When Mazda launched its first-generation MX-5 in 1989, it created a sensation among car lovers. The good-looking, compact, lightweight, and reliable roadster was a Japanese take on the much-loved British drop-top sportscars of the Fifties from the likes of Lotus, Triumph MG and Austin-Healey. With its rear-wheel drive layout and near-perfect front to rear weight balance, it went on to be a major hit among petrolheads everywhere including the all-important North American market. This was also roundabout the same time Honda’s second-generation CR-X sportscar was nearing the end of its life cycle. Seeing that Mazda was luring its customers away with the MX-5, Honda hastily commissioned a new two-seater model with a targa top.
Called Del Sol, the newcomer was pretty good to drive. But, although positioned as a successor to the popular CR-X, it wasn’t exactly the same as the old model. The Del Sol was essentially a Civic underneath, with a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. While it would have been OK if it was wrapped in a good-looking package, unfortunately it wasn’t. It arguably represents one of the most awkward styling jobs executed by Honda designers ever. And unlike the Mazda, which offered the convenience of a retractable roof, the Del Sol had a clumsy targa roof, which many found too cumbersome to remove and reattach. Moreover, it was also susceptible to leaks, even when properly in place.
Customers who had by then come to expect reliability from Honda, were disheartened by the perceived lack of quality in the Del Sol compared to the CR-X. It was also thin on features and tech goodies compared to its rivals. Naturally, sales weren’t nearly as good as Honda had hoped to achieve, and the model had to be discontinued in 1997, merely five years since its introduction.