the latter. Exterior dimensions were very similar. (Photo: “HONDA BALLADE” © 2006 Jimbo 2600; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Honda’s new Verno stores were intended to change that. The new dealerships, some of which were owned directly by Honda’s sales organization (something we assume is less legally problematic in Japan than it would be in the U.S.), were better-furnished and better-equipped than many of Honda’s existing stores and offered a distinct lineup. Honda intended Verno as a youth-oriented sales channel, loosely analogous to Toyota’s later U.S. Scion brand.

The first Honda Verno product was the Prelude, introduced in November 1978, followed in early 1980 by the five-door Quint, ancestor of the later Honda/Acura Integra. These were joined later that year by the Honda Ballade, a restyled version of the new Civic four-door sedan, and in 1981 by the Accord-based Honda Vigor.

To our knowledge, the Verno sub-brand did not extend beyond Japan, but Honda did offer some of these models for export. The Prelude went to America and Europe while the Quint was sold in Europe as the Honda Quintet. The Ballade as such was not initially exported to the U.S. or Common Europe, but in late 1979, Honda licensed the design to the British automaker formerly known as British Leyland, which subsequently marketed the compact sedan as the Triumph Acclaim. (BL also marketed the Quint in Australia as the Rover Quintet.)

silver 1984 Triumph Acclaim 1300 front 3q © 2010 Charles01 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

The Triumph Acclaim, launched in 1981 to replace the rear-drive Triumph Dolomite sedan, was very similar to the Honda Ballade 1300 on which it was based, but had two carburetors instead of one and a slightly lower compression ratio, giving 70 PS DIN (52 kW). The Acclaim was replaced in 1984 by the Rover 213, which was based on the second-generation Ballade sedan. (Photo: “Triumph Acclaim August 1983 1335cc” © 2010 Charles01; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

BALLADE SPORTS CR-X

Toward the end of June 1983, Honda Verno stores unveiled another new model: a sporty hatchback coupe called the Ballade Sports CR-X.

While the name suggested a kinship with the Ballade sedan, the CR-X was actually a preview of the next-generation Ballade and Civic (EA Civic by its chassis code, although Honda’s Japanese advertising would modestly christen this generation the “Wonder Civic”), set to debut that September. The “CR-X” name also foreshadowed the new Ballade line, which would be offered in CR-U, CR-B, CR-L, CR-M, and CR-i trim levels.

white 1985 Honda Ballade Sports CR-X Si front 3q © 2009 TTTNIS (PD)

The original Honda Ballade Sports CR-X was 144.7 inches (3,675 mm) long on an 86.6-inch (2,200mm) wheelbase and weighed around 1,800 lb (820 kg) with a full tank of fuel. The “DOHC” lettering on the rocker panel reveals that this is actually a 1985 CR-X Si, whose heavier ZC engine and other hardware brings the curb weight to nearly 2,000 lb (895 kg). Only barely visible at this scale are the main distinguishing features of the JDM car: the flip-up “eyebrows” over the top edges of the headlights, also used on the second-generation Ballade sedan. These were not used on export cars and were deleted later in the run. (Photo: “Honda Ballade CR-X” © 2009 TTTNIS; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Structurally, the CR-X was an EA Civic/Ballade with the wheelbase shortened to 86.6 inches (2,200 mm) — coincidentally, the same wheelbase as the original 1972 Civic — and a new close-coupled coupe body. The CR-X was 5.3 inches (135 mm) shorter and 2 inches (50 mm) lower than the EA Civic three-door hatchback and 3.7 inches (95 mm) lower and a whopping 19.1 inches (485 mm) shorter than the second-generation Ballade sedan, although overall width and track dimensions were the same. The CR-X wasn’t as much lighter than the Civic three-door as one might assume, but the lower roofline and truncated Kamm tail did make for better aerodynamics. The CR-X had almost 25% less total drag area than the Ballade sedan.

The Ballade Sports CR-X’s relationship to the Civic/Ballade continued beneath the metal-and-plastic skin. For the “Wonder Civic,” Honda had opted to trade the previous Civic’s fully independent MacPherson strut rear suspension for a more compact beam axle located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod. The axle was not a torsion beam in the Volkswagen mold; in fact, a “sway bearing” on the right side of the axle tube prevented the axle from acting as an anti-roll bar, although some models added a separate anti-roll bar inside the axle tube. The new “SPORTEC” front suspension retained MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar, but the old Civic’s coil springs were replaced by longitudinal torsion bars, again chosen primarily for space efficiency. Brakes were front discs and rear drums.

