(first posted 5/27/2015) Due to the marvels of technology, some modern cars can attain over 40 miles per gallon. Yet, in the 1980s and early 1990s, some cars achieved that distinction as well, without hybrid power or any other cutting-edge technology. This car, a 1990 Honda CRX HF, was one such example – a car made for the sole purpose of achieving high fuel mileage. However, it was made at a time when gas was cheap, when the economy was good, and when people were growing tired of the small cars they had been driving since the last energy crisis. It was the right car at the wrong time.
Despite poor market timing and unspectacular sales, Honda kept the HF in its lineup through most of the CRX’s production run. But the HF was hard to pin down: it wasn’t quite an econobox and wasn’t quite a sports car; instead it was a niche vehicle aimed at buyers who valued fuel efficiency above all else. 25 years later, it still stands out as an excellent example of efficiency personified.
Honda’s CRX 2-seater was introduced with the 3rd generation Civic in 1984. Part of a mini-surge in 2-seater cars that year – the Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero were also introduced then – the CRX was unique among its competition in that it was a relatively practical car. The front-engine/front-wheel drive format left plenty of interior room, enhanced by a high hatchback design. The storage area behind the seats could contain over 20 cu. ft. of cargo (if filled to the roof), and the passenger compartment displayed a sense of roominess that belied the car’s small size. Even a tall, long-legged driver could comfortably drive a CRX, due to a generous amount of seat travel.
While in its inaugural year, Honda offered just one CRX variant to US consumers, 1985 brought two others: the high-performance Si model, as well as the fuel-sipping HF (standing for High Fuel efficiency). The HF was a purpose-driven car – for its seven years in production, it had one aim: to be Honda’s fuel mileage champ. It accomplished this goal by following one strategy: simplicity. There was nothing unnecessary on the CRX HF. Features that were standard on other CRX’s, such as a rear wiper, passenger-side mirror, or tilt steering wheel were not included in the HF package (the one exception is that the later-model HF wears the Si’s front spoiler – a nod to increased aerodynamics that compensated for the added weight.)
Weight and complexity cause inefficiency, and keeping weight down on the already diminutive CRX was a major goal in creating the HF. The lack of fluff added up to a very low curb weight: just 1,713 for the original model, and 1,967 lbs, for this slightly larger 1990 model. To put that in perspective, this 1990 HF weighs nearly 30% less than Honda’s current smallest car, the Fit.
Honda, of course, built its reputation in North America during the energy crises of the 1970s and 80s, when it offered small, efficient, well-built cars that capitalized on consumer frustration with inefficient and often unreliable products offered by many domestic manufacturers. This was embodied by Honda’s long-lived marketing slogan of “We Make It Simple.” The CRX HF can be viewed as the last manifestation of this “Make It Simple” philosophy, and perhaps one of the last direct links to the early Civics, and the way of thinking that went along with them.
Low curb weight helped the HF to achieve remarkable economy ratings, but the other ingredient to its efficiency was the car’s drivetrain. The HF’s engine was the same 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine as in other Civics, but with an 8-valve cylinder head. Other drivetrain differences with standard CRXs/Civics included revised gear ratios for the 5-speed manual transmission, and a very low 2.95 final drive ratio. Despite these efficiency-minded enhancements, the HF still had excellent drivability helped by an engine that generated peak torque at a low 2,000 rpm.
So, what kind of fuel economy did the CRX HF attain? Using current EPA mileage standards, the 1990 HF is rated at 40 mpg city /47 mpg highway. Advertised mileage at the time was higher because the EPA changed its mileage calculations in 1988 to produce a more real-world estimate, and the result was that most cars’ mileage ratings dropped. Furthermore, the EPA gave a mileage bonus to cars with an Upshift indicator light, which the HF had – assuming that all drivers would shift exactly when the light told them to. At the time of its production, Honda estimated various mileage ratings for the HF (the 1989 models were rated at 50/56, while the nearly identical 1990s were rated at 49/52) – but regardless of which figures are used, the HF delivered astounding mileage for its day.
The CRX HF wasn’t alone in the 40+ MPG club. In 1990, the Suzuki Swift and Geo Metro were both rated at greater than 45 mpg highway – and other cars such as the Ford Festiva, Daihatsu Charade and Subaru Justy were close behind. However, the CRX differed from those cars because it was exceptionally well built, befitting Honda’s then-reputation for quality. It was also more expensive, with a base price of $9,145. That meant the HF cost 34% more than the Geo Metro XFi’s $5,995 price, and even a base Civic hatchback could be bought for considerably less. This put the CRX HF in a class by itself – people who bought one could have afforded other types of cars with more power and/or equipment. But with the HF, fuel economy was the featured attraction, not simply a byproduct of a small, cheaply-built car.
The problem for the HF was that, by the time it was introduced, the market for economical cars was shrinking. The HF’s first year of 1985 was at the tail end of the early-80s energy crisis, and nearly two decades followed of relatively low fuel costs. It was probably the worst time ever for a super-mileage car.
If the market for super-mileage cars was shrinking, why did Honda persist in offering the HF for 7 model years? For one, the HF helped with EPA CAFE rules. But also, energy crises tend to happen when automakers are least prepared for them. Honda executives may have thought that if another crisis hit, they would have the ideal car already in production. Another aspect of the HF’s longevity is that having a notable mileage champ in the lineup reflected positively on the entire Honda line, and imbued all Hondas with a marketable sense of efficiency and engineering prowess – similar to the effect that a flagship car might have on the rest of its line. But in the HF’s case, the ‘flagship’ was one of the cheaper cars in the showroom, not the costliest. Honda must have thought that having the HF in its lineup provided benefits beyond just the relatively small number of actual cars that were sold.
