Honda CR-X: retro road test

Tyler Heatley

28 Sep 2021

1/5
Looking for a classic without the classic car headaches? Honda's CR-X is certainly a unique choice.

Buying a car is often an ongoing war between head and heart, especially if it’s a classic. There’s always something you really desire, but the reality of maintaining a rarified beast might be the thing that stops you. However, if you’re looking for something a little quirky that promises to be much easier to live with than a Lamborghini Miura – and a lot cheaper – consider the humble Honda CR-X.



This Japanese coupe hit UK roads back in 1984 and was effectively a sportier version of the humdrum Honda Civic. While it shares many parts with the ‘bread and butter’ hatch, the CR-X wears a distinctive boxed design with a sloping roofline and blunt rear end. Sure, this wasn’t a 1980s poster car, but there’s no denying that it possesses some of that magic only found in the decade of excess. The passage of time has only enhanced its short and stout appearance with many onlookers reaching for their phones to snap a picture of, what is today, quite the curiosity.


The interior is an interesting mix of mainstream materials and fascinating design. There are plenty of less than desirable plastics about the place, but there’s a solidity to the cabin that has clearly stood the test of time. Its dashboard sits close to the windscreen, something that gives the CR-X a spacious feel for front occupants, while minimalistic features keep things clean. The switchgear is typical 80s Japan, meaning it's dainty and operates with a pleasing mechanical motion.



Honda’s CR-X is also a practical thing with its big hatch opening and acceptable levels of boot space. It’s also a 2+2, meaning that there’s a deployable rear bench for passengers in the back, although, it does leave much to be desired. This space is only really any good for children or amputees as there’s scarcely any legroom and the roofline restricts headroom. Your best bet is to treat this as a two-seater with a massive boot.


Being a Honda, this classic is unlikely to give you many issues. Engineered with the same detail and reliability we know of the marque today, this should be one of the easier classic ownership experiences out there. There’s even a reduced risk of rust thanks to some of its body panels being made of plastic.



Under the bonnet is a lovely 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 125bhp. That’s not loads of power, but the engine’s delivery is wonderfully linear and very refined. It revs keenly and makes a series of enthusiastic noises when pushing on. Also factor in that this car weighs 900kg, meaning that power goes further than you might expect. Less pleasing is the rather loose motion of the 5-speed manual gearbox that feels a bit imprecise and unbefitting of a sports coupe.


Redemption is to be found in the way the CR-X drives because despite being front-wheel drive and hosting some humble underpinnings, it’s good fun. That square stance with wheels pushed right to each corner gives it a good sense of stability, and while there’s plenty of body roll through fast corners, there is a sense of composure once it settles. The steering feels a little dead off centre, but it does weight-up and you do gain confidence in it. There’s a feeling of agility to this chassis thanks to a short wheelbase and a general lack of weight over the rear wheels. Through tight bends you can feel it pivot around the apex, and while not a true sports car experience, it’s certainly enjoyable to drive at a pace. Its brakes aren’t that bad for a car of this period either, with the CR-X’s lack of mass likely being a big contributor.



Thanks to its Civic DNA, running to the shops in the CR-X is far from a chore. The ride is plenty good enough to soak up lumps in the road, and its boxy shape makes this wedge car a doddle to park. Once you’ve bought your cheese sandwich, you can jump straight into it and drive off, putting thoughts of highly-strung classics in your rearview mirror. After a week of bumbling about, you can apply some wax and still have something worthy of turning up to a car show in.


One of the greatest shames of classic motoring is that so many great cars see out their days in a garage, far from fulfilling their intended potential. The joy of owning a CR-X is that it’s a perfectly usable everyday machine, and while parts will continue to become harder to come by, this is a relatively inexpensive thing to maintain. Instead of just being something to polish at the weekend, this Honda will happily serve as an interesting daily driver.


The Honda CR-X is often overlooked in favour of traditional hot hatchbacks of the period, but in reality, something like a Golf GTI is ten a penny. Why not go for something a bit more left-field? You won’t be disappointed.


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Tyler Heatley

28 Sep 2021