1984 Honda CRX front 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson

Large portions of the EA CR-X’s outer skin are plastic. The bumpers are “HP Blend,” a Honda-developed polypropylene blend. The rocker panel covers, front fenders, and the panel between the front bumper and the hood are “HP Alloy,” a proprietary mix of polycarbonate and ABS plastic. (author photo)

In Japan, the CR-X was offered with a choice of two all-aluminum SOHC fours. Although similar in displacement to the engines of the outgoing Civic/Ballade line, the new fours were extensively redesigned with conjoined cylinder bores; a shorter, lighter block; and the latest 12-valve, crossflow edition of Honda’s CVCC cylinder head with two intake, one auxiliary intake, and one exhaust valve per cylinder. The CR-X 1.3 used the carbureted 1,342 cc (82 cu. in.) EV engine, making 80 PS JIS (59 kW) and 82 lb-ft (111 N-m) of torque on 10.0:1 compression. The CR-X 1.5i had the EW version with a lower, 8.7:1 compression ratio; a longer stroke giving a displacement of 1,488 cc (91 cu. in.); and Honda’s PGM-FI electronic fuel injection, yielding 110 PS JIS (81 kW) and 100 lb-ft (135 N-m) of torque. (We should note here that the above output figures are JIS gross numbers, not net ratings. The European 1.5i engine, which had fewer emissions controls than the JDM version, was rated at 100 PS DIN (74 kW), so it’s safe to assume that the Japanese engine’s net output was somewhat lower than that.)

Both engines were linked to a five-speed gearbox, but the 1.5i could be ordered with a three-speed Hondamatic with lockup torque converter and overdrive top gear. The 1.5i also included a stiffer suspension and vented front brakes. With the five-speed, Honda claimed the CR-X 1.3 could go from 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in a bit under 12 seconds, the 1.5i in less than 9 seconds, respectable performance for a small sports coupe of the time. The factory estimated a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h) for the 1.5i, which was wildly optimistic, probably by as much as 10%.

1987 Honda CRX Si interior (facing to the rear) © 2011 Aaron Severson

Without the largely cosmetic folding rear seat, which U.S. CRX buyers were spared, the EA CRX has a useful if not vast amount of cargo space. Note, however, how close the passenger seat is to the rear shelf, which along with the downward slope of the roof would make stuffing an adult into the back rather challenging, particularly in locales that require passengers to have proper seats and wear seat belts. (author photo)

Although it would be sold in some markets as a two-seater, the CR-X’s Japanese specifications claimed four-seat capacity thanks to a tiny rear seat on which one or two people could theoretically crouch for short (and, for adults, probably very uncomfortable) journeys. Honda frankly described this as a “one-mile” seat and we can only assume it was a concession to some marketing demand or regulatory loophole. The seat could be folded down for additional cargo space.

In Japan, the Ballade Sports CR-X was offered with a number of novel options, including an electric sunroof that slid back over the outside of the roof rather than into it and a peculiar roof ventilation system. The latter, standard on 1.5i models, could best be described as a cross between the cowl ventilators offered on prewar American cars and the popup ventilation hatches found on some conversion vans. It consisted of a retractable roof-mounted scoop that channeled outside air into a pair of adjustable interior outlets located above the windshield. Japanese buyers could also order a trendy digital instrument panel, a trip computer, and 14-inch alloy wheels.

1987 Honda CRX Spyder digital LCD dashboard © 2011 Aaron Severson

LCD instrument panels were very popular in Japan throughout the eighties and were optional on the CR-X, Civic, and Ballade. American import buyers were less enamored of digital dashboards and the Japanese automakers who offered such features in the U.S. generally relented by the late eighties. The digital instrument panel seen here is on a 1987 CRX Spyder convertible, an aftermarket conversion. (author photo)

The CR-X’s substantial commonality with other Civic/Ballade models kept prices very reasonable. In Tokyo, the Ballade Sports CR-X 1.3 started at ¥993,000 (around $4,200), which would split the difference between the 1.3-liter Ballade CR-B and CR-L sedans. The CR-X 1.5i started at ¥1,270,000 (about $5,400), a little cheaper than a comparable Ballade CR-i. That wasn’t dirt cheap, but it was certainly affordable and a good deal cheaper than the larger Honda Prelude, whose base prices ranged from ¥1,360,000 to ¥1,718,000 (roughly $5,700 to $7,200).

DECIPHERING THE HONDA COUPE

All that describes what the CR-X was; understanding why it was is a little more complicated.

Honda described the Ballade Sports CR-X as a new type of fun, economical, sporty commuter car for younger buyers. All that was true, but in the Japanese market, Honda already had a youth-oriented commuter car in the form of the Honda City, launched in 1981 and later sold in some export markets as the Honda Jazz. Since September 1982, there had also been a sporty City Turbo, which was actually a bit quicker than the CR-X 1.5i, mostly by virtue of being some 240 lb (110 kg) lighter. Admittedly, the City was sold through Honda stores (and later the new Honda Clio channel), not the Verno channel, so the two cars were not sold side by side, but creating a Verno version (or making the City Turbo a Verno exclusive) would not have been a difficult exercise had that been the goal.