When the CRX shifted to the 4th generation Civic platform in 1988, the HF was kept in the lineup, once again alongside the standard and Si models. For 1988, the CRX was redesigned, got slightly larger (4” increase in wheelbase and length), and gained some power (up 5-hp to 63-hp from its now-fuel injected engine). The most distinguishing new design aspect was the smoked glass rear panel, which enabled drivers to have some visibility in what ordinarily would have been a blind spot due to the high Kammback tail.
As was typical for Hondas of this period, models had a four-year life span, and received minor (usually cosmetic) upgrades at the halfway point. For the fourth generation CRX/Civic, the minor upgrades occurred for 1990, with the changes including slightly revised bumper and light designs, a new instrument cluster, as well as door-mounted seatbelts. The seatbelts ostensibly satisfied US ‘passive restraint’ requirements (which required either an airbag or automatically-buckling seatbelts), and were billed as being automatic because they could be left buckled when the door was opened. To make the point, red labels near the buckles said “for emergency use only” – however virtually everyone used these as regular seatbelts and buckled/unbuckled at their pleasure.
This featured car is finished in Polar white with a blue interior (HFs only came in white or red in 1990), and has obviously been well-driven. The major deviation from stock appearance are the wheels, which have been painted black – other than that, the car appears to be in original condition, with only minor rust around the wheel wells. Per Honda tradition, CRXs had no factory-installed options, so all HFs are essentially identical. Even air conditioning was available only as a dealer-installed accessory throughout the CRX line.
Honda sold on average an estimated 13,000 HF’s per year, or about 25% of total CRX production, though that number trailed off to an estimated 5,000 or so by the last two years. Clearly, the HF was a niche car, and its following did not appear to grow over its production life. When the 5th generation Civic debuted in 1992, the CRX itself was dropped in favor of the less successful del Sol, which had no HF equivalent. Honda did keep the HF’s philosophy alive for a while longer, transferring the mileage champ title to the Civic VX hatchback. Later on, even the 6th generation Civic had a mileage champ, the HX coupe. But none of those could quite equal the CRX HF’s purity in its goal of mileage attainment.
The CRX HF was a unique car, but it’s impossible to think about the HF and not try to compare it to modern fuel-efficient cars. While we will not delve into a strict comparison in this article, any casual observer would notice that the modern crop of hybrids and others that pursue high mileage are bigger, costlier and use many more raw materials than did the CRX. Both government regulations (added safety requirements lead to greater weight) and market preferences (ever increasing luxury) are responsible for the growing girth of nearly all modern cars. Still, if judged by the now-prevalent metric of a “carbon footprint,” it is hard to imagine that any car would have a smaller per-mile footprint than this 25-year-old, well-used Honda.
In many ways, the trend towards bigger and more expensive products reflects as much on the state of the environmental movement as it does on the car market. In the 25 years since this CRX was built, environmentalism has moved from a “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to one that appears to more embrace conspicuous consumption. And this trend is reflected in the car market. Appearing to be Green is now prestigious. But when this CRX was made, environmental efficiency was a slightly out of the mainstream concept that had relatively few adherents. Although the CRX HF and its design philosophy quietly faded away as cars got bigger and more complex, this car is a testament that high efficiency is not hard to attain. All a carmaker needs to do is to Make It Simple.
Honda sells cars all over the world only the US has the problem of cheap gas, you think $4 gas expensive we pay $10+ and have done for several years, thats why I have a diesel that does 45mpg in town on $6 a gallon diesel,
These Hondas might have been out of step with US gas prices but they werent with everyone elses.
I’m curious. For what you pay per gallon or liter, how much of that is tax? Here there is a national fuel tax of $0.17 per gallon on both gasoline and diesel (I may be off a penny either way) and each state then has its own per gallon tax, which varies by state. Where I am, the state gasoline tax is another $0.17 per gallon and diesel is $0.16 per gallon; our state fuel tax hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years, but that is only one state out of fifty.
By no means am I trying to start anything political, I’m simply curious what your fuel tax is.
At least in the European Union, if you trust this source http://cincodias.com/cincodias/2015/01/12/economia/1421046456_816413.html the aveage is 62% (54% in Spain).
Gas now is at about 1.35€/l here (Barcelona), $1.46 per liter. If a galon is 3.78 liters, 5.52 $/gal
There is an official portal in Spain with all the prices around the country if you want to have fun: http://geoportalgasolineras.es/
Gas pumps are usually festooned with stickers, and if one takes the time to study them, you’ll find one with the excise rates, at least in my state. It’s 18.4¢/gal Fed, 18¢/gal AZ, & 1¢/gal fuel-storage tax.
I seriously doubt the Fed excise tax will rise anytime soon, for it’s what’s called a Regressive Tax, unpopular today among politicians & I assume most voters. It would be suicide to propose an increase, all the current chatter about infrastructure notwithstanding.
I found a link that purports to summarize fuel taxes in the various states of the U.S.
There’s a chart of gas taxes by state on Wikipedia:
Here are some numbers by Country:
I know we don’t tax enough here in the US to adequately maintain our infrastructure, but when I look at some of these other countries I have to think that the taxes must be going towards other things. I don’t want to get into politics either, but I am curious what the taxes go towards.
If I may offer some additional information:
In the EU, fuel is taxed first by adding the excise tax. This must be at least 36 eurocents per litre (minimum mandated by EU legislation, individual Member States are free to impose higher excise rates, and most of them do).
To this, some other taxes (“CO2 tax” and such) can be added.
All of the above is added to the “pre-tax” retail price and on all of this, VAT is levied. This also varies from country to country, the EU minimum is 15%, but most Member States have higher VAT rates than that.
