If the CRX's £6000 price doesn't tempt you, its 8200rpm redline might. But be quick - they're rare and getting dearer
John Evans
2 December 2019

Civic Renaissance Experimental is the accepted definition of CRX, the name of Honda’s compact coupé that ran for three generations spanning 1984 to 1998.

It’s the Mk2 version that’s under the microscope here. The little 2+2 lasted all too briefly from 1988 to 1991 but made the sort of impression that today sees the best cars command prices approaching £20,000. An example is the immaculate CRX with just 15,000 miles on the clock that made £19,000 at auction recently.

Such motors are rare, of course (in fact, with only around 150 CRXs remaining on the roads, the model is rare, full stop). Instead, good, well-cared-for examples with highish mileages can be bought privately for around £6000. Or try your luck at the auctions where, recently, the same figure bagged a tidy 1990-reg with 46,000 miles. Dealers add at least another £2000, aware that prices for good Peugeot 205 GTIs and Renault 5 Turbos have moved out of reach.

What’s all the fuss about? Light (it weighs around 900kg), properly suspended by four double wishbones and powered by a choice of revhappy engines, the CRX was a hoot to drive. The best motor of all was the 1.6-litre VTEC producing 148bhp and redlining at 8200rpm. Below it was a non-VTEC, 128bhp twin-cam 1.6 whose redline was a still spine-tingling 7200rpm. Both featured Honda’s long-established and advanced PGM-Fuel Injection system. The third engine was a non-VTEC 99bhp single-cam 1.5. Not surprisingly, it’s rare.

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Alloy wheels, electric windows and front bucket seats complete with CRX logo provided the finishing touches. Options included a limited-slip diff and a sunroof.

Honda specialist Julian Spender loves the CRX. “Assuming they’re properly serviced, the engines are bombproof,” he says. “The key to enjoying them is revs, and lots of them. Pootle around and they’re quite lifeless.”

Owner Matt Bucknall is another fan of the CRX, although he warns prospective purchasers not to expect too much from the suspension: “The CRX felt sharp in its day but now, compared with modern, more stiffly sprung cars with stiffer bodies, even a good CRX has a lot of flex and feels soft on its high-profile tyres.”

For this reason, he advises against rejecting a modified car with uprated suspension. If it’s been done properly, it’ll be better for it.

Many such cars are likely to be Japanese imports, called JDM for short (it means Japanese Domestic Market). Critics say they have next to no rust protection, but the fact is that most JDM cars are in perfect order and certainly a lot better in this respect than many UK-sourced cars. They’re often better equipped, too.

Just make sure the import paperwork is in order and that the car meets UK road regulations. You never know, if you’re lucky, it may even have ‘Civic Renaissance Experimental’ emblazoned down the side…

How to get one in your garage

An owner's view

Matt Bucknall: “I bought my CRX 1.6 two years ago. The previous owner, its second, had owned it for 24 years and stuck it in a garage for 10 of them. He Waxoyled the underside and looked after it really well. Today, it’s got a few small rust patches that are typical for the model, but nothing serious such as bubbling on the wings. When you see that, you know that on the other side rust has really taken a hold. Replacement trim is very hard to find now but mechanical bits, filters and gaskets are easy enough. As long as you look after it, a good CRX is very reliable. Prices are only going one way so buy now – you won’t regret it!”

Buyer beware...

■ Engine: Scrutinise every workshop invoice looking for regular oil changes and cambelt replacements. If no servicing evidence is to hand, check for emulsified oil around the filler neck and for blue oil smoke in the exhaust. Examine the spark plugs for fuel mixture strength, carbon deposits and oiling. Listen for worn tappets and for misfires. Check the condition of coolant hoses and the coolant expansion bottle for leaks. Ensure the cooling fan comes on during extended idling.

■ Drivetrain: Change through the gears feeling for worn synchros and listening for worn bearings. Make sure the clutch isn’t slipping and that the biting point isn’t too high in the pedal’s travel.

■ Brakes, suspension and steering: The CRX is a light car so is quite easy on suspension joints and bushes but at this age they may need replacing, so feel for looseness and listen for clonks. Power steering feels heavy at low speeds but that’s okay.

■ Bodywork: The sills and front wings are especially prone to corrosion, as are the edges of the sunroof. Door bottoms can also rust through. On the underside, use a screwdriver to make sure that any recently applied Waxoyl isn’t hiding trouble, and inspect the rear subframe, which is also prone to corrosion.

■ Interior: Beware cracked trim and ripped seats since replacement trim is very difficult to source. Make sure all warning lights illuminate on start-up before going out.

Also worth knowing

Mechanicals and consumables are easy enough to find from suppliers including autopartspro.co.uk and cmsnl.com. For trim, it could make sense to buy a wrecked CRX from which to scavenge bits, like the £395 example we found.

How much to spend

£350-£2499: Assorted wrecks and non-runners, ideal as sources of spare parts.

£2500-£3999: Tatty runners including a 1990-reg with 130,000 miles. Seller claims £10,000 spent on it in past few years. Another with a rebuilt engine for £2700.

£4000-£5499: Tidier cars including a 1991-reg VTEC with 160,000 miles (engine rebuilt at 150,000). Has a few small rust patches on the wings.

£5500-£7499: Proper, well-sorted private-sale cars including a ‘rust-free’ 1991 VTEC with 180,000 miles.

£7500-£9995: Lower-mileage CRXs in good condition, many of them Japanese imports.

One we found

Honda CRX 1.6, 1993, 91,000 miles, £5850: Nice, unmolested example of the twin-cam 1.6 model with a good service history including recent cambelt change. It’s not the much-prized VTEC but, with so few CRXs available, condition trumps engine.

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Comments
3

2 December 2019

The original CRX was even more of a hoot to drive but didn't feature the VTEC tech. Worth looking at, although no doubt even more rare and hard to source parts.

2 December 2019

that they didn't make this spec of cr-z is absolutely astounding. it's as if they didn't actually want to sell any

2 December 2019

If I'd had to guess I'd have said £2k to £3k for decent ones. Only pricey because it's slightly interesting and there aren't many left. Probably great to drive, but I just don't get them - a lot of fast Hondas I like, but this is just a weird looking dumpy little thing with a Civic dash. 

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