Vintage & Classics

1985: When sports cars were exclusive and the Honda Civic CRX Si was the nouveau punk

The 1985 Honda Civic CRX Si is a throwback to a time when sports cars were sports cars and Honda broke the rules.

Photo by Chris Tonn

There was a time, not long ago, when enthusiasts had strict definitions of what makes a sports car. Rear-wheel drive was required. Manual transmission, of course. Light weight. Removable top. Good handling. Heritage from a blue-blood manufacturer and car-building nation.

A few of these were negotiable – toplessness became unfashionable as automakers worried about increasingly-strict U.S.-market safety regulations – but front-wheel drive was seen as heretical among "pure" enthusiasts.

1985 Honda Civic CRX Si The CRX is a unique breed and there's a lot to love.Photo by Chris Tonn

There were certainly a few others before – the original Mini and the first-gen Volkswagen Golf GTI come to mind – but when Honda applied their brand of engineering to the hot-selling Civic to create this 1985 Honda Civic CRX Si, it became a sensation among those willing to look at driving enjoyment just a bit differently.

Honda has been pulling pristine cars out of their museum lately, letting journalists get a taste of their early hits during a lull in product cycles. This 1985 CRX Si has under ten thousand miles on the odometer and looks nearly showroom fresh. Nearly, you'll note – there are a couple of flaws, including slightly saggy vinyl on the door cards, a missing vent deflector on the upper dash, and a bit of bubbling on the plastic front fender.

Sadly, I added a flaw of my own during my day's drive in the Detroit area – an eighteen-wheeler tossed half a tire at the wee Honda's windscreen as I journeyed west on Interstate 96. Quick survival calculus weighed avoidance of the retread against the results of impacting either the center Jersey barrier to my left or the full-sized SUV to my right in a priceless 35-year-old subcompact without airbags. I'm pretty sure the scratch on the hood will buff out.

1985 Honda Civic CRX Si This engine yields just 91 horsepower.Photo by Chris Tonn

I've driven a fair number of classic cars over the years – both recently, and back in the day when they were just used cars. I've found few that can stand up to modern traffic demands as well as the CRX Si. Ninety-one horsepower sounds minimal; consider, however, the light curb weight of 1864 pounds. I had no problems getting up to extra-legal speeds on the interstate. The short (86.6 inches) wheelbase might lead you to think that high-speed stability will be compromised – no nervousness was noticeable while I diced for position at eighty-plus.

Note the red badge on the tail of the CRX – Si. No, this isn't Honda trying to emulate Chevrolet by inadvertently adding a Spanish-language meaning to a model. Here, it stands for Sport Injected. Remember when fuel injection was so novel it warranted a special badge? Indeed, this was one of the first Honda subcompacts to use fuel injection rather than the funky three-barrel carburetor that had brought the brand into prominence in the emissions-choked Seventies. PGM-FI, Honda calls it – Programmed Fuel Injection, meaning a rudimentary computer meters the fuel into the 1488cc four. Power comes on beautifully from just off idle up to well over 6000 – no stumbling, no surges like one might expect from Eighties-era electronics.

The five-speed manual has a remarkably long lever that quite neatly rests within an inch or so of my right knee, perched as I am with legs splayed around the non-adjustable steering wheel so I can recline the seatback enough to fit my head against the headliner without denting the thin sheet metal. This is one disadvantage to the Si trim compared to lesser first-generation trims of the CRX – the standard sunroof pares headroom for this driver, six-four and long of torso, to barely manageable heights. I make it work – but when I started shopping Craigslist for a bargain CRX of my own, I found myself carefully considering the sunroof-free HF and DX trim models that had been modified for extra power.

1985 Honda Civic CRX Si Driving an old car will help you appreciate how advanced new cars are.Photo by Chris Tonn

That long handle on the shifter does not mean long, vague shift throws. Notching into the next cog is simple and direct. Clutch action is light and progressive. The brakes, lightly boosted but built well before anti-lock brakes were dreamed of for budget commuters, are firm and communicative, whoa-ing the featherweight Honda with ease. The CRX Si is genuinely easy to drive, and quickly.

The air conditioning is one letdown – it was cool, but not as cold as a modern, oversized system. Further, switching the compressor on while sitting still seemed to drop the engine idle speed down a bit – causing a bit of roughness while I sat at stoplights. I opened the manually-cranked windows and the standard electric sunroof with ease for the majority of my driving on a hot, humid August afternoon – scattered rain encouraged me to persevere with the air con at times.

I was initially disappointed with the factory radio reception as I headed west from the Motor City – I quickly lost connection with the local classic-rock station as I approached the northwestern suburb of Novi. I drove on in radio silence until I emerged near the town of Hell to realize that I hadn't raised the manual radio antenna atop the driver's A-pillar. The strains of Bon Jovi quickly filled the tiny cabin, augmented by the dealer-installed graphic equalizer. I still wish I'd thought to grab some cassettes out of the basement to slide into the dividers below.

1985 Honda Civic CRX Si The interior has held up rather well, with the exception of a few spots.Photo by Chris Tonn

In some ways, driving enthusiasts have it great these days. Many mainstream manufacturers offer a car straight from the showroom that can best limited-production supercars from the 80s or 90s down a drag strip or around a road course. Many of these cars, you'll note, have but two pedals.

Honda has signaled that they'll stop offering manual transmissions except in a few performance models. Enthusiasts - the same ones who once told us that a real sports car has two doors, was front-engined, rear-drive, and was made in Germany, U.S.A., or the U.K. – have displayed their lament, as one would expect.