Example from Slovenia: 95-octane unleaded gasoline, price in EUR per liter:
– ‘pre-tax’ retail price 0,5583
– CO2 tax: 0,04147
– other energy-related taxes: 0,01516
– excise tax 0,5031
All of the above is added together and 22% VAT is applied, adding 0,24597 EUR.
The grand total is 1,364 EUR per litre. At the current EUR/USD exchange rate, this is about 5,59 US dollars per gallon.
A while ago, when the dollar was weaker, this would have been as high as about 7 dollars/gallon…
Jason, unlike in the US, where the gas tax is legally restricted to be used only for roads, in Europe the tax on fuel is used for the general fund (above the amounts spent on roads). essentially in Europe it is a tax on driving, which historically was seen more as a privilege/luxury than a basic right/need as in the US.
Here, we can’t even raise the tax high enough to properly cover inflation and the current needs in maintaining our highways, never mind improving the infrastructure, bridges, etc. Due to inflation, the gas tax has been effectively declining for a very long time.
In Europe, it’s just a tax, like so many others. it’s one of a number of things that make driving intrinsically more expensive there than here. And increasingly, CO-oriented taxes in Europe are meant to specifically help achieve greenhouse gas emissions targets, and also go to the general fund or to offset/subsidize renewable energy sources.
For a while I had strongly suspected the philosophy on gas taxes varied greatly between the U.S. and other nations. All these comments have been very helpful and informative.
You are correct on not being able to raise sufficient funds for highways. A public referendum here last summer for a $0.0034 general sales tax to support transportation failed miserably. The state legislature had a $0.01 fuel tax proposal before it in the session that just ended – between the suicide of the state auditor, his press secretary a month later, and the sex scandal of the speaker of the house, there were too many distractions for it to gain the needed traction.
The fuel tax revenue has declined in many states due to it being on a per gallon basis and the increased efficiency of cars.
Having a vested interest in the fuel tax, it is a subject that fascinates me.
In Europe, the fuel tax is just a thinly disguised import tax since they produce little to now petroleum of their own. England and Norway are the exceptions and Norway has refused to be a member of the EU. England is close to leaving it.
Gas is mostly tax though our diesel is not taxed at the pump we pay a seperate mileage tax based on the odometer reading R.U.C. always assuming it works, Gas is $2.04 per litre yesterday 4.5 litres to a imp gallon, I filled up with diesel @ $1.12 per L Road user charges are 5.7 cents per km for the class my hatchback falls into
The irony is that as far as I’m aware, the CRX HF didn’t have a direct counterpart outside North America. The JDM EA CR-X continued to offer the 1.3-liter carbureted engine, but that was more entry-level price-leader than dedicated fuel sipper, and the base engine on the EF CR-X was a dual-carb 1.5-liter, not the HF engine. The European cars generally got only the more powerful engines. (The CRX was fairly pricey in most European markets and not very practical compared to other hatchbacks, so I don’t think anybody was likely to buy one as an economy car.)
That does speak to the HF being aimed at CAFE boosting and a certain polite competition for the “most fuel-efficient car in the U.S.” more than anything else.
i love this car , i often hoped that honda would build a replacement . i could build one if i had the money . i have a 1991 hf right now . i modified it to produce 72 mpg . ( at 70 miles per hour ) . it all comes down to weight . it had 257000 miles when i bought it . i put 100000 miles on it myself , so now i have 358000miles on this , magnificent product from honda . this car is so , so over engineered , that it has paid for itself many times over . i am gonna go for a million miles . its never been rebuilt so far .
That’s one “problem” I am glad we have.
Although I am very fond of the CRX, the praise of its space efficiency (much repeated in contemporary reviews) really only holds up in a very narrow, U.S.-centric viewpoint. If you were comparing it to a Fiero, say, then it was a fair point, but it was about the size of a variety of contemporary European B-segment cars that were a lot roomier. U.S. buyers weren’t offered most of those alternatives, so to some extent the point was moot anyway, but the CRX had a much rougher time against something like a Peugeot 205, which also handled and rode better.
Still, it’s interesting to note that it was the HF that Honda seemed most keen to replicate afterward, first with the Mk1 Insight (which is a lot more complex and sophisticated, but very much the same idea) and more recently with the CR-Z.
Yes, the HF’s legacy is interesting to trace throughout more modern Honda offerings. Honda did seem keen to replicate the high-efficiency concept, but did so with very different cars, and with varying degrees of marketing success.
Is the HF’s true successor the later Civic HX? Or the Insight? Or the CR-Z? Or the Prius (the one example that became a sales success)? It’s an interesting question to ponder, but one without an easy answer.
The Civic VX hatch and HX coupe were the obvious lineal successors, but the Insight and CR-Z were closer to the CRX HF in their efforts to create a fuel-sipping sports car (particularly the Insight, I’d argue, because it tried to make a sport of saving fuel). Of course, CRX fans seem united in their feeling that what Honda should replicate is the old CRX Si/SiR, so…
I still own two Insights – which I think are part of the ongoing Honda line of small fuel efficient cars.
Honda pulled out all the stops for the first generation Insight – aerodynamics, light weight, low friction drivetrain components, lean burn (in the m/t) as well as the hybrid drivetrain -which was not very complex in comparison with Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive.
The Insight did make a sport out of saving fuel and are quite “nippy” around the city.
They were very well made with long lasting and functional but simple interiors.
Not even the suggestion of a back seat limited their popularity as did worries about battery life (although one of mine is still on its original battery after 14 years).
But they were beautifully built in the Honda tradition, great fun and cheap to own. 70mpg is not hard to get in suburban driving, though a little under 60mpg is more realistic in the stop-go of a daily commute.
Hondas dont stack up very well against actual competition for ride handling or economy as they dont have a diesel. Hondas by Rover had XUD1750 diesels fitted which are noisy and rough running or Perkins in some models in an attempt to make them acceptable economy wise.
