1985 Honda CRX Si review: The ultimate palate cleanser

35 years later, Honda's epic two-seat coupe is a reminder of just how good we had it.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read
1985 Honda CRX Si

Beautiful simplicity.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

If you're a patron of fine dining establishments, you'll know the concept of a palate cleanser. It is, simply, that bite-size refresher served between courses to flush your mouth of any lingering bits from all the wonderful stuff you've just eaten, preparing you for the wonderful stuff yet to come. 

As an automotive journalist, it's my job to sample up course after course of wonderful vehicular delights, served upon my driveway on a weekly basis. Virtually everything in production today is very good, some of it utterly sublime and, when you're trying to quantify and classify all that, a little refresher can sometimes go a long way.

1985 Honda CRX Si is a rolling time capsule

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That's just one reason why so many auto journos own simple, basic, pure cars: Sometimes we need to recalibrate. Mazda's Miata is the perennial favorite. I have a 1991 Toyota MR2 myself, but the next time you bump into one of us at a cars and coffee event, make sure you ask about their chosen machine and why it's better for lacking traction control, ABS, power steering or any number of other modern conveniences. 

It's from that context that I present to you this absolutely lovely 1985 Honda CRX Si, pulled from some secure, climate-controlled bunker and doled out in turn to a lucky few auto journalists this year. When I was told I'd be the one from Roadshow to give it a go, I confess I didn't really know what I'd do with the thing. I pretty quickly figured it out: Just keep driving, because it is amazing.

The CRX was trucked up to me in Albany from New Jersey to keep its miles down, and as it was being backed off the truck by a slightly bemused delivery person -- more used to unloading Ferraris and Lamborghinis than '80s Hondas -- it looked so tiny that it might fit into a Hot Wheels blister pack. 

1985 Honda CRX Si

The future is plastic.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Appropriate, perhaps, because I was 7 years old when this car was new, of an age where playing with Hot Wheels made up a significant portion of my daily activities. My only driving experience at the time was a few laps of my grandfather's pasture in his faded Chevrolet C10, a block of wood under the gas pedal to keep me from going too fast. I was, suffice to say, a little too young to experience the CRX in its element as a new car.

Except for a few paint imperfections and an occasionally lumpy idle, the '85 CRX you see here is as good as new. Easing somewhat gingerly onto the driver's seat, irrationally afraid I might break something, is like slipping into a wonderful, vinyl and velour time capsule. No Bluetooth, no USB ports, just a single-DIN cassette deck with a delightful seven-channel analog graphic equalizer mounted down low, ahead of a tall shifter that predates all the snick-snick manuals of Hondas to come. Crank windows and manual mirrors bookend an interior littered with dark, hard and generally crude plastics. It is everything that we dislike in a modern car, and yet here, it is utterly, irrationally delightful. 

1985 Honda CRX Si


Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The wee 1.5-liter engine spins up with zero fanfare and a moment later I'm off. It takes no time to get used to the feel of the clutch or anything else. I take the first few miles easy, wanting to ensure this vintage machine is properly up to temperature before engaging in anything too adventurous, but it isn't long before I'm pushing the throttle to the floormats and giggling as I might have done 35 years ago when launching one of my Hot Wheels off an orange plastic ramp. 

This, I quickly learn, is a car where the game is not to see how often you can press the gas pedal but how little you can press the brake. 91 horsepower and 92.9 pound-feet of torque isn't a lot, even by 1985 standards. But in a 1,864-pound car, that low power makes for a fun package. 

That's despite soft suspension with tons of body roll and some General all-season tires offering as much confidence as a set of roller skates. (Road-going performance tires in a 13-inch fitment are presumably few these days.) But, that all conspires to create a car that is remarkably comfortable over broken roads and simply a real joy. 

1985 Honda CRX Si

Gone, but not forgotten.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Joy is probably the best way to describe everything about this car. I entered into my few days with the CRX wondering what the heck I would do with the thing and, at the end, found myself wondering whether I had time to sneak in one more drive before the truck showed up to haul it off to the next lucky soul.

Setting safety concerns aside, something that is admittedly hard to do when you're sitting below eye-level with the bowtie on the front of a new Silverado, the 1985 CRX Si is an amazing reminder of just how much fun a simple machine can be. The problem is that you can't set such concerns aside and that's a big part of the reason why this particular recipe isn't a suitable daily for most people today. But, as a quick taste between other, more menial courses, it is sublime.