HONDA CRX REVIEW

The CRX stands out from the 1980s crowd. We offer buying advice for these quirky Japanese hot hatchbacks...

The Honda CRX is proof that size isn’t everything. Offering go-kart thrills in a useable package, this is a true classic.

Think of a classic hot hatchback and GTi offerings from Peugeot and Volkswagen spring to mind. But there is one oft-overlooked machine that will change your outlook on performance cars the Honda CRX.

To view the CRX as a sporting derivative of the Honda Civic is to underestimate this diminutive Japanese offering. Front-wheel drive it may be, but Honda’s engineering prowess transformed the shopping trolley underpinnings. Lithe, nimble and coupled to a rev-happy 1488cc fuel-injected engine, the lightweight sport-hatch body meant the CRX was more than just a pretty face. Light weight ensured the little car could fly, putting 118mph within reach.

Reaching the UK in 1984, a 125bhp, 1590cc 4-cylinder engine quickly replaced the original. Competitively priced against the likes of the Fiat X1/9 and Ford Escort XR3i, the CRX was supplanted by a redesigned version in 1987.Provided you can find one, this tiny 2+2 is a genuine bargain. Offering frugal fuel consumption and Japanese reliability, the CRX could be one of the smartest car purchases you’ll ever make.

On paper, the CRX is nothing out of the ordinary. After all, front-wheel drive, a monocoque bodyshell and torsion bar front and semi-independent rear suspension (replaced by a fully independent system in 1987) are hardly the stuff of dreams. It’s the way the components are used that makes it remarkable.That chassis is taut and setup for high-speed cornering, the little engine is big hearted and hardrevving, and the 2+2 bodyshell positions it occupants close to the road, performance-car style. Thanks to Honda’s mechanical trickery (especially with post- 1990 VTEC valve gear), performance is electrifying.

Handling is inspired, being as lithe and as nimble as you’d expect from a car of such light weight. Tackling twists and turns is something the grippy CRX was designed to cope with. Servo-assisted brakes make light work of stopping, and the lack of power steering is barely noticeable. Within, the rear seats may be suitable only for children, but their folding nature helps to exploit the rear-hatch’s useful – if not brilliant – luggage space. Hip-hugging front seats match the car’s hard-cornering nature. 


VITAL STATISTICS

HONDA CRX

Engine                                    1595cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  150bhp@7500rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 106lb ft@6500rpm

Top speed                                129mph

0-60mph                                  7.9sec

Consumption                            34mpg

Gearbox                                    5-speed manual


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

In common with many older Japanese vehicles, rust is a major consideration with the CRX. You should start your inspection with the floorpans, which typically corrode at the corners. Watch out for any hastily-welded repairs that may have been carried out here to nurse a car through an MoT. Ask if the owner has been diligent with rustproofing measures, as this can substantially lengthen the CRX’s lifespan. 

Plastic bodykits were once popular with many owners, so if the car you’re inspecting has had additional panels fitted, check that this has been done well. Corrosion can set in beneath plastic trim, and can go unchecked until serious damage has been done. Plastic sill trims are notorious for this, so check very closely for indication of corrosion – bubbling around the trim edges or bleeding from underneath the panels are telltale signs. The front nose cone is plastic, rather than steel, in addition to the bumpers. As a result, impact damage is a problem in these areas.

 

ENGINE

Honda has long prided itself on reliability, and the CRX is no exception. All of the different capacity engines are long-lived, and should prove straightforward for the home mechanic to keep in good order. However, beware of examples which have led a hard life – excessive smoking could point to worn valve seats or bores. Ask if the cambelt has been changed every 60,000 miles or five years, and that the service schedule has been adhered to. Check that the gearchange is smooth and graunch-free – second gear sychromesh can weaken on high-mileage ‘boxes. Clutches can also wear out if abused – however, replacement of these shouldn’t be too expensive.

 

RUNNING GEAR

With the steering on full-lock, listen out for a clicking sound from the front wheels – this indicates that the CV joints are nearing the end of their lives. If the rubber boot has split, then this will have allowed the joint’s grease to spill out, which will lead to it wearing out. Fortunately, replacement CV joint kits are readily available. 

Dampers should be in tip-top condition or else road-holding is likely to be impaired. Bes sure to watch out for 

any buckling to the alloy wheels, which is usually as a result of kerbing. 


INTERIOR

Outer panels are as vulnerable to the rust bug as the inner structure, so look out for bubbling or more obvious rust damage to the door bottoms, rear quarters and tailgate. On second-generation cars, the tailgate features a second glass panel positioned vertically, in addition to the slanted rear window. Check these glass pieces very carefully for damage and for signs of cracking. 

Having once been the darling of boy racers, accident damage is a key concern with any survivor of the model. Look out for evidence of poor crash repairs, most notably any distortion and rippling of the inner body structure, including inner wings and floorpans. Overspray and excessive use of filler are also clues that all is not well. Honda’s build quality is still world-renowned, so the cars would not have had uneven panel gaps from new – if this is so, then further investigation is needed.


OUR VERDICT

Despite their rarity in the UK, the CRX is very affordable but that doesn’t mean that Honda’s pocket-rocket is a lesser car than its better-appreciated contemporaries. Offering a remarkably exciting driving experience, the tiny 1980s hatchback is a well-kept secret in the classic car world, marking the point that sophisticated, ultra-sharp Japanese technology started to dominate the automotive world.

Provided you can track down one which hasn’t been ravaged by three decades of rust, then you’re unlikely to stop grinning from the moment you slip behind the wheel. The CRX makes sense for the head, as well as the heart, with its meagre thirst for fuel and Honda reliability. Rarely does a car provide so much enjoyment, for such little outlay. When you get into a Fintail, you can’t fail to be impressed by how spacious it is, especially compared with modern cars. You sit high up on a fairly firm seat and the wheel in front of you with its chrome horn ring seems just huge. Then there’s that extraordinary vertical strip speedometer, a column change (in most cars) and an umbrella handbrake under the dash.

None of the engines is particularly quiet, a failing of most OHC designs of the time. Worn engines can be very noisy at the top end, though. The gears slot in nicely, although the intermediates don’t feel ideally spaced. Automatics work well enough but the changes can be a bit rough. 

On the road, you’ll quickly adapt to the car’s natural rhythm. The suspension is very soft, and on later cars a Boge self-levelling strut at the rear was used to prevent tail-end droop when laden. All that of course makes for plenty of suspension wallow over bumps and plenty of cornering roll, but a Fintail soon begins to feel right, and after a while you’ll forget how old the car is and will settle down to enjoying the drive. That’s it – you’re hooked!

Think of a classic hot hatchback and GTi offerings from Peugeot and Volkswagen spring to mind. But there is one oft-overlooked machine that will change your outlook on performance cars: the Honda CRX. To view the CRX as a sporting derivative of the Civic is to underestimate this diminutive Japanese offering. Front-wheel drive it may be, but Honda’s engineering prowess transformed the shopping trolley underpinnings. Lithe, nimble and coupled to a rev-happy 1488cc fuel-injected engine, the lightweight sport-hatch body meant the CRX was more than just a pretty face. Light weight ensured the little car could fly, putting 118mph within reach.

Reaching the UK in 1984, a 125bhp, 1590cc 4-cylinder engine quickly replaced the original. Competitively priced against the likes of the Fiat X1/9 and Ford Escort XR3i, the CRX was supplanted by a redesigned version in 1987. Provided you can find one, this tiny 2+2 is a genuine bargain. Offering frugal fuel consumption and Japanese reliability, the CRX could be one of the smartest car purchases you’ll ever make.

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