Honda made its mark worldwide with the little front-wheel drive Civic hatchback of 1972, the perfect car for an imperfect world. When the oil crisis caused lines at the pump and U.S. cars were returning 10-12 mpg, Civic buyers could travel about 325 miles on 10 gallons of gas. The little coupe could carry four people and had a transverse four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. It was like a BMC Mini for 1970s America.
The sporty Civic 1500S was launched in 1983, paving the way for the wedge-shaped 1984 redesign. A 1500-cc two-seater hatchback called the Honda CRX was the sporty, 5-speed version of the new line. The CRX’s 86.6-inch wheelbase was 10 inches shorter than the other models and it was available with a 60-bhp SOHC 1342-cc or a 76-bhp 1488cc engine, as the CRX 1.5.
Front suspension was by McPherson struts and torsion bars, while the rear was a semi-independent beam axle with trailing arms and coil springs. Steering was rack-and-pinion, disc brakes were fitted up front, and drum brakes at the rear. The CRX coupe was available in three colors at first: Victoria Red, Greek White and Baltic Blue, with silver lower bodywork and a rear spoiler.
The 1984 CRX was slippery, with a 0.32 drag coefficient, and Motor Trend reported the base car weighed only 1712 lbs. Thanks to the lack of a back seat in U.S. models, plastic front bodywork and few power options, it returned an astonishing 51 mpg city and 67 mpg highway. The livelier CRX 1.5 delivered 36 mpg city and 49 mpg highway, along with 0-60 mph in 10.15 seconds and a top speed of 104. Road & Track called it “fun and frugal, a steal at $7,000.” Base MSRP was $6592.
In mid-1985 the CRX got even better when the 1.5 Si (for Sports Injected) model debuted, and all three CRX models now had 1.5-liter engines. The HF had an 8-valve carbureted engine, the HR the 12-valve version and the Si added programmed fuel injection. The Si delivered 91 bhp at 5500 rpm, 0-60 mph in 8.15 seconds and a top speed of 112. All Si models came with a 5-speed manual. Prices ranged from an MSRP of $6479 to $7999 for the Honda CRX Si.
The Si also gained a black color option and charcoal grey lowers with a red stripe replacing the previous silver cladding. Other changes included alloy wheels, power brakes, different lower body moldings, a rear wiper and a power sunroof. Air conditioning remained a dealer accessory.
For 1986, Honda turned the heat up again. The CRX 1.6 Si boasted a 1590cc, 4-valve, fuel-injected twin-cam delivering 125 bhp at 6500 rpm. The 0-60 time dropped to 8 seconds and top speed rose to 122. Flush-mounted headlights improved the frontal aspect and the air dam was smoother. The rear spoiler was also streamlined. Four-hole alloy wheels were larger, with 185/60/14 tires. Prices rose slightly with the base CRX MSRP now $6729, but the much improved 1.6 Si cost only $280 more than the previous year at a bargain $8279.
By 1987 Honda was thinking about the next generation CRX and the model was merely refreshed for its last year. Performance remained the same. The same body cladding continued, but now it was the same color as the paint. Alloy wheels were now directionally slotted instead of circular like a telephone dial. Weight had increased from the first models but the Si was still under 2000 lbs. Prices had risen again with the CRX Si jumping to $9395, but it was still decidedly good value.
For 1988 Honda gave the CRX a significant update. The most obvious visual change was the addition of a glass rear panel above the bumper to aid in reversing, while underneath the chassis adopted four-wheel double wishbone suspension instead of the torsion bar up front and beam axle/trailing link rear on the previous car. Under the hood, the Si sported the 16-valve 1590-cc engine and multi-point fuel injection. Si models also came with a rear sway bar. MSRP on the CRX Si rose to $10,195.
The 1989 CRX lineup featured door mounted seatbelts and new side-impact beams, while horsepower rose slightly due to revised camshafts. The 1990 CRX Si model gained four-wheel disc brakes and updated alloy wheels. The instrument panel was more rounded and the hazard switch relocated to the dash. Headlights, bumpers and taillights were modified. Prices rose again to $11,130 for the CRX Si. Prices were unchanged for 1991, which was basically the same car and the model would be discontinued in 1992, replaced by the targa-top Del Sol.
Sadly the most exciting 2nd generation CRX never made it to the U.S. It was the Honda CRX SiR which boasted the 150-bhp, 1595cc twin-cam VTEC engine, and a full-length glass roof. It was good for 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds with a top speed of 129 mph. JDM examples are old enough to be grey-market imports, and a few have made their way to North America.
The CRX was a great seller for Honda, but by now most examples have long since been wrecked, stolen, raced, heavily modified or simply driven hard and put away wet. Few were cherished until CRXs became collectible relatively recently, so any relatively clean and unmolested car with under 100,000 miles on the clock is a real gem.