What is small, cheap, fantastically fuel-efficient, and served as the dream ride of an entire generation of youthful miscreants? If you answered the mid ’80s Honda CR-X, go get yourself another domestic light beer and pat yourself on the back while reminiscing about high school in the late ’90s.
My first encounter with the CR-X came when one of the friends my mother warned me about picked up two of them at an auction for about $700. Between the two cars he was able to cobble together one working example, albeit with only the driver’s seat installed. I was dumb enough to take a seat on the floorboard for a quick test run. After a hard yank of the emergency brake while traveling about 60 miles per hour, the little CR-X spun like a top down the (thankfully) deserted roadway, and I found out what it’s like to be soggy pair of jeans on spin cycle.
Chances are, if you’re familiar with the CR-X and the type of buyer it attracted, you had some similar experiences to mine. So what made this Japanese econo-box so appealing to drivers who consider public roads their personal playgrounds?
The Honda CR-X began life in 1984 as an offshoot of the Civic designed for urban drivers in the Japanese company’s domestic market. Though it was never originally intended for the U.S., American Honda saw potential in the tiny hatchback and lobbied for its addition to Honda’s stateside lineup. The base engine was a 1.5 liter, carbureted inline-four cylinder pumping out about 76 horsepower. However, as everyone knows, the model to have was the CR-X Si, which arrived in 1985. That car sported a 1.5-liter port-fuel injected power plant producing over 90 horsepower that was mated to a shorter ratio five-speed transmission.
Those figures may seem underwhelming, but with a curb weight just north of 1,800 pounds the little Honda was capable of eager acceleration. Where the CR-X really won drivers over, though, was with its handling. With no power steering, parking lot maneuvers were a bit tricky, but at roadway speeds the connection to the road was direct and unparalleled. In short, the CR-X was way more fun to drive than it had any right to be while consistently returning 40-plus miles per gallon.
Over the years Honda made a number of updates and improvements including a stiffer chassis, bigger wheels, and optional automatic transmission. Air conditioning was an add-on option for all CR-X models. In 1990, all four of the CR-X’s brakes became discs. The following year was the last for the second generation CR-X and the popular Honda was replaced by another Civic derivative, the Del Sol. The Del Sol, while technically a continuation of the CR-X bloodline, was a completely different car.
Unfortunately, CR-X owners had to constantly be on their guard as the cars became an extremely popular target for auto thieves. Nevertheless, the first and second generation Honda CR-Xs continued to build a cult following in the years after production ended. Their sublime handling, punchy engine, and affordable price attracted a budding generation of car enthusiasts for whom the ugly compact represented the epitome of what made driving fun. These drivers lowered, hacked, tuned, and otherwise tortured their Hondas in an effort to extract that extra iota of performance from a car that was never meant to be more than a cheap, practical urban commuter. And therein lies the essence of what makes the CR-X so special: If ever there was a car that was truly more than the sum of its parts, the 1984-1991 Honda CR-X is it.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.