The two generations of Honda CR-X earned critical acclaim for their light weight and tossable handling. But when it came time to replace the second generation CR-X, Honda went in a different direction. Despite this, in many markets the Civic del Sol was badged CR-X.
The first two generations of CR-X were two-seater, three-door hatchbacks but the del Sol was a two-door “openable coupe”. Although it appeared to be a conventional coupe, albeit one with a peculiarly long and flat rear deck, the del Sol actually had a removable aluminum roof panel and a power rear window. With the roof panel removed and the window down, the del Sol offered convertible-style motoring.
Trick roof aside – and some Japanese market models had an even trickier folding, electric “TransTop” – the del Sol was similar in execution to the old CR-X in that it was based on the Civic platform, had a comfortable and high-quality interior, and was available with a rev-happy VTEC engine. However, the del Sol weighed a significant 300 pounds more than the CR-X. This had an effect on performance, particularly of the base 1.5, 102 hp four. However, the optional VTEC 1.6 produced 125 hp and 106 ft-lbs, up 17 hp and 6 ft-lbs from the previous CR-X’s flagship engine. But that wasn’t the only increase with the del Sol: prices also went up by around $4k. That was a hefty jump and thrust the del Sol deeper into the white-hot compact sport coupe market. While its open-air ability was nice, those seeking excellent handling and an open-air experience could have purchased a Miata for the same price as the del Sol Si 1.6.
While the del Sol is not without its fans – understandable, given its basic Honda goodness and quirky character – there are still some enthusiasts who see it as a poor sequel to a successful franchise. The running time of this sequel was long, however, with the openable coupe sold from 1993 until 1998. Echoing the fortunes of its rivals, sales waned as Clinton entered his second term: by 1997, sales were down to a fifth of the del Sol’s debut year tally of 25k. The original CR-X was a novel idea and so was the del Sol, but would a continuation of the CR-X’s mission have made for a more successful sequel?