1987 Honda CRX Si alloy wheel © 2011 Aaron Severson

The EA CR-X/CRX was available with alloy wheels of at least four different styles, some in the 5Jx13 size and some, like this one, in the larger 5Jx14 size, depending on model and market. Particularly in Japan, Honda dealers also offered an assortment of additional styles, which makes deciding what is and is not authentic something of a chore. (author photo)

The CR-X also wasn’t a substitute for a warm hatch version of the Civic. When the Civic and Ballade debuted in September, both could be ordered with the same engines, suspensions, and brakes as the CR-X. A Civic 25i three-door with the injected EW engine had 10 PS (7.4 kW) less than the CR-X 1.5i and was 33 lb (15 kg) heavier, but performance was similar, as were the prices.

Our strong suspicion is that what Honda’s designers and engineers really wanted in the CR-X was a sports car — not a hot hatch (which Honda already had), not a sporty four-seater coupe (ditto), but a real two-seat sports car. Honda had participated for some years in Formula 1 and Formula 2 and some of its senior executives had come out of that program (including future Honda president Nobuhiko Kawamoto, then the head of the R&D subsidiary, who had almost resigned when Honda dropped out of F1), but the company hadn’t offered an actual sports car since the demise of the last S800 roadster years earlier.

1987 Honda S800 roadster front 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

Honda’s last sports car was the S800, a diminutive RWD roadster (although there was also a coupe version). It was only 131.3 inches (3,335 mm) long on a 78.7-inch (2,000mm) wheelbase and weighed less than 1,600 lb (710 kg). The S800 was powered by a water-cooled DOHC four producing a respectable 70 PS JIS (52 kW) from only 791 cc (48 cu. in.), giving a top speed of about 100 mph (160 km/h). (author photo)

Honda’s S-series cars were not an encouraging precedent, having sold poorly and been expensive to build, and the prospects for traditional sports cars were little better during the era in which the “Wonder Civic” was conceived. Most of the traditional English and Italian roadsters had either expired or become pale shadows of their former selves while big GTs like Nissan’s Fairlady Z (Datsun 280ZX) had become flashy but basically toothless lounge lizards. Lower oil prices and more sophisticated engine controls would shortly bring about a renaissance, but at the time, the future of performance cars seemed grim. In that climate, we assume that a sports car that could be pitched as an economical commuter vehicle seemed like a much safer bet. (Regular readers will recall that Pontiac used a similar tactic to push the Fiero through a reluctant GM bureaucracy.)

Interestingly, early sketches of the CR-X were notably more rakish than the finished product, whose final design appears to have been dictated by the need to share as many of the Civic/Ballade structural hardpoints as possible. Again, it appears the designers wanted a sports car, but accepted the compromises of the Civic platform as a way to get the project into production.

Nonetheless, Honda engineers and designers still harbored ambitions of developing a serious sports car. Less than six months after the launch of the CR-X, the company began formal development of the car that eventually became the mid-engine NSX.

1987 Honda CRX Spyder convertible rear 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

Honda never offered a convertible CR-X (rumors that Austin Rover’s 1984 MG Metro concept car were CRX-based were incorrect, although the Metro-based show car did look sufficiently Honda-like that some journalists assumed it was). Nonetheless, a number of independent companies did offer ragtop CRX conversions like this one. We don’t know the provenance of this particular car, but it might be one of the ones built by R. Straman Co. in Southern California, the prototype of which was profiled in Road & Track in July 1984. This car is based on a LHD 1987 CRX Si, although it’s been fitted with the JDM-only digital instrument panel. (author photo)

HONDA CIVIC CRX FOR EXPORT

Surprisingly, Honda did not originally envision offering the CR-X in the U.S. market. That was a reasonable assumption; most Japanese automakers had various home-market niche products not sold elsewhere, and with the voluntary import limits (discussed in our article on the Lexus LS400), it didn’t make sense to federalize models that weren’t likely to sell in useful numbers. Honda’s American organization had opted not to import the City, but responded with unexpected enthusiasm to the CR-X. The U.S. would become the latter’s biggest market.

In the U.S. and most export markets, the little coupe was identified not as a Ballade, but rather as the Civic CRX, generally without the hyphen. The export CRX debuted along with the other new Civics in the fall of 1983 as 1984 models.

1984 Honda CRX front © 2010 Aaron Severson

Aside from its badges and left-hand drive, this 1984 U.S.-market Honda CRX looks much like the JDM Ballade Sports CR-X. However, North American cars lacked the flip-up “eyebrows” that covered the upper portions of the headlights on early JDM Ballades. At the time, U.S. law still required sealed beam headlights, although recent regulatory changes had allowed the use of smaller rectangular units. (author photo)

Like the JDM CR-X, the North American EA CRX offered a choice of 1,342 cc (82 cu. in.) and 1,488 cc (91 cu. in.) fours, but with some substantial differences. The federalized 1.3 had a simpler eight-valve cylinder head, limiting output to 60 hp SAE (45 kW) and 73 lb-ft (99 N-m) of torque, but allowing the base CRX to succeed the previous year’s Civic FE as Honda’s fuel efficiency star. The 1.5 had the 12-valve head, but American buyers were initially denied fuel injection. The carbureted version of the engine had an output of 76 hp SAE (57 kW) and 84 lb-ft (114 N-m) of torque. (It’s worth noting that the very similar carbureted 1.5 offered on JDM Civics and Ballades claimed 90 PS JIS (66 kW) and 93 lb-ft (126 N-m) of torque; the JDM engine’s net output was probably about the same as the U.S. engine’s.)

