Curbside Classic: 1990 Honda Civic CRX Si – A Little Zip On The Commute

(first posted 4/10/2017)    I want a fun little car just to drive to work. Especially now: I just started a new job, as Director of Engineering for a software startup, and its way the heck across town. (Confidential to JPC: I’ll be capturing more Curbside Classics on your side of town now. Sorry, not sorry.) It’ll be the longest commute of my career. Those of you who live in places with real traffic will scoff, but I’m just a few days in and I already hate my upwards-of-an-hour drive each way through the worst traffic in Indiana. But a little car like this might put a big enough smile on my face to move the commute-o-meter needle from hatred to mere dislike.

Except that the Honda Civic CRX is so little, so low. Everybody drives hulking SUVs in the wealthy suburb where I work. They’d positively tower over me! It would be intimidating. But if I were fortunate enough to get the CRX Si, I could zoom right by them all, ducking and weaving up and down the Interstate.

Aha! Pay dirt! But then, I figured it had to be an Si even as I spotted it from afar. A non-Si CRX would almost certainly not be painted yellow.

As it turns out, yellow was available only on the CRX Si, and only through 1990. And this dashboard with the rounded gauge binnacle debuted in 1990. That narrowed this car’s year right down.

But have I buried the lede? That this car appears to be bone stock? That it could well be the last non-riced CRX Si on Earth?

Perhaps. But I’m feeling selfish today, and I’m thinking about my newly sucky commute, and how much more fun it would be in this little yellow car.

I was about to write “little yellow screamer,” but I checked myself. Because by modern standards, these cars didn’t scream. They had Honda’s 1.6 liter, 108 HP mill, which could bring you to 60 MPH in around 8 seconds. That was really good in its day, but is pretty much normal acceleration for even the most basic four-cylinder sedan today. But in such a small and light package – around 1,900 pounds – that acceleration is going to feel zippier than it actually is.

But I’m certainly falling prey to memories sweetened over time. My college buddy Gary had a first-gen CRX, the HF model with its stratospheric gas mileage, and I drove it several times. Its puny 58 HP probably brought the car to 60 MPH in around 15 seconds, but given that his HF weighed 200 pounds less than the subject Si, it felt plenty quick. But then, in those days my car was a slug-slow Renault Alliance, which got passed by bloody well everything. Every other car I drove felt way faster than the Alliance.

Gary and I took his CRX on a couple of road trips, where I learned how vulnerable one could feel on the Interstate in such a low car. We looked right into the wheel hubs of passing semis. And once we got caught in a snowstorm on I-80 in Pennsylvania. Every wind tried to blow us off the road. What a white-knuckled drive that was. Hm, my memories are suddenly not as sweet.

By the time the second generation CRX debuted, Honda upgraded the HF with fuel injection. Its gas mileage stayed in the stratosphere, but its acceleration is said to have improved noticeably. I’m sure this did nothing for the car in blowing snow. But hell, I’m still not dissuaded. I’d love to have one of these, even this HF model. I’d go two weeks on a tank of gas!

The years right around 1990 were a great time to buy a small, fun, relatively inexpensive car.

Toyota MR2. There seems to be a “CRX vs. MR2” thing in the forums for these cars, which is why I list the MR2 first. This was the first year for the second-generation car, and wow, did Toyota nail it in the looks department (this chalky example notwithstanding). They were also apparently a total blast to drive. But they started at $24,000, big bucks in 1990. The CRX Si cost half that.

Mazda Miata. Obviously. Except the CRX is a nicer place to be in the winter.

Nissan NX. Now we’re in four-seat territory. But in this and all the cars that follow, those seats are so useless that the cars might as well be two-seaters. And what a shame that this good-looking car is so often overlooked. The NX came with a 1.6 liter four as the NX1600, or a twin-cam 2.0-liter four as the NX2000. These weren’t common in my part of the world, but when I did see one it was almost always the NX2000.

Mercury Capri. Ford missed the market a little bit with this car, as it looked kind of like the first-generation Toyota MR2 which had just ended production, and came too long after the Miata to capture the sporty drop-top market.

Geo Storm / Isuzu Impulse. The press hated these cars, but people who owned them generally liked them, saying they outhandled their class. They also call these cars reliable, but given the number that went to the junkyard before 100k I’m not so sure. Perhaps the demographic that bought these new was young and looking for cheap thrills and drove them hard, to early graves.

That was probably the fate of most of these little cars. Except for the Miata, which sold to middle-agers in midlife crisis. That’s probably why so many of them of this era still roll the roads. As we all know, twentysomething men have the brain damage and have a much, much higher accident rate than those of us on the back nine of our lives. I’ll never forget turning 25 and getting a letter from State Farm announcing that my insurance was now going to cost me less by half. Apparently, I got a lot smarter on my 25th birthday.

And so to find this apparently unmodified CRX Si in the parking lot at my previous job is pretty remarkable. Given the county code in the bottom right corner of the license plate, he’s commuting from the next county over. The commute could be two miles or twenty.

Either way, it’s going to be more fun in this CRX. Just check out that glorious road rash! May the owner keep it original forever.

Related reading:

A 1990 CRX HF spotted by Eric703

Ben Dinger’s COAL on his 1987 CRX Si