This year, as we witnessed the CR-Z showing up on the web, the first reaction seemed to be complete shock at its subtle resemblance to the CRX. Immediately, comparisons to the twenty-plus-year-old classic were applied to Honda's new offering, and for a while, most seemed to be fine with it. Then, as more information followed and the realization that this would be a Hybrid vehicle with more emphasis on efficiency than power finally hit home, things got really ugly. The badmouthing hasn't stopped since, and with the CR-Z now being set free into the wild, enthusiasts are fired up, asking, "what happened to Honda?"
Back in the DA
Let's take a closer look at a few things. Going back to the late '80s, early '90s, when the Honda street movement really took off, there were a few things missing. First off, cars being offered at that time, now considered classics by our community, were underpowered, bare-bones econo-cars. Regardless of what you envision a Honda should be once you've had your way with it, early day enthusiasts weren't scooting around in B16-powered hatchbacks. They were trying to squeeze every bit of power and torque they possibly could from what these cars were built with. The screaming D series Civics and howling LS-powered DA Integras that migrated to the street races every week used every trick in the book to hang with the faster Toyotas and Datsuns/Nissans. A short list of possible bolt-ons were first seen on the street, and later came homemade turbo kits, and eventually motor swaps. Honda continued to offer affordable cars that, in our eyes, looked great, handled amazingly well, and took well to the type of upgrades that enthusiasts liked to throw at them. Honda never offered us big horsepower options like that of the Neon SRT for example; that's simply not what they do. Why would one of the most successful car makers in the world all of a sudden stray away from what got them there in the first place, just to appease us? Let's face it, outside of our little bubble, the average consumer doesn't really want, or need, a fast Civic. They need something safe, affordable, and reliable enough to get them from point A to point B, in one piece, every single day. And the fact that they offer low emissions and excellent efficiency is a major bonus.
In 1999, as the B16-powered Si was released in the U.S., it was somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand we felt it was recognition from Honda that we actually existed; we bought their cars and modified them in a way that represented our passion. On the flip side, the '99 Si spoiled us into thinking that this was a new beginning for Honda. No longer would we have to spend the time and money on motor swaps, since they essentially provided it right from the factory. The buzz was massive, the spotlight was on us, and the Si was being modified in every imaginable way. But when the lights dimmed, and we received the EP chassis Si, many were disappointed. Beyond that, the Integra (along with the the ITR) nameplate that helped carry this movement for over ten years was suddenly pulled, and replaced by a more upscale RSX. I go back to saying that we were spoiled, because we held a certain level of expectation from Honda that, other than being in our own heads, wasn't really warranted. The carmaker released something that was perfect for our market, but didn't continue with that momentum, possibly because the thirty-something searching for a practical family car was more likely to spend money than one of us. The theory as to why has been typed into every blog, forum, and magazine over the last decade. Beating a dead horse, every entry-level model that has come from Honda/Acura since then has been covered in enthusiast-slung mud cakes.