It is not often one is able to drive two cars which are identical in most important aspects and which seem so different, yet that was a recent pleasure when I had both of Honda’s performance Civic variants for a week apiece. They are not really so dissimilar, it’s more a question of perception and expectation. To give an example, engine noise in both cars starts to become irritating at over 4,500 rpm (the tachometer is redlined at 6,500 rpm and 70 mph is reached at 3,500 rpm in fifth). It was something I barely noticed when driving the CRX sports coupé, for engine noise is something one accepts in a sports car, but it did irritate me when driving the GT version for one expects more quietness form a hatchback.
If we first look at what is common to both cars, we find they share Honda’s sophisticated 12-alve (two inlet, one exhaust), four-cylinder, ohc, 1,488 cc, fuel-injected engine mounted transversely and driving to the front wheels via a five-speed gearbox. This is one of those impressive free-revving units which the Japanese are so good at making, at idling speeds it is remarkably quiet and its responsiveness is delightful. It gives 100 bhp at 5,700 rpm and 96 lb / ft torque at 4,500 rpm and if it lacks a little muscle compared with engines in other hot hatches (I found myself selecting a gear lower on my regular cross country route that I would in my Golf GTi) and one has to change gear more frequently, then this is no hardship for the gearbox is crisp and precise thought a shorter gear lever on the CRX magnifies a slightly awkward dog-leg up to fifth, which is a usable gear and not an “overdrive top”.
Torsion bar front suspension features on both cars in the interest of gaining a lower bonnet line and , indeed, there has been a lot of detail attention to aerodynamics in the design with, for example, flush fitting door handles and headlights. At the back is a beam rear axle located by trailing arms and coil springs. Both cars have ventilated disc brakes on the front and drums at the rear, and braking was positive and anxiety-free under all conditions.
Both cars come with three doors and there is a useful courtesy light in the boot. Both have a superb heating / ventilator system (the CRX with push-button control) and I could not fault either the layout of the dashboard, switches or stalk controls. The GT comes with a rear washer / wiper, and it needs it, while the shape of the GRX keeps the rear window clear under almost all conditions. I discovered it does not keep clear when one is in London rush hour traffic and it is snowing, through using the hrw switch went part of the way to solving the problem.
Interior trim is of plastic and is well finished but, as so often happens, the colour can make a difference. “My” CRX was finished in black and there is so much of it that it intruded while the grey finish of “my”GT seemed much more acceptable.
No Japanese car I’ve driven has been notable for its seating, we tend to receive “European specification” seats but those in the GT were adequate so far as comfort and grip were concerned but the “sports” seats in the CRX were hard in the back and skimpy across the shoulders. If the GT scored on seating, then the reverse is true when it comes to the sunroofs which are standard on both cars. That on the CRX is electrically operated and, when open, the panel sits on the roof like a miniature aerofoil. Thanks to the shape, it is possible to hold a normal conversation with the roof open at 90 mph. On the GT there is a detachable glass sunroof with a trim pad underneath. Now given the vagaries of our climate, the care with which the glass panel and its under trim have to be stored, and the fact that boot space in the GT is tight at the best of times this arrangement is a nonsense.
When carrying four people, the boot in the GT is cramped, one certainly could not take the family for a fortnight’s holiday without using a roof rack thought there is a 50 / 50 rear seat split. The CRX, however, has a very useful 14 cu ft with the rear set down (half that with the seat used). That rear seat is strictly an occasional one and would be uncomfortable for a child much about five feet tall.
Both cars are superb in town traffic, you point them and dab the throttle and you’re where you want to be. Sixty mph takes just 8.5 sec in the CRX, 9.2 sec in the GT (that is Honda’s figure for circumstances prevented us from using our test equipment, but I do not doubt them) while top speed is 115 mph in both cases.
The ride is on the firm side, acceptable in the CRX, less so in the GT which over uneven surfaces sometimes felt choppy.
Steering is precise and when motoring hard, one has the comfort of knowing that the engine will respond immediately. Both cars, in fact, make the driver feel immediately at home, and one has an instant sense of confidence in them.
This is backed up by the roadholding which is excellent under almost all circumstances but the car does not like turning in hard under power and it is difficult to convert understeer to oversteer by use of the throttle alone, one need a slight jab on the brakes.
Thanks to its shape, wind noise on the CRX is remarkably low but is high on the GT, I thought excessively high. The GT, too, felt nervous in strong cross winds though I did not encounter the same conditions during my week with the CRX.
Road noise is low except when the CRX occasionally encountered uneven surfaces when there was a booming from the front. This is possibly due to the fact that, in the interests of saving weight, some of the CRX’s panels, including the front wings are made from “Honda polymer alloy” (plastic to the rest of us).
Both cars have first rate frontal visibility, thanks to deep windscreens, though the CRX is tricky to reverse into the tight spaces because of the sloping rear window combined with a small rear spoiler.
As a driver, both cars gave me a great deal of pleasure, especially when I filled up at the pumps for the CRX returned 37.5 mpg overall while the GT gave me 36.5 mpg. Testing a car is one thing, buying one is another, so how do they compare with the opposition?
The face is that the CRX has no direct opposition. No other mass-manufacturer makes a front-engine, fwd, two-seater coupé for £6,950. It is essentially a minority-interest car with its own special niche in the market. The nearest rival I can think of is the Midas 1.3S Gold for which you’d pay about £600 more, given the same level of equipment (radio etc). The Midas’ MG Metro engine and gearbox lack the refinement of the CRX and its performance measured by a stopwatch falls slightly behind. In real teams (i.e. steeple to steeple) to Midas is the CRX’s match and, though initially more expensive, should work out cheaper if kept a number of years. Since the main reason for buying either is the style of both cars, it comes down to individual taste.
Since we have to turn to a specialist manufacturer to find something with which to compare the CRX, it indicates how a small a niche is the one at which the CRX is aimed.
The Civic GT, however, has a number of competitors in the “Supermini” bracket at £6,595. There’s the Ford XR2, the Peugeot 205 GTi, MG’s Metro Turbo and, possibly when its price is announced, the Renault 5 Turbo. In this bracket, the Civic GT is taking on some stiff opposition but it’s a good enough car to carve out its own corner in a competitive market. – M.L
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