Like other federalized 1984 Civics, the CRX used a variation of the Ballade’s recessed headlight treatment, albeit without the Ballade’s peculiar retractable “eyebrows.” Also omitted for U.S. cars, even as options, were the rear jump seat, digital instruments, roof ventilation system, 14-inch wheels, and sunroof, although the two latter items would become available later.

1984 Honda CRX rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson

Honda claimed the CRX’s tailgate spoiler reduced drag and cut rear lift at higher speeds. The EA CRX was quite aerodynamic for its time with a claimed drag coefficient of 0.33. By comparison, the EA Civic hatchback’s Cd was 0.35 and the Ballade sedan’s was 0.39. (author photo)

The European CRX used the front clip of the Japanese-market Civic, which had flush halogen headlights (still not legal in the U.S. at that point) instead of the semi-retractable units. The sole engine was the injected 1.5, which omitted the Japanese engine’s catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculation system. In that form, output was 100 PS DIN (74 kW) and 96 lb-ft (130 N-m). European cars had the folding rear seat and sunroof, but automatic transmission was not available, nor were 14-inch wheels.

CRITICAL RESPONSE

Although the federalized cars generally had weaker performance than their Japanese or European counterparts, U.S. critics were consistently impressed with the Honda CRX. It was cheap, starting at $6,150 for the 1.3, $6,599 for the 1.5, and offered a combination of sporty handling, excellent fuel economy, and respectable performance that was otherwise hard to come by in the States. Even with the carbureted engine, the CRX 1.5 was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 10 seconds and a top speed of perhaps 105 mph (169 km/h), which was in the same league as a Volkswagen Rabbit GTI costing over $1,700 more. The Honda’s ride was on the choppy side, but many testers preferred that to the soggy suspension settings of other American-market subcompacts. The CRX’s handling was highly praised, as were ergonomics and build quality.

1987 Honda CRX Si dashboard © 2011 Aaron Severson

Like most Hondas of this vintage, the first-generation Honda CRX’s interior was dominated by shiny gray plastic that didn’t feel especially upmarket, but everything was well assembled and there was very little to criticize about the ergonomics. There were also some useful minor touches like the hinged storage tray atop the dash and remote latches for both the rear hatch and the fuel filler. The 1986 and 1987 cars, like this CRX Si, had upgraded and arguably more tasteful interior fabrics, although the overall ambiance was little changed. (author photo)

Contemporary American reviewers were also astounded by the CRX’s packaging efficiency, although it was not exceptional when viewed on a global scale. The U.S.-market CRX was fairly roomy for two (thanks in part to the omission of the folding rear seat, which allowed more front seat travel) and had plenty of cargo space, but was hardly a tiny car. In fact, the first CRX was 5.1 inches (130 mm) longer and 4.7 inches (120 mm) wider than the first U.S.-market Civic and about the same size as many contemporary European B-segment cars, most of which had functional rear seats.

European critics were less taken with the CRX. Aside from an ingrained prejudice toward Japanese cars, the main point of contention was where exactly the Honda fit into the automotive schema. Considered as a modern MGB GT, the CRX was impressive, boasting a slick gearbox, a smooth and eager engine, and reasonable practicality. Weighed against European hot hatches like the new Peugeot 205GTi, the CRX didn’t look as good. Straight-line performance was near the top of the class, but testers couldn’t replicate Honda’s claimed 118 mph (190 km/h) top speed and complained of a harsh ride, a lack of grip from the 175/70HR13 tires, and excessive road noise (a complaint also levied against the EA Civic hatchback).

1984 Honda CRX rear © 2010 Aaron Severson

The convenience of the CRX’s rear hatchback was hampered somewhat by a high liftover height. Rear visibility was also not a strong point, for obvious reasons. Note also this car’s Civic badge — the CRX was technically part of the Civic line in the U.S. (author photo)

In hindsight, Honda might have been better off deleting the European CRX’s rear seat, which invited comparison with hot hatches offering a better ride, sharper handling, sometimes richer interior trim, and more interior space, all for the same or less money. As it was, the CRX was only ever a niche item in Europe and the U.K.

THE DOHC CR-X SI

A third model joined the JDM lineup in late 1984: the Ballade Sports CR-X Si. The Si was powered by the new 1,590 cc (97 cu. in.) ZC engine, which had a 75mm (2.95-inch) bore, a 90mm (3.54-inch stroke), a new non-CVCC DOHC cylinder head with four valves per cylinder, and a four-into-two exhaust system. The CR-X Si and the similar Civic Si had PGM-FI, giving 135 PS JIS (99 kW) and 112 lb-ft (152 N-m) of torque. Probably not coincidentally, those figures gave Honda a slight edge over Toyota’s 1,597 cc (98 cu. in.) 4A-GEU engine (used in some sporty versions of the Corolla/Sprinter, Celica, Carina, and MR2), which was rated at 130 PS JIS (96 kW) and 110 lb-ft (149 N-m) of torque.