They do now, but it’s a fairly recent development.
the crz is a nice looking futuristic crx wanna be car . but it can never be a crx cause its a hybrid . too heavy ,too expensive , too high tech . i drove a crz once , compared to my 1991 hf , it felt like a tank . it was a nice car , it just didn’t produce the fun , go kart feeling of a crx .
I’m sure the CRX had a back seat (of sorts) when it was sold here.
Most non-U.S. markets got a sort of folding jump seat in back that served mainly to illustrate that the CRX was not a car for carrying three or more adult passengers that you still wanted speaking to you afterward (unlike the aforementioned European B-segment rivals).
Dunno about not speaking to you. In Europe, if you’re under 50, crushing your friends into a tiny car is a kind of fun sporting pastime. It can serve as an icebreaker if nothing else.
Well, you’d certainly be hearing from them as they tried to get in, that much was certain. When the CR-X debuted in Japan, Honda called the jump seat a “1-mile seat,” which gets points for candor if nothing else.
Is that a Honda 250 Elite we’re glimpsing in the opening picture? Sort of ironic – being from the same era with such different goals – the HF was all about efficiency while the 250 Elite (Spacey) was all about being the top-gun of scooters.
Yep, that’s a Devo scooter. Which is what we called all the angular 80’s Elites (from 90cc’s on up), mainly because of the top of the line model’s appearance in a Devo video (can’t remember what song). And it definitely fit in with its hidden headlamp (which the model behind the HF doesn’t have.
We still get a few of those regularly at the shop. The survival rate of the 80-90’s Elite often surprises me. Their owners really love them. I’d love to find a 125 or 250 in good condition.
Another great article Eric! It is unfortunate when you think that for many people, the environmental movement has become more about making a statement than actual concern for the environment. But I won’t go any further into that and start a non-car related thread.
As for the CRX HF, it’s a very basic, yet genius concept. I’m actually surprised it accounted for 25% of CRX production most years. I would’ve figured it would be much less. I just don’t think something as bare-bones as it could do well in the market today. When you can get standard power seats and bluetooth in a Hyundai Accent, you know it’s the point of no return to “stripper” cars.
For what it’s worth, Honda has generally offered either a basic high-mileage gasoline and/or alternative fuel version of the Civic for each successive generation.
Thanks! This was a fun article to write, but as you noted it’s tough to talk about this car and not to stray into non-car commentary. I’ll leave that to other sites.
Regarding production numbers, Honda appears notoriously secretive about revealing production statistics, so everything is an estimate. (If anyone has a better source on Honda production statistics, I’d love to hear about it.) It appears that US CRX sales were more or less 50,000 units per year from 1985-1991. Several enthusiast sites estimated early-on HF sales at about 15,000/yr., which seemed reasonable to me.
Towards the end of its production run, HF sales really seem to have tapered off. In a 1991 Congressional hearing on fuel economy, a Honda executive mentioned that the CRX HF accounted for only about 1% on Honda sales (which were about 450,000 units by that time), so I’d estimate 4,000-5,000 units by 1991, which was more like 10-15% of CRX sales.
Good to know. I feel there really needs to be a database of production/sales figures for ever model of every car of every brand. GoodCarBadCar is an okay source, but it only goes back to the early 2000s. My encyclopedia of American cars is also good for some models, but only American brands.
As you said, Honda doesn’t release much info on this. I’d really like to know the production figures for my TSX V6, as they’re quite rare relative to the 4-cylinder.
My impression was that Honda tended to roll CRX production into the tallies for the Civic and Ballade rather than calling it out separately, which of course doesn’t help.
Agreed, Brendan. I’m thinking of the $60,000 Chevy Tahoes that screamed HYBRID on their sides in 12 inch high letters.
Or worse, the Escalade Hybird.
You’re somehow blaming that on the environmental movement? Maybe you should blame GM’s PR department or Bob Lutz. Nobody told/pressured GM that they had to go and do that.
Of course, taking a vehicle from 15 mpg to 20 mpg saves more gas than taking a vehicle from 30 mpg to 45 mpg. Of course our use of a goofy metric for fuel efficiency and a lack of critical thinking among the population obscures that.
It is unfortunate when you think that for many people, the environmental movement has become more about making a statement than actual concern for the environment.
That’s the case for just about every human endeavor. But you’re probably too young to remember how well we all expressed our concern for the environment before there was an environmental movement. Dumping our industrial waste in the rivers. And polluting the air. And……….
It’s easy to criticize the inevitable human shortcomings of the individuals of any activity. But the truth is that we lived in what was becoming poisonous cesspool. The clean air you’re now breathing didn’t just happen by itself. Or from the good graces of industry, most of all the Big Three.
Paul, I think you misunderstood me. I’m not blaming or criticizing the environmental movement, nor am I saying it isn’t improving our planet. I’m support further regulation of air pollution and increased land conservation, among many related interests. And believe me when I say that I’m truly grateful for all the positive actions that have happened and continue to happen in protecting natural resources and improving the conditions of our planet.
All I meant by that statement is that I feel some people display “environmentally friendly” behavior because it’s trendy and they’re concerned with their own image. In reality these individuals couldn’t care less about the environment.
Sure they proudly bring their reusable bags to the grocery store because of fear they’ll be judged if they don’t, but they’re still driving a 13-mpg SUV they don’t need and continue to litter. One environmentally friendly action shouldn’t “make up for” an action that is not.
You’re right; those folks are not “the environmental movement”.
I believe they just shifted the mess to non-regulated countries. China comes to mind.
Well, China is far from “non-regulated”. They have some catching up to do, but they’ve made that a priority. The cars meet emission standards. And all their little scooters are pretty much electric.
The Chinese people are tired of the dirty air and such, and the government knows it has to fix that asap, without hurting the economy too much.
