Thank the mid-’80’s mini-truck clubs for Honda performance as you know itcarefully tailored mullets, Ray-Ban Aviators, pegged jeans, and all. When you’re done, thank the ’85 CRX Si too. By 1985, mini-trucks were arguably a prevailing force among boy enthusiasts who denied more predictable domestic cars. As expected, testosterone-charged arcade meet-ups lost their luster as mini-truck clubs soon sought a more balanced male-to-female ratio. The fairer sex added an interesting and unexpected element to the equation thougharriving at events in smaller, easier to maneuver Ford Escorts, Volkswagen Rabbits, Nissan Sentras, Toyota MR2s, even Honda CRXs. Discriminating, newly enlightened mini-truckers traded their trucks for hatchbacksso many so that by 1989 Mini-Truckin’ magazine, for example, had a compact performance following so large it spawned the first-ever publication catering to sport compact enthusiasts: Sport Compact Car magazine. Sport Compact Car’s editors would later create Honda Tuning.
Honda’s CRX wasn’t the first sport compact enthusiasts cared about. Volkswagen’s early-’80’s Rabbit GTI overwhelmed much of the competition within a market that, frankly, had little rivalry. Although the first-generation CRX had been formally introduced during the 1984 model year, when Honda unveiled the Si model just 12 months later, enthusiasts realized that the brand’s little, performance-minded hatchback was better in almost every way.
American Honda had a difficult time convincing Honda of Japan to make the CRX available to U.S. consumers. The two-seater was designed for the world market, not Americans. Its essence was aimed toward young, economically conscious, city-dwelling Japanese who grappled with big-city traffic and nonsensical parking. Americans, who Honda’s analysts were convinced bought cars for legroom and impressive cubic-inch counts, were not who the company initially considered as viable consumers. Of course, American Honda was given the go-ahead and, from its first sales brochure and its first commercial, did something nobody expectedit solicited Honda’s all-new sport compact for exactly what it wasa sports car. This should come as no surprise; the Si acronym stands for Sport Injected after all. The media immediately pitted the angular-shaped, two-seater CRX against the GTI and MR2. The CRX delivered. Later, Honda’s CRX made Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list in 1985, among other accolades, like earning Motor Trend magazine’s Import Car of the Millennium title in 1990. Road & Track magazine went on to say that the Si had the sprit of an exotic.
Astute enthusiasts appreciated the high-revving Si’s modern fuel injection, taut suspension, precise steering, and ample braking, yet were left jaundiced by the fact that America never received the higher-output 1.6-liter, DOHC version the rest of the world had. To ensure exclusivity to the much-anticipated Acura brand that would launch later that year, and to the chagrin of CRX enthusiasts, twin-cam D-series engines were reserved solely for the upper echelon nameplate’s entry-level compact, the Integra. None of this mattered, though. Every CRX American Honda received sold.
Doing so was easy. The CRX (excluding the HF model) wasn’t personified as the economically minded, fuel-efficient Honda that it was in Japan. In America, it was clear that it was a no-nonsense sports caronly smaller, and with better gas mileage. Early CRX brochures used terms like race-proven to establish pacts with speed-conscious consumers. Television commercials depicted the Si amidst a grand, slow-motion burnout, kicking up debris as the narrator claimed: The Honda CRX Si. It’s a rocket. Honda went on, using its rocket comparison in later ads as it boasted of the Si’s fast, crisp shifting, its standard front and rear antiroll bars, its nitrogen-filled rear shocksall things typically reserved for higher-end sports cars of this era.
Perhaps Honda said it best in the car’s inaugural advertisement where it flaunted its CRX as a performance-minded compact: It is the car that is shaping the future and defining performance.
Twenty-five years later, indeed it has.
Things You Didn’t Know