1985 Honda Ballade Sports CR-X Si front3q © 2013 Ypy31 (PD)

The Ballade Sports CR-X Si (and European CRX 1.6i-16) were distinguished from other CR-X grades by a small bulge in the hood above the cam pulleys, unnecessary on cars with SOHC engines. The DOHC car also had an oil cooler and vented front discs with semi-metallic pads. Unlike the export cars, the JDM EA CR-X Si was also available with automatic transmission. (Photo: “Honda-BalladeSportsCR-X” © 2013 Ypy31; dedicated to the public domain by the photographer under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Although the heavier engine and extra equipment added about 130 lb (60 kg) compared to the CR-X 1.5i, the added power made the CR-X Si a much stronger performer. Honda claimed the new model was capable of 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in 8 seconds and a top speed of 126 mph (203 km/h). The engine was not especially muscular at lower engine speeds, although it was more flexible than the 5,000 rpm torque peak suggested and noticeably smoother than its Toyota rival. The suspension was retuned to match the new engine and a countershaft with an additional universal joint was fitted to the transaxle, allowing almost equal-length halfshafts to reduce torque steer, a trick Ford had previously applied to 1.6-liter Fiestas. 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.

1985 Honda Ballade Sports CR-X Si rear 3q © 2013 Ypy31 (PD)

A rear lip spoiler was standard on the DOHC CR-X Si and CRX 1.6i-16, as were the “DOHC” call-outs, but while alloy wheels were available, this car’s peculiar wheels are not stock. (Photo: “Honda-BalladeSportsCR-Xrear” © 2013 Ypy31; dedicated to the public domain by the photographer under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

To the undoubted frustration of American fans, the ZC engine was never offered on the U.S. CRX, although a few JDM cars were federalized privately. The issue was not whether the DOHC engine could pass U.S. emissions standards, which it could with only minor adjustments; in early 1986, it became the standard engine for the new U.S.-market Acura Integra, the American version of the latest Honda Quint (now called Quint Integra in Japan). However, we assume Honda’s American organization was understandably keen to keep some distance between the Civic-based Integra — which was being positioned as an upscale companion to the new Legend — and the cheaper Civic and CRX. (For those keeping score, when the U.S.-market Integra debuted in the spring of 1986, the DOHC engine was rated at 113 hp SAE (84 kW) and 99 lb-ft (134 N-m) of torque, increased to 118 hp (88 kW) and 103 lb-ft (140 N-m) for the 1988 model year.)

As partial compensation, Honda added a North American CRX Si midway through the 1985 model year, powered not by the ZC engine, but by a federalized version of the 1,488 cc (91 cu. in.) SOHC engine, here making 91 hp SAE (68 kW). Performance was similar to that of the JDM CR-X 1.5i: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit under 9 seconds and a top speed of around 115 mph (185 km/h). The CRX Si also included both the sunroof, for which American buyers had been clamoring, and alloy wheels, albeit initially the same 13-inch items used on the original European CRX. The carbureted 1.5 remained available as the midrange engine, but the 1.3 was replaced by the new carbureted 1.5-liter CRX HF (the suffix meaning “high fuel economy”) with 65 hp SAE (48 kW).

PGM-FI engine in a 1987 Honda CRX Si © 2011 Aaron Severson

The U.S.-spec CRX Si, introduced in mid-1985, was rated at 91 hp SAE (68 kW) and 93 lb-ft (126 N-m) of torque, which is probably close to the net output of the Japanese 1.5i engine. Like all Honda engines of this vintage, the CRX’s engines use belt-driven cams and the timing belt (cambelt) must be changed at regular intervals — Honda specialists generally recommend 60,000 miles (96,000 km) — to avoid expensive trouble. These are interference engines, which allows a more compact cylinder head, but means a good chance of valves colliding with pistons if the belt breaks. (author photo)

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.

The primary reason for this shift was the Mazda MX-5 Miata (Eunos Roadster in Japan), which had debuted around the same time the Mk2 CRX received its midlife update. In sharp contrast with the technological overload represented by the turbocharged, AWD Diamond Star cars and many pricier Japanese GT cars of the time, the MX-5 was a return to the simpler formula of the MGB and Triumph TR4. That recipe proved very popular even at a time when sales of most sporty coupes were collapsing.

Rather than simply imitating the Mazda, which for best results would have required a small rear-drive platform, or lopping the top off the new Civic hatchback, Honda opted to develop a new Civic-based notchback coupe with a retractable rear window and a removable roof panel à la Porsche 911 Targa. The result, dubbed CR-X del Sol, debuted in Japan in February 1992.