Fully agree with you on Al Gore. He is a major oil stockholder who flies in a private jet. And then has a holier than thou attitude towards others who just want to drive to work.
That’s the trick, isn’t it? There’s always a balance between maintaining economic strength and the environment. Here in the US, we have made great strides in cleaning things up. However we have also made it exceedingly difficult if not impossible to do some types of business. As an employee at a company that has federal contracts, I can tell you that government bureaucracy has become the bane of my existence. And I have it easy compared to those that work with the EPA and various DNRs.
Agree that the article is great, and I especially appreciated the points about how both the market and consumer tastes have evolved. I feel that in today’s market, among a good sized segment of the population, it is considered a badge of honor to have the right kind of hybrid. I believe one of the key reasons for the ongoing success of the Prius is the fact that for Gen2 it adopted a very identifiable shape. That look became a standard, and it clearly telegraphs “green car” to a large swath of people. Like any good branding, the Prius shape becomes shorthand for a key attribute Toyota is trying to sell.
For me, part of the incredible magic of Honda products from the 1980s and early 1990s was that their design so clearly telegraphed the cars’ relative lightness and efficiency. Low cowls, delicate greenhouses, everything designed to look simple, light and airy. Even then, however, most buyers were looking for more amenities than what was offered on the HF. I am sure Honda was quite happy to sell more of the upmarket trims like the Si, as the margins would have been better and the market segment bigger. Today, preserving the styling attributes of lightness and efficiency is much harder given all the market and government requirements, hence today’s relatively generic looking Honda vehicles and the loss of the ultimate efficiency/environmental sustainability crown–at least from the branding standpoint– to Toyota.
The 84 CRX may have not had an HF model, it did give you the ability to buy one. It came with a 1.3L & a 5 spd with tall gearing. It had some features that helped make high mpg too, like an alternator that only charges when the car is slowing down.
Exactly. Smaller engine and fewer valves and skinnier tires.
Never heard of the HF – was it ever sold in Europe ? Certainly can’t ever remember seeing a CRX on steel wheels…
They’re pretty much all gone now anyway, either rusted away or written-off by over-confident boy-racers.
No, so far as I could determine, European markets got the more powerful engines — 1.5-liter injected, 1.6i-16, then later the VTEC — and usually had alloy wheels as standard.
I had forgotten all about the HF model, so thanks for this. I can see why they kept offering this version, as it could not have cost a lot to offer and kept Honda atop the economy rankings, which was still very much its stock in trade back then.
I remember also how out of step cars like this were in the early 90s. I had bumbled into an 83 Colt with the twin stick. After it got totalled about 1991 or 92, I had to fight like crazy to get 4 figures out of the insurance company. And this was a very presentable car with under 70k on it, but nobody really wanted cars like that. A frugal person who liked small cars would have been in heaven in the early 90s.
I could have used one of these at that time, but still being a young family, we needed room and the 1990 Plymouth Acclaim was the right car for us, plus we still had our beautiful 1984 Chrysler E-Class.
Still, it would have been a cool car – I liked these, and Honda as well as Toyota were definitely on my radar as OEMs to watch carefully, even if now we are still a half-domestic OEM family.
This may be one of the fastest cases of CC effect.
If I hadn’t just read this article, I would have passed right by this CRX this morning without a second thought. Instead I circled the block to get a shot after spotting the HF badge.
Not quite as clean, but not bad for a 25 year old car in Michigan.
“but not bad for a 25 year old Honda in Michigan.”
There, fixed. 🙂
As much as I prefer domestic cars, I’m not going there. I think by ’90 the Japanese cars held up as well as anything else. My early ’90s Fords & Olds all rusted that much too.
Early 90s NZ assembled Toyotas were galvanised Toyota listened to the critics who were sick of their cars rusting away and fixed the problem, those cars will be here forever now.
Amazing CC effect — same year and color as well!
With fuel economy like that, who needs a hybrid car? 🙂
You know I’ve often considered that too. Seems to me that for many years the Prius got away with poor performance, comfort, and material quality that would have led to scathing and sarcastic reviews had it not been a hybrid. In fact, to some extent I think it still does. But a lot of what made it so efficient are things like the bare-bones interior, weak performance, aerodynamics, and small low-grip tires. I’d love to see how efficient a conventionally-powered Prius of similar performance could be.
Of course hybrids do offer some advantages that a gasser just can’t match. But they are also considerably more expensive and complex so depending on use the math may not work out in your favor.
You’re just spouting the usual anti-Prius venom.
Have you ever looked inside a gen1 Prius? It’s interior quality, materials and ambiance was well ahead of the typical small car. Try comparing it to a Chevy Cavalier of the times.
The gen1 Prius had a 0-60 time in the 12 second range. Not exactly brilliant, but not all that bad for the times; about the same as the Rav4 at the time.
The 2004 gen2 brought that down to right about 10 seconds, where it’s been ever since.
The tests you refer to where typically designed to make the Prius look bad, like driving it up a long mountain road until its battery was depleted. These “scathing, sarcastic reviews” were by folks who were out to make it look bad. Anyone can do that to any car, if they have an agenda, which certainly many did, and some (but not nearly as many) still do.
No objective test ever said that the Prius’ performance was sub-par. The most objective magazine, CR, has been praising and recommending the Prius for a very long time.
I have never been in a 1st Gen Prius, but I have driven a 2nd Gen. The interior may have been better than a Cavalier’s, but it did not compare well to something in its price class like a Camry. And neither did the performance or handling. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either. That’s my point. CR and others keep using cheaper cars as a measuring stick for the Prius.
