n the vibrant 1