The regularity with which US motor trade papers honoured Japanese cars during the late 1980s is professional testament to the technical prowess that Japanese engineers brought to contemporary design. Motor Trend named the Honda CR-X Si ‘Import Car of the Year’ for 1988. The praise was worthily won. The whole CR-X series was a category-busting new genre.
A sports compact launched as the Honda Ballade Sports CR-X and extensively redesigned in 1988, its combination of super-light weight, stunning fuel economy, nimble response and relative power reached its most balanced expression in the CR-X Si model of that year. It wasn’t technically the best at anything specific, but it was a summary of Honda’s consistently improving technology, and its awareness — in a crowded and cut-throat market — of what people wanted before they knew it themselves.
In 1988, people wanted to have fun, and the Honda CR-X Si gave it to them, free of guilt and nearly as cheap to run. The CR-X Si was the performance model of the range (though there were differences between the US engine and the Japanese and European versions), and while it didn’t match the US market’s CR-X HF (High Fuel ) model economy figures of 41 mpg (urban) and 50 mpg (highway), it wasn’t far off. In the USA it was a two-seater, which virtually guaranteed its agility.
Europe and Japan got a 2+2 option, and a shade more power to deal with it. Fully independent wishbones all around encouraged owners to enjoy pushing it to the limit. The other wonderful characteristic of the CR-X Si (and the range in general) was its potential for tuning and upgrading. It inspired a still-flourishing sub-industry of transformation among admirers who see in the CR-X their repairable, automotive dream: it’s a thrill thing.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Japan
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1988 (until 1991)
ENGINE: (USA) 1,590 cc Straight Four; (Europe & Japan) 1,590 cc DOHC Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The 1988 Honda CR-X Si was named one of the ‘Ten Best Cars of All Time’ by Road & Track. Spurred, if only in hindsight, by this plaudit, Honda began production in 2009 of a new compact sports car, the CR-Z (standing for ‘Compact Renaissance Zero’), designed visually and functionally to recall the spirit of the CR-X (‘Civic Renaissance X’).