My question is how would a gas Prius do with the careful fuel efficiency design that only the Prius and other purpose-built hybrids seem to offer today? Because when I look at say a Ford Fusion or Honda Accord hybrid, the numbers don’t seem to add up for my expected ownership cycle compared to their gas-only equivalents. That’s not to say they wouldn’t for some (perhaps many) people, and of course gas prices can change that in a hurry. But I wonder why we don’t see better efforts in gas cars.
Not nearly as well as a hybrid Prius.
The Prius is often compared to somewhat lower-cost cars because its higher cost is usually paid back in a few years through better efficiency, depending on gas prices, obviously. CR has repeatedly said that the Pris is the cheapest proper car to own over a five year period. List price is not the whole story, just like it isn’t between buying an energy efficient house and one that isn’t. Now that was of course before the recent drop in gas prices.
I don’t know why folks keep bringing that up about the Prius with an all-gas drivetrain. All modern cars now are highly aerodynamic and their tires are generally quite efficient. Compare a Focus to a Prius, and you’ll see the difference the hybrid system makes a big difference.
As to your other point, obviously the payback is all about gas prices.
I seem to be having issues replying to this. I had two posts lost, and when I tried again it said I had duplicated a post.
Well this one posted, perhaps it was the link I included. Anyway, I’ll just quickly edit and suggest doing an apples-to-apples cost comparison of hybrids vs their gas counterparts before suggesting a non-hybrid Prius couldn’t compete with the hybrid Prius from an overall value standpoint. Because when I do the math on existing twin models, the hybrids don’t add up. Although they probably do for many people I’m sure.
For me, it would take $3.80/gal gas for the Fusion hybrid to make sense. Not unrealistic, but also not an incentive.
In consideration of comfort, Prius only deserves an F ( same with Cavalier ) and it’s very unlikely to be the future. Instead, the approach of hybrid Escalade appears to be better than Prius by compare even though itself is a not so great combination too.
The future of hybrid should be models like Ford Fusion ( then Lincoln MKZ ) and Toyota Camry with hybrid power trains, and so far MKZ is successful to reach upmarket.
I have read that the Escalade Hybrid was actually one of the best hybrid values vs its gas counterpart. That’s almost entirely due to the Escalade being so expensive in the first place that the hybrid premium added comparatively little to the overall cost, but still, it’s something.
MKZ is the same way because hybrid is a no-cost option. Which probably means the non-hybrid is overpriced.
Lincoln MKZ has interesting strategy in pricing. For a luxury car like that, V6 is essential, but on the other hand it would be a good idea to push a hybrid model to cut into the market. However for those people dislikes hybrid anyway, they still have a 4-cylinder to choose from and starting at the same price as hybrid will not make those goes to 4-cylinder feel bad or less prestige, and it makes those buying hybrid feel like a good deal.
’80s bustle back Continental story is duplicating again on MKZ nowadays.
Phil, there are already plenty of other cars that offer hybrid and non-hybrid drivetrains, so this is a comparison that’s easy to make. The only thing unique to the Prius is an exceptionally low Cd, which only comes into play at higher speeds where very little of the hybrid “magic” happens anyway. The benefit in battery power is that the engine is turned off at low speeds and waste energy from braking can be recaptured, so it’s not the slippery shape or low rolling resistance tires that are doing the heavy lifting. A gas engine may even be able to come close to a (proper) hybrid’s fuel efficiency when cruising at 60MPH all day, so if we lived in a world without traffic lights, traffic jams, stop signs, cities, suburbs, etc. then hybrids really would be pointless. For all other scenarios, it’s no contest.
The first generation of Ford hybrids make a good comparison because they both used the same basic 2.5l four cylinder:
2012 Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD: 34cty/31hwy
2012 Ford Escape 2.5/auto 2WD: 21cty/28hwy
2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid: 41cty/36hwy
2012 Ford Fusion 2.5/auto: 23cty/33hwy
No performance penalty here either; they all did 0-60 around 9 seconds with either drivetrain. The new Fusion is rated 44cty/41hwy as a hybrid (188HP), 22cty/34hwy with the 2.5l (175HP) or 25cty/37hwy (178HP) with the 1.5l EcoBoost and optional Start/Stop system.
Camry Hybrid vs. Camry non-hybrid; both with 2.5l fours…
2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE: 43cty/39hwy (200HP)
2015 Toyota Camry 2.5/auto: 25cty/35hwy (178HP)
Lexus RX, both with the same basic 3.5l V6…
2015 Lexus RX450h 2WD: 32cty/28hwy (295HP)
2015 Lexus RX350 2WD: 18cty/25hwy (270HP)
Smart comparisons, Sean, they effectively show the value of hybrid power is mainly on the “city” mileage. I’ve seen similar benefits on suburban mileage too.
Prius aerodynamics account for their superior highway mileage. On a trip from Portland to Salt Lake City at an average speed of 70 mph my 2010 got 48 mpg on the trip. It was comfortable on that 12 hour driving day too.
Low rolling resistance tires only made about 1 mpg difference. Found that out when I got sick of buying tires every 20K on my 2001 Prius and switched to normal ones.
Really fine story Eric, thanks.
Thanks, Mike – any kind of driving that involves stopping regularly will end up resulting in fuel efficiency closest to the EPA “city” rating. “Highway” is ~10 miles @ 48.3MPH average with no stops.
Sean, sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I did state that hybrids do have some advantages and gas mileage is one of them. But they also have a price premium that may not overcome the mileage gains, depending on use and gas prices. So I’d like to know how a conventional Prius would compare, not necessarily on gas mileage (although that is a key metric) but in overall cost of ownership. Unfortunately I don’t think Toyota has any intention of doing that for a number of reasons. But I think it would make a lot of sense for a lot of people.
