Good things in small packages: Honda Civic CRX

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The Honda Civic CRX is one of the cutest cars on the road. It's quick, fun to drive, gives high mileage, and the price is right. If you want super-quick performance, you'd opt for the CRX Si, a sports performer in a tiny package, and the quickest Civic ever. For mileage that's up in the diesel class, there's the 1.5-liter CRX HF.

In a 418-mile round trip from Boston to New York City in a CRX HF, I averaged an astounding 55.5 m.p.g. at average highway speeds, surpassing even the federal government's figures. How often can you say that? The Environmental Protection Agency figures the CRX HF 5-speed at 49 m.p.g. in the city and 54 on the highway for all states except California. In California the figures are 45/51.

The high-performance CRX Si, however, is faster, jetting from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a bit over 8 seconds. Equipped with Honda's programmed fuel injection on the 12-valve, 1.5-liter engine, the horsepower jumps from 76 at 6,000 r.p.m. on the standard CRX to 91 at 5,500 r.p.m. on the Si.

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Also included with the CRX Si are a sport suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars and gas-filled rear shock absorbers, aluminum alloy wheels, and Michelin steel-belted radial tires on slightly wider wheels.

A tiny car with room for two people and luggage, the CRX obviously is not a family car any more than the Pontiac Fiero.

Yet the CRX doesn't feel as small as its dimensions say it is. The driver and passenger are not cramped. The Honda designers and engineers have done an excellent job of fitting all the pieces together, including the transverse-mounted engine beneath the hood.

The CRX has an 86.6-inch wheelbase and weighs well under a ton.

With the HF version, if you let the speed fall off in high gear, the car won't do much when you step on the gas again. At 30 m.p.h. in fifth gear, the engine is only turning 1,000 r.p.m. That means you'll have to downshift in order to get any kind of pickup.

The CRX demonstrates the outreach of the Japanese carmaker as it caters to the whims of the world.

Japan's Honda has a well-honored knack of designing and building small cars that meet the market head on.

Also, the company is highly innovative, not only in its engineering detail but also in its use of plastics.

The front fenders are built of tough, lightweight plastic to resist low-speed bumps. The lower body panels are made of plastic as well and so eliminate rust problems. Even the bumpers are plastic.

Controls are logically arranged and the instruments dials easy to see and read. Brakes are discs in front and drums at the rear.

One point about a Honda automobile: No matter whether the nameplate says Civic, Accord, Prelude, or Civic CRX, they're all a pleasure to drive. Small doesn't mean cheap, either, in the quality of materials or construction.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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