Honda made much of the del Sol’s combination of open-air pleasure and coupe security, but the new car’s big party trick (and the main thing distinguishing it from the many T-top and lift-roof coupes of the seventies and eighties) was an optional mechanized roof mechanism dubbed “Trans-Top.” Trans-Top used a series of electric motors to automatically raise the rear deck to slightly above roof height, slide the roof panel backward into its rack in the decklid, and then lower and lock the deck into its normal position. The whole process took around 45 seconds and was impressive to watch, although it could not be done on the move and added 110 lb (50 kg) to the del Sol’s curb weight and ¥170,000 (about $1,400) to the list price. Without Trans-Top, you had to lift off the 24-pound (11-kilogram) roof panel and stow it in the trunk yourself.

Honda Civic del Sol front 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From the front, the del Sol bears a general resemblance to the EG Civic, although the del Sol doesn’t share any of the Civic’s exterior sheet metal and differs quite a bit in detail. The del Sol was 157.3 inches (3,995 mm) long on a 93.3-inch (2,370mm) wheelbase, 66.7 inches (1,695 mm) wide, and 49.4 inches (1,255 mm) high, making it longer, lower, and wider than the CRX it replaced. Unfortunately, it was also substantially heavier. (Photo: “Honda Civic del Sol front 20080108” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Although it had unique sheet metal and a different dashboard, the del Sol was mechanically much like the contemporary Civic three-door, albeit with the wheelbase shortened 7.9 inches (200 mm). Overall length was about 3 inches (75 mm) shorter. The suspension, shared with other EG Civics, was much like that of the previous generation Civic/CRX, but there was now a solid lower wishbone up front rather than the previous radius rod/lateral link combination. Base CR-X del Sol VXi models were powered by the latest fuel-injected D15B engine with variable intake valve timing and 130 PS JIS (96 kW), while the SiR had the DOHC B16A, now making 170 PS JIS (125 kW) and 116 lb-ft (157 N-m N-m) of torque (engines with automatic were limited to 155 PS/114 kW). A driver’s side airbag, ABS, electronic traction control, and a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential were optional and the SiR came with four-wheel disc brakes and bigger 195/55VR15 tires.

European cars arrived soon after, dubbed CRX del Sol. In most markets, the del Sol was offered in ESi and VTi trim levels approximating the Japanese VXi and SiR, although the engines had DIN ratings of 125 PS (92 kW) and 160 PS (118 kW) respectively. Some markets, like Spain, offered only the base engine, presumably to keep the price within reason.

The U.S. del Sol, identified as a Civic rather than a CRX, debuted in September 1992 as a 1993 model. The more powerful DOHC VTEC engine was initially absent, so American buyers had the choice of two SOHC engines: The del Sol S had the 102 hp (76 kW) 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) engine from the Civic DX and LX while the pricier del Sol Si had the 1,590 cc (97 cu. in.) four from the Civic Si and EX, with 125 hp SAE (93 kW) and 106 lb-ft (144 N-m) of torque. A del Sol VTEC model with the B16A engine debuted for 1994, making 160 hp SAE (119 kW). U.S. cars did get power steering and VTEC models got ABS for 1995, but the Trans-Top was never offered in the States, again probably for cost reasons.

Honda Civic del Sol rear 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The U.S.-market del Sol was badged as a Civic rather than a CRX. Base S models had a 102 hp (76 kW) 1,493 cc (91 cu. in.) engine, no anti-roll bars, and rear drum brakes, presumably in an effort to keep list prices as low as possible. (Photo: “Honda Civic del Sol rear 20080108” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Honda’s strategy of looking for unique niches rather than going head to head with entrenched rivals had served the company well in the past, but the del Sol proved to be a commercial miscalculation. Although it was a pleasant little car, it fell into an awkward middle ground. The del Sol didn’t offer the full open-air experience of the MX-5 or Ford Capri roadsters, but the compromises imposed by the removable roof undermined the Honda’s appeal as a sporting car. Even without the heavy Trans-Top, a del Sol SiR/VTi was over 300 lb (140 kg) heavier than an EF CR-X, much less aerodynamic (claimed drag coefficient was 0.40), and noticeably less rigid. With the hotter engine, the del Sol was respectably quick, capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in the mid-7-second range and a top speed of about 130 mph (210 km/h), but the B16A cars had to be pushed hard to extract such performance and even with their stiffer sport suspension couldn’t match the sharpness of the lighter RWD Mazda.

The del Sol survived into 1997, after the rest of the EG Civic line had gone, but sales fell short of expectations and the lift-roof coupe expired without a replacement. (The Honda S2000, a considerably more hardcore rear-drive roadster, cost over 50% more than the last del Sol and wasn’t really comparable.)

ELECTRIFIED REVIVAL

At the Tokyo auto show in October 2007, Honda unveiled a concept car called CR-Z (for “Concept Renaissance Zero”), with styling cues clearly inspired by the Mk2 CRX. In keeping with Honda’s new preoccupation with green technology, the CR-Z was not described not as a reinvention of the old CRX, but as an environmentally responsible hybrid sports car.