Well, if the ultimate goal is saving money, then buying any new car is a really poor way to go about it. The high MPG and dollar-amount savings on gas are only a part of the package, and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or a fundamentalist skinflint. I’m sure Toyota could build a non-hybrid Prius that matched (at least) the overall cost of ownership for the hybrid, but who would want it? Remember the Chevrolet Cobalt XFE? Would anyone be interested in Toyota’s version? Maybe some fleet managers… but I’m pretty sure that most anarchists, hippies, cheapskates and other fans of minimalism would much rather take it a few steps further and buy a 10 year old Toyota Echo.
That was achieved, it must be said, sans air conditioning, sans airbags, sans ABS, without a lot of other equipment one now takes for granted (note the text about the passenger-side mirror), and with a lot of road noise even for a Honda of that vintage. Fine as a city car, but not my first choice as an all-around car.
The thing that used to really get me was seeing HF’s driven buy a young kid with a giant fart can and wide wheels and tires. 🙂
CRX’s were so in demand during the great “ricing” era, that some of the kids didn’t know the difference between an Si and HF.
FWIW, the HF was a popular candidate for VTEC motor swaps because they were light and cheap, because at the time no one cared about the fuel economy.
Not saying all or even most of the HFs you saw with fart cans had motor swaps, but some were genuine swaps where the owner preferred to let people think it still had the little HF motor.
I’m aware of that. it’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference, but maybe not always. I’ve even seen one that had just the fart can and the stock wheels. Maybe they were aiming to improve their mileage?
It probably could still be done today if hp was reduced to around 70 hp and weight was about 2400 lbs, and still would conform to modern safety standards. But I don’t think enough people would be willing to accept a car with a 12-14 second 0-60, manual everything and only 2 seats today, especially if it was more expensive then say a Kia Rio.
Good article on a nice looking Honda and I am surprised to see a passenger side mirror.
The passenger-side mirror was available as a dealer-installed “accessory.” This car also had air conditioning (I was able to see the button on the dashboard), which also would have been dealer-installed.
A torquey engine, 5000 rpm redline, and great fuel economy? Seems like Honda built their own Oldsmobile Turnpike Cruiser. I would guesstimate that they get roughly the same MPG-per-lb, too. (Maybe even the same MPG per passenger!)
I’d like to mention a couple of other things. First, in those days there were plenty of roomier small cars – heck, even a Civic, that had room for 4, and a trunk, with very little penalty in mileage even with a carburetor, and second; I think tougher crash standards for US cars eliminated lightweight cars like this from our market in the early 1990s.
I drove a new one of these owned by a friend of my brother, and I liked it, but there was a significant cost in utility to get that extra MPG.
I like those old Honda ads, especially the ‘recycled’ one. I know that these Honda’s ‘love to rev’ but I’m surprised that this car had a 5,000RPM redline.
back in 70s,datsun b210 with 5speed could have achieved 50 plus mpg.
Another note – these cars had a lot of highway road noise, even by Honda standards, since they omitted sound-dampening materials in order to save weight.
My 1984-7 Civic sedans were actually quieter on the highway than my 1997 Civic sedan is.
I was somewhat intrigued by the Civic VX hatch back when we were in the market (ended up with an ’89 DX hatch for the wife and a ’90 stripper hatch for me). I seem to remember the VX (and possibly the other high mileage Civics) having nice looking aluminum wheels (optional?) as shown in the attached pic.
Our base ’90 hatch had the FI 1.5l with a 4-speed, and easily got over 40mpg (by my calculations) on the highway – high 30s around town. Would have been interesting to see what the VX would have done ‘real world.’
My ’15 Fit reminds me a lot of our old Civics (having four doors would have been a plus back when our babies started coming along). I just finished a ~2,500 mile trip visiting our new grandson and other family, and was averaging a calculated ~42mpg highway, so it’s not doing *too* bad, given it’s high profile and higher weight over the old Civics. My normal calculated average (commuting miles) is in the high 30s.
Those alloys came with the VX (and the later HX coupe), ostensibly as a weight-saving measure, although people put them on various other models.
I had the 1991 DX model and have to say it was an excellent machine. Classic good looks with excellent architecture underneath to match. This generation of CRX was built during the golden era of Civics in my opinion. Traded it for a Mercedes C230 Sport Coupe Kompressor with similar styling thinking it would be an upgrade. While nice, looking back, it was not the upgrade I had hoped it would be as it was a complete lemon with a twist of lime.
I think the Civic 2-door coupe helped kill the CRX. IIRC the coupe came during the half way point of the 4th gen’s lifecycle and took off saleswise. On the 5th gen Honda seemed to sell as many 2-doors as it did 4-doors. It sorta did the job of the old CRX and old 3-door with one model that was easier to produce.
This article was really thoughtful and complete, one of many terrific posts today.
I don’t remember there being an EF Civic coupe, but there definitely was one starting with the EG, which was the generation following the Civic/CRX pictured.
The CRX didn’t die at that point, technically — the del Sol was the “CRX del Sol” in many markets — but I think you’re right that the coupe really took a lot of the demand, being arguably prettier and having a back seat.
Ah yes, a breath of fresh air from back in the days when Honda designed & built their cars the right way. With integrity AND style.
Thanks for posting this one, brought back some great memories. I had one (quite certain it was an ’85) It was identical to the ad you found, the blue & silver HF, with red wrap-around band in the cladding and navy cloth.
