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Beater Archive

Del Soul: 1988-91 Honda CRX

The original rice rocket

By Andrew Stoy

1989 Honda CRX Si

The Background

Honda Motor Company didn’t make it to the Show via frequent screw-ups. But the industrial powerhouse that brought us overhead-cam lawnmowers has laid a few eggs: Witness the failed efforts to convince the world that 4-wheel steering is a good thing, the transaxle issues with earlier Odyssey vans, and the 1993 restyling of the Prelude. But at the top of the list, at least for American driving enthusiasts, Honda’s biggest failure was the repositioning of the Honda CRX as the Del Sol for 1992. But since some of our readers may have still had the training wheels on their bikes when the CRX bowed out, a trip to the beginning is in order.

The year was 1984. A consumer so inclined could still purchase a Chevrolet Chevette with a diesel engine—fortunately, few were so inclined. Spunky Honda was doing brisk business with their small Civic runabout, Accord sedan and Prelude sports coupe, and decided the time was right for CRX, an economy-minded 2-seater based on the Civic. While definitely miserly, enthusiasts soon discovered that the new CRX was also immensely entertaining to drive, beautifully balanced, and cheap. Honda also addressed criticism about meager power output by releasing a CRX with fuel injection known as the Si. There was much rejoicing.


For the 1988 model year, the CRX was restyled inside and out, presenting a more aggressive outward appearance and a more driver-friendly cockpit. The driving fun remained, and was enhanced through slightly more powerful engines, a tuned multilink suspension setup, and a touch of Prelude emphasis here and there in seats and instrumentation. Then, in 1992, Honda altered their successful recipe and replaced the CRX with an ostensibly jaunty little Nissan Pulsar wannabe called Del Sol. Some of us have yet to forgive them.

The Opportunity

Few cars this side of the Toyota MR2 can offer cheap, fuel-thrifty thrills the way a CRX can. And, while it can’t offer the exotic mid-engine layout, the CRX is arguably a more comfortable, usable vehicle than Mister Two ever was. The front-engine/front-drive design is easy to access and maintain, and provides traction in inclement weather. Since parts for the CRX are generally the same as those found on the million or so Civics produced at the time, replacement bits are available and reasonably priced.

Most of all, though, the CRX is impeccably balanced and tuned…or at least it was when it was new. A strut-suspended front-driver has no business putting the type of grin on your face that a CRX is capable of evoking. Gearbox throws are a little long but precise. Understeer is present but controllable, and the manual steering gear reminds one of a sensation that’s difficult to come by these days: Pure, unadulterated feedback.

And you want reliability? We got your reliability right here, kids. The CRX is one tough cookie, and with proper maintenance should be capable of well over 200,000 miles. The only reason they’re not more common north of the Mason-Dixon line is that they turned to powder faster than a fifty in John Delorean’s wallet. If you find a rust-free example that’s been well maintained, it would be difficult to recommend a beater with a better durability track record.

The Downside

While it may seem to be obvious advice, you don’t want to hit anything in a CRX, nor do you want anything hitting you. Already soda-can sized, the CRX is also a pre-airbag, pre ABS machine that historically hasn’t fared well on crash tests. Defensive driving is a must unless you like the taste of urethane. Of course, on the plus side, the two-passenger layout means you won’t be tempted to strap a child seat into the car.

Decent walkaround of a mostly stock second-gen CRX.

One glance at the torque curve on a CRX, even a VTEC model, will immediately convince any enthusiast on the fence that a 5-speed transmission is the only acceptable method of swapping cogs. Honda has always subscribed more to the F1 school of engine design rather than the ‘no substitute for cubic inches’ mentality, and the CRX shines best when the entire rev range is utilized. If you absolutely have to have an automatic, you’ll be happier looking elsewhere.

Remember how we mentioned reliability? We stand by our claims, but Hondas have a few points that need to be considered. First is the timing belt. All Honda 4-cylinder engines are of the type known as “interference” designs. That means that if the timing belt breaks while the engine is running, the valves and pistons will marry in an elaborate metal-on-metal ceremony that will have disastrous consequences on your wallet. Belt changes are mandatory every 60,000 miles or so, and they generally run several hundred dollars; you decide whether to gamble with your engine or not. Also, the complex feedback carburetor used on non-injected CRX models is the type of device that works perfectly for years without a lick of maintenance, but when it starts to fail it’s never right again. The fuel injection system, on the other hand, is known to last nearly forever.

The Hit

$525-$1180

In a Nutshell

The world needs another CRX. An inexpensive, economical, reliable, efficient runabout that’s far more fun than it should be and looks good to boot. Like its big brother, the CRX set the standard for its class during its heyday. If you can find an example that runs, drives, and is oxidationally stable, grab it, put some Pixies in the cassette deck, and remind yourself that the 80s weren’t all bad.

Discussion

6 comments for “Del Soul: 1988-91 Honda CRX”

  1. My wife had to have one of these, brand new in 88. Just after the warranty expired, we drove through, i kid you not, a 6 inch deep water pool in the road. The engine sucked some in, somehow through it’s idiotic design, and the motor was toast, bent rods, cracked head. As the value was still high, we had to have it fixed, big bucks. Then later, the FI computer died. big bucks again. then i used it as my work commuter, and grew to hate the THIN, HARD, CHEAP seats…when that volvo240 hit me at 20 mph, that was all she wrote…honda was TOTALLED by insurance company, Yea! We used the money to buy a ford van, which we drove for 15 years…

    Posted by marty600 | April 25, 2008, 12:48 am
  2. I prefer the phrase ‘no replacement for displacement’ over ‘no substitute for cubic inches’

    Posted by cressidakiller | July 10, 2008, 10:40 am
  3. Sorry to re-post. I just bought a 87 CRX SI for $900. Parts are much more plentiful for the 88-91 version. The sub-2000 lbs and manual steering feels like a go-kart. You can even add the EDM/JDM rear seat without much trouble for $200-400 but it is tiny. You will probably encounter 80s-90s rear fender Honda rust. The words coffin-car come to mind. But unlike the MR2 the engine is in front, making me feel a little safer from myself if not from others..

    Posted by cressidakiller | July 18, 2008, 9:38 am
  4. The CRX is a classic. I really would like to build one up again.

    Posted by kento | September 23, 2008, 10:14 pm
  5. Great cars if you can find one that is relatively stock– no gaudy tasteless upgrades for me, thanks. I was really excited for Honda’s upcoming CR-Z, until I learned that it will be more of a successor to the original 1999-2006 Insight than the CRX. Slow as a Prius, and worse mileage than an original 1988-1991 CRX? Come on Honda, get real, you’re offering the worst of both worlds. At least make it as a non-hybrid!
    Rant over.

    Posted by WLV3 | June 21, 2010, 11:51 pm
  6. This is understandable that money can make us independent. But what to do if somebody does not have money? The one way only is to receive the home loans and collateral loan.

    Posted by ANGELKennedy | September 19, 2010, 9:39 pm

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