The production CR-Z debuted in early 2010. Like the old CRX, it was a sporty three-door coupe based on a family hatchback: in this case the Mk2 Honda Insight hybrid. The CR-Z shared the Insight’s suspension (MacPherson struts in front and a rear torsion beam, borrowed in turn from the Honda Fit/Jazz) and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor and battery pack. However, unlike the Insight, the CR-Z used Honda’s more powerful 16-valve 1,497 cc (91 cu. in.) i-VTEC engine and could be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than a continuously variable transmission, which was optional. Also included were fatter 195/55VR16 tires on alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, stiffer suspension, and a sportier interior treatment. Electrically assisted steering and ABS were standard.

2011 Honda CR-Z front 3q © 2010 S 400 HYBRID (released for all use with attribution)

The production Honda CR-Z coupe is 160.6 inches (4,080 mm) long on a 95.9-inch (2,435mm) wheelbase, 68.5 inches (1,740 mm) wide, and 54.9 inches (1,395 mm) high, making it bigger in every dimension than even the del Sol. Its claimed drag coefficient is 0.30, the same as the 1988 EF CRX Si’s. Although the hybrid powertrain’s combined output is now listed as 130 hp (97 kW) and 140 lb-ft (190 N-m) with manual gearbox, that is with the added power of the electric motor and thus greatly dependent on battery state. When the battery is drained, the engine itself produces only 119 hp (89 kW) — 113 PS (83 kW) for 2011–2012 cars — which isn’t much for a modern coupe weighing more than 2,600 lb (1,200 kg). (Photo: “Honda CR-Z front 20100704” © 2010 S 400 HYBRID; released for all use (with attribution) by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

Combined with the 14 PS (10 kW) electric motor, the IMA drivetrain produced 124 PS JIS (91 kW) and 128 lb-ft (174 N-m) of torque, increased for 2013 to 130 PS (96 kW) and 140 lb-ft (190 N-m) on six-speed cars. While the motor provided a useful boost in low-end torque as long as the batteries were charged, the CR-Z still had a rather modest engine coping with about 2,650 lb (1,200 kg) of curb weight, which made for lackluster performance. Honda claimed 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in around 10 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h), which was notably slower than the old B16A-powered CRX. The CR-Z’s fuel economy — 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) on the current EPA combined cycle for the six-speed, 37 mpg (6.3 L/100 km/h) for the CVT — also fell well shy of the old CRX HF.

Critics weren’t thrilled with the CR-Z’s handling, either. It was competent, but reviewers complained that it didn’t have the agility or poise of similarly priced hot hatches, due in part to the synthetic feel of the electric steering assist.

2011 Honda CR-Z rear 3q © 2010 S 400 HYBRID (released for all use with attribution)

Like the 1984–1991 CRX, the CR-Z is a three-door hatchback with a transparent panel in the lower portion of the hatch for better rear visibility and, like the original Ballade Sports CR-X, has small rear seats to qualify as a 2+2. Unfortunately, despite the CR-Z’s longer wheelbase, the rear seat isn’t much more useful for adult humans than was the folding jump seat in the old CR-X. (Photo: “Honda CR-Z rear 20100704” © 2010 S 400 HYBRID; released for all use (with attribution) by the photographer, resized 2013 by Aaron Severson)

As with the del Sol, the CR-Z’s attempt to carve out a unique niche for itself seems to have fallen flat. Automotive enthusiasts — the sort who wish Honda had skipped the IMA hardware and installed one of the company’s more powerful twin-cam engines in a shortened Fit platform instead — have thus far been rather frosty toward hybrids. At the same time, the CR-Z is not efficient enough to perk the interests of green buyers, for whom sporting behavior is seldom a high priority. In Europe, the CR-Z’s generous equipment levels and 117 g/km CO2 emissions (which have a strong effect on running costs) make it a decent value, but that hasn’t been enough to overcome a lack of badge cachet and the fact that rival turbodiesel hatches can match or beat the Honda’s fuel economy while offering better chassis dynamics.

LOOKING BACK

The 1984–1991 Honda CRX is rapidly becoming a cult car. A fair number of weathered and battered survivors are still in service as daily drivers, but good examples are being snapped up by collectors and tuners, who seldom hesitate to install the hotter twin-cam engines the factory did not.

The roots of the CRX’s cult appeal are not difficult to discern — it was a car of definite but specific appeal. By that, we don’t mean that the CRX didn’t have virtues: It had sprightly performance, particularly with the injected engines, and it was nimble, fuel efficient, and reasonably commodious, with a decent repair record. However, the same could be said of the contemporary three-door Civics, which were also substantially more practical. The CRX’s promise as a cheap urban commuter car was also somewhat compromised by a fairly demanding maintenance schedule (failing to keep the oil and filter regularly changed, the valve clearances properly adjusted, and the timing belt periodically replaced could have expensive consequences) and, for many buyers, high insurance rates.