I’ve mentioned here before that I am on 20+ cars since 16yo, this one came after a ’74 Triumph Spitfire, ’76 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Sedan, ’72 Pontiac Ventura, ’73 Cadillac SDV & 2 ’69 GTOs, 1 convertible, and 1 hardtop, concurrent with the Honda. I drove many of these cars and others for just a short time and flipped them. But…
…not my CRX. I loved that Honda, and so did all my friends. I kept it longer and drove that car everywhere, and it NEVER let me down. I personally prefer my bodystyle to the next gen, I never warmed up to it much liking the crisper straighter lines of the ’85-era. I still think it holds up today and was one of the best small car designs, ever. To this day my ex-CRX holds #1 spot of my cars that drove the most cross-country road trip miles. LA, Sacramento, Memphis, Atlanta, Sarasota, Philly… BTW, no matter what some might say, it was huge inside for the tiny size of the car. Compared to my previous cars, it had no power really, but it was plenty to enjoy the car as a daily driver (even with AC on) and the mileage was higher than I ever could have wished for. After some of my previous land-yachts, my friends and I certainly never complained about the lack of frequent fuel stops, leaving us more $ for our endeavors.
The only thing I did to the car besides mounting a massive home-floor speaker sideways to the rear floor area, (like we did then 🙂 for a sound system upgrade, was to order and self-install factory Honda A/C. I still wish I had this car around today just to run errands or whatever.
So, after reading this post, I decided to do a bit of digging thru old picture shoeboxes today but could only find 1 picture (mostly of people, still a great ’80s picture) and, part of the car is there, off to the right. It’s sad because most of us here know, it was a much bigger deal to take pictures back then. Im missing pictures of over half my cars from pre-smartphone days. Today people take pics of everything because its easy, instant and for free.
Anyhow, I drove down to Tennessee with my best friend in the smooth driving Honda to stay at his Mom’s new home for a week vacation after she moved away from Chicago. His sister took the pic of us & his Mom in the driveway and this pic at least shows the front tip of my awesome CRX 🙂
Thanks again for the memories… ugh, wish I still had that CRX
ps: I liked the car so much that I later bought a brand new 1992 Black/Tan Civic Coupe with 5 speed & power moonroof, another awesome and…REAL Honda.
The Plymouth Feather Duster of Hondas! Check out that 5k redline tach… never realized that was a “feature” of the HF, although it makes perfect sense. Personally, I miss cars like this immensely and I’d love to have another ’80s vintage Honda (that’s all I drove for many years), but there are plenty of good reasons why this species is extinct.
I agree that these cars were peak Honda. It wasn’t just the HF that was fuel efficient, it was all of them. The standard model was almost as efficient and even the SI, that I chose in 1990, returned up to 40+ mpg. at 55 mph. It’s true that the cars had very few power accessories and luxury features, which kept the weight down. No power seats, windows, door looks, a/c, cruise control, auto transmissions, and minimal sound deadening. They were so well designed and built that they satisfied the buyer even better a more expensive ordinary car. They were small, but the standard Civic could hold up to five people , I used mine for my kid’s high school car pool and those teen aged kids had plenty of room.
Cars like the CRX were never for everybody. Most people require room for more than just one passenger. But most middle class suburban families have at least two cars and these are great for commuting and running errands, uses where there is often only one person in the car.
Modern cars can be loaded with power and features and deliver commendable economy. Last month I rented a 460 hp. Mustang GT for a 400 trip from So Cal. It returned 28 mpg. per the trip computer! I’ve decided that I might go with the Eco Boost four instead that would provide more than enough performance and even better mileage.
It seemed to me and several of my friends at the time that these were “girlie” cars. The vast majority here were driven by the female gender. I now don’t understand why, they were nice looking cars, and seemed to be reliable and economical. If a guy bought a Honda it seemed to be the small wagon or a Civic, and later an accord. The Prelude was also a handsome car.
A colleague bought an early generation Prius, and people thought him weird for being seen in that car with the unusual rear wheel wells. To each their own I say. If you have a car you like, it doesn’t matter what others think.
I never heard of CRX’s being “chic cars”. Now the Del Sol? Those gained a reputation as cars dads bought their daughters as a high school or college grad gift around where I live. And most CRX fans were put off by Del Sols because they lost the sporty feel of the CRX.
I could never understand the “chick car” put down. I like and have owned all kinds of cars. I rode Harleys and other big bikes for over thirty years. I currently have a big truck and had an SUV in recent years. I also drove a couple of minivans for almost twenty years. I owned several Honda Civics over the years. I buy and use what works for me. Trying to ridicule or dismiss someone for their choice of vehicle is more of a reflection on the person making the negative comments than anything else.
This was interesting to read, both for the six year old comments as well as showing another perspective on some of the recent 2 door/4 door posts and comments. Although these had a sporty appearance, and in fact by the standards of the time quite sporty performance and handling (if not when compared to an Si) these HF’s and the later 2 door hybrid Insight and CRZ could almost be the business coupes of their time. No rear seats, adequate storage space, simple and economical. Not a perfect analogy if you factor in purchase price, but good examples of two doors equating with low cost of ownership, and not overt sportiness or exclusiveness as has so often been the case with coupes.
I drive a 2015 Chevy Spark and average 37 miles to the gallon. It’s small, it’s light, it has no cushy luxuries. it has a 5 speed which is fun. the radio works although it is quirky. I don’t mind that the sheet metal and headlights are overwrought ugly. I don’t care that it doesn’t impress any one. It is/was probably the most unpopular. When I bought it late in 2015 there were so many unsold leftover’s. GM decided there would be no 2016 Spark and waited till 2017 to bring out a more conservatively styled Spark. My car was waiting for me at the local Chevrolet/Cadillac with only 30 miles on the odometer, 13 months after it had been manufactured. they were happy to be rid of it for $10000, and i reduced that with the $4000 cash back on my GM credit card. I love that I only stop at the gas station once every other week to fill the 10 gallon tank, but most of all i love working the 5- speed manual which are getting harder to find every year.
If I could walk into a Honda dealer today and buy a new 1990 CRX, in any flavor, HF, regular, Si, for $20,000, and know that it would have the same level of newness and factory support as the ghoulish 2021 Civic, I would.