1985 Honda Civic CRX Si Despite its small size, the interior of the 1985 Honda Civic CRX Si is spacious.Photo by Chris Tonn

While I love rowing my own gears - especially in a vintage hot hatch such as this 1985 Honda CRX Si – the picture of a sports car has changed over the years to become more inclusive. No longer must a manual transmission define performance. No longer must the ability to manipulate a manual transmission be a shibboleth for driving enthusiasm. Drive what you like. Me? Like I said, I'm looking for an old Honda of my own. But if what fits you, your roads, and your needs best has two pedals – don't let some old fart give you the "save the manuals" line.

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The new Porsche Boxster 25 years celebrates the anniversary of the convertible's debut.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

Twenty eight years ago, a convertible concept car made its debut at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show. The production version of that car launched in 1996 with hardly any changes. It was the Porsche Boxster. Now it its fourth generation, Porsche has sold more than 357,000 of the coupes.

To commemorate the anniversary, Porsche is selling the Boxster 25 years, a limited edition model that takes design notes from the original Boxster and applies them to the current edition. All Boxster 25 years models are based on the Boxster GTS.

Porsche Boxster 25 Years

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The model features a copper-like shimmering brown Neodyme paint color in the front apron, side air intakes with mono bar, lettering, and two-tone 20-inch alloy wheels. The original car was colored GT Silver Metallic and the special edition will be offered in that paint color as well as Deep Black Metallic and Carrara White Metallic.

Porsche script is featured own the fuel filler cap and there are high-gloss tailpipes on the car's sport exhaust system. The windscreen surround is finished in a contrasting black color.

The Bordeaux leather interior sits below a red fabric convertible top that bears the Boxster 25 lettering. Both are also available in black. The car's cabin also has an interior package in Aluminum, 14-way electrically adjustable sports seats, door sill trims with "Boxster 25" lettering, and the heated GT multifunction sports leather steering wheel.

Each model is powered by a 4.0-liter flat-six engine that has a top speed of 182 mph. There's a PDK gearbox and standard Sport Chrono package, Porsche Active Suspension Management sports suspension, and Porsche Torque Vectoring with mechanical limited-slip differential.

The Boxster 25 years is available to order now and will roll into dealerships from the end of March 2021. Just 1,250 units will be allocated.

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The Mercedes-Benz GLA was redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz GLA was completely redesigned for the 2021 model year, taking it from a mundane tuna can-like hatchback to a zippy, more traditional small SUV. Everything about it fits into the modern Mercedes SUV lineup. It's a mini Merc. It's formulaic and perfectly fine but it's just not that nice compared to what else you can get for around $40,000 (starting price is just over $36,000)

Mercedes sells the GLA in three variants with another on the way. There's the traditional GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC, and the AMG GLA 35. A more high-performance version of the model, the AMG GLA 45 is coming soon. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available on most models. A variety of drive modes allow the driver to choose how much torque they want to allocate to what wheels and additional setup options for suspension and dynamics are available on pricier GLAs.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 The car's infotainment and driver information screens are housed together as one unit.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

As tested, the GLA 250 was powered by the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four that is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV had trouble off the line during daily driving. The GLA's turbo lag added together with low-end gearing confusion to make the mundane drive from stop sign to stop sign in a neighborhood a comfortable creep followed by a robust burst of energy. Once out of the neighborhood and up to full speed on the highway, the powertrain performed far better, however, there was nothing elegant about it.

The model's steering is numb, which is typical for its class. It's steering circle isn't as tight as is optimal.

Any promise of a tranquil ride that you would think would be relatively standard with a Mercedes is not something the GLA possesses. However, for as much road noise that permeates the cabin, it's still less than the awful rattling the previous generation GLA allowed in. For that we can all be thankful.

The added height of the GLA gives the vehicle a more SUV-like seating position than its crossover predecessor. Ingress and egress is easy, as it should be with a model of these proportions. Head- and legroom for front passengers is fantastic for a vehicle of the GLA's size.

Seats in the GLA are not uncomfortable, and certainly not the worst that Mercedes offers.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes wins points for the GLA's tech, which is easy to use, responsive, and pleasing to the eye. The GLA comes standard with the Mercedes-Benz two screens, in one large housing. Its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) operating system runs two 7.0-inch screens. The centrally located screen, which controls the infotainment system, reacts to touch and can also be operated by a touchpad controller on the center console. The list of standard equipment also includes four USB ports, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Buyers can upgrade their model to include a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, 12-speaker Burmester audio system, wireless device charging, a Wi-Fi hot spot, head-up display, and navigation.

Mercedes gives every GLA a reasonable amount of active safety features. The list includes a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, vehicle exit warning, automatic emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, and crosswind assist. To get the most desirable safety features, GLA buyers need to add on two packages, which drive up the price $2,800.

The SUV has ample space in the second row for adults.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The GLA's interior materials, cabin noise, and unrefined powertrain make it seem like a less-than premium SUV. The car's tech offerings give it a boost, but other models offer a longer list of standard and available safety technology.

Buyers who are savvy and looking to get the most bang for their buck will want to test drive similarly sized models like the 2020 Buick Encore GX, Jaguar E-Pace (it was refreshed for the 2021 model year with major changes), and Mazda CX-30 before committing to the GLA. They have interiors that are just as nice and offer price tags that are more wallet-friendly.

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