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Cost Less CRX

We drive the entry-level Japanese import Honda CRX

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Base-spec Japanese CRX
  • 1.5-litre SOHC twin-carb
  • Surprisingly strong real-world performance
  • Just 840kg
  • Cheaper than locally delivered version
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The Honda CRX is one of the most popular small sports cars of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. No, it doesn’t have turbocharged torque, and the screaming VTEC version was reserved for the Japanese market but still, the little Honda is plenty popular with its cheeky wedge styling, sporty interior and great urban chuckability.

The downside of the CRX’s popularity is an incredibly high price tag but, fortunately, you can buy a Japanese import version for a reasonable sum. On test is a 1989 CRX 1.5X with the base-spec engine available in Japan – a 1.5-litre SOHC 16-valve twin-carb...

So how slow is the base-spec carby CRX? Well, not slow at all. In fact, driven in normal conditions and keeping it below about 4500 rpm, it feels almost VTEC quick. It’s surprisingly responsive and torquey and the low 840kg kerb mass allows respectable performance. Peak output of the D15B twin-carb engine is 77kW at 6500 rpm and there’s 129Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. The engine’s 9.2:1 compression ratio allows the use of normal unleaded fuel. Expect very frugal fuel consumption in all driving conditions.

Our test vehicle was equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox providing a light shift action and positive feel. The ratios are quite closely stacked so the CRX has the ability to be driven without much attention to gear position. An automatic trans version is also available.

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With drive to the front wheels, the CRX momentarily scrambles for traction when launched but has no problem reaching 100 km/h in around 10 seconds. Note that upspec 1.6-litre DOHC EFI versions – available in the Japanese EF7 CRX Si and Australian-delivered CRX – touch 100 km/h in around 9 seconds flat. Output is 94kW. If you want real performance you can’t go past the Japanese EF8 CRX Si-R which was released in 1990 – with 118kW, this is a real flyer. But you will pay for the experience.

The CRX is a very compact vehicle with a suspension arrangement much more sophisticated than many of its rivals. Forget MacPherson struts, the little Honda boasts elegant double wishbone suspensions front and rear. Spring and damper rates are quite soft in the base version so there is some body roll and understeer but it does respond quickly to a mid-corner throttle lift. In fact, on a wet road we get the feeling the rear-end could be a little nervous. Torque-steer and front axle tramp are non-existent.

Interestingly, the CRX 1.5X is available with or without power steering. Our test car featured power assistance which is wonderful and fully exploits the impressive 9-metre turning circle. Brakes are ventilated discs at the front with drums at the rear. It appears ABS was introduced as an option after 1990.

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Entry-level versions of the 1.5X are plain to the extent of having wind-up windows but optioned-up versions, as tested, come with climate control, electric windows and mirrors. In typical 1980s whiz-bang oddity, the CRX’s climate control dial is concealed behind a little flip-up trim panel but the other HVAC controls are exposed. Our test car was also equipped with an electric steel sunroof which adds 20kg to the kerb mass. A 10kg glass sunroof was fitted to some examples.

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Officially, our test CRX is listed as a four-seater but there’s no way you’d subject anyone to traveling in the back unless absolutely necessary. Rear passenger space is worse than even a S13 Nissan- and that’s saying something! It’s better to think of this as a two-seater with generous load space – the rear seat backrest folds forward to give excellent cargo volume. Unfortunately, the CRX’s load lip is very high.

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One of the unique features of the CRX is its see-through glass panel in the bottom section of the tailgate. This is necessary to give low level rearward visibility while allowing a very aerodynamically shaped tail - Honda claims an aero Cd of just 0.30. Despite its age, the CRX is very sweetly proportioned and the sharply cut-off rear-end gives it some styling differentiation as well as an aero advantage. Standard wheels are 14 inch plastic trimmed steelies wearing modest 175/65 tyres.

Stacked against locally delivered CRXs (fitted with the more powerful DOHC EFI engine), the Japanese import twin-carb version has some definite appeal. Forget spending upward of AUD$7000 for an example with 200,000+ kilometers on the odometer – this imported example has just 125,000km and is selling for AUD$6950. The car was in very good overall condition though it would benefit from a professional cut an’ polish and some aftermarket rims. We also noted that the driver’s door had sagged slightly – this is likely to be a problem relevant in all CRXs.

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The CRX 1.5X is no speed machine but it is an appealing, chuckable sporty that’s likely to kick on for many years with that famous Honda reliability.


Adelaide Japanese Imports: +61 8 8369 1156

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