1987 Honda CRX Si front 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson

The author is partial to the late (1990–1991) second-generation CRX, but for some fans, the lighter 1986–1987 EA models are the peak years; they were certainly the bestsellers. (author photo)

Ultimately, the CRX was the fulfillment of the promise of the early Civic hatchback — a car for anyone who had ever been entertained by an old Civic CVCC and wondered what it could do with a firmer suspension and a bit more power. The old CRX epitomized the spirit that used to define Honda as an automotive brand: It was clever, well-built, economical, and more fun than you would expect from looking at it, with occasional flashes of genuine inspiration. If you had never tried or resolutely disliked the breed, the CRX wasn’t likely to convince you; it was a Honda for people who loved Hondas. Add to that the fact that Honda has yet to create a direct replacement and it’s little surprise that the old CRX has a loyal fan following.

# # #

AUTHOR’S NOTE

In the interests of full disclosure, while your author has never owned a CRX, he has owned both a Honda Accord and Honda Prelude of the same approximate vintage. (He hasn’t owned a Miata either, but does own a Mazda3 and years ago was compensated by a Mazda marketing agency for participating in a couple of owner focus groups related to that model.) Also, the author previously did some temp work for a locally headquartered electric car company, although that employment relationship ended approximately a year before this article was written and that company had no involvement with or connection to this article.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources on the origins of the Civic and CRX (including the Ballade) included David Traver Adolphus, “The 1984-1987 Honda CRX: Great buy and future classic,” Road & Track 30 April 2013, www.roadandtrack. com, accessed 14 November 2013; American Honda, “CRX: [U.S. brochure], c. 1988, and “1993 Civic del Sol” [U.S. brochure], c. September 1992; Tony Assenza, “Honda Civic CRX: Still lovely after all these miles?” Motor Trend Vol. 37, No. 4 (April 1985), reprinted in Honda CRX 1983-1987 (Brooklands Road Test Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1988): 59; Automobiles 1959 (Tokyo: Motors Trade Association of Japan, 1959); “Auto Test: Honda Civic CRX,” Autocar 5 May 1984, reprinted in ibid, pp. 26–30; “AutoTest: Honda Quintet,” Autocar 29 August 1981: 16–21; “Auto Test: Triumph Acclaim HL,” Autocar 24 October 1981: 36–41; “Baby Boomer,” Road & Track Vol. 37, No. 11 (July 1986), reprinted in Honda CRX 1983-1987: 78–79; “Baby Bullet,” What Car? September 1984, reprinted in Honda CRX 1983-1987: 37–39; “Battling Tops (Pocket Rockets),” Road & Track Vol. 42, No. 6 (February 1991), reprinted in Road & Track Road Test Annual 1992 (May 1992): 10–16; “bdb,” “Honda Verno? Clio? Primo?” Honda Prelude Forum, 5–6 May 2003, www.preludeonline. com/ f28/ honda-verno-clio-primo-104578/, 11 December 2013; Patrick Bedard, “Preview: Acura Integra and Legend,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 9 (March 1986): 56–61; “Brief Test: Honda Civic CRX 1.6i-16,” Motor 17 May 1986: 18–21; Peter Bohr, “Used Car Classic: 1984-1991 Honda CRX,” Road & Track Vol. 46, No. 10 (June 1995): 158–162; Greg Brown, “1985 Honda CRX Si: A sophomore with veteran moves,” Motor Trend Vol. 37, No. 3 (March 1985), reprinted in Honda CRX 1983-1987: 44–45; Rich Ceppos, “Honda CRX Si: The thin-wallet Ferrari,” Car and Driver Vol. 35, No. 11 (May 1990): 48–49, and “The Specialty File: Jackson Racing Honda CRX Si,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 1 (July 1985): 115–116; Don Chaikin, “40something,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 168, No. 2 (February 1991): 40–43; crxcollectibles. com, last accessed 23 December 2013; Dorothy Clendenin and Kim Reynolds, “Civic Pride,” Road & Track Vol. 40, No. 3 (November 1987): 57–61; Mike Covello, ed. Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946–2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Csaba Csere, “Honda Civic Wagon,” Car and Driver Vol. 30, No. 2 (August 1984): 85–92, and “Life with CRX,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 5 (November 1985), reprinted in Honda CRX 1983-1987: 65–67; Jim Dunne, “Three Gas-Saving Little Imports,” Popular Science Vol. 207, No. 6 (December 1975): 34–44; Environmental Protection Agency, “Progress in the Implementation of Motor Vehicle Emission Standards Through June 1974, Report to Congress,” June 1974, and www. 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The online dictionary Jisho (jisho.org) was also a big help in deciphering Japanese-language information.

Some historical exchange rate data for the dollar and European currencies came from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2011, MeasuringWorth, http://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission). Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate dollar equivalent of prices in non-U.S. currencies, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all equivalencies cited herein are approximate and provided solely for the reader’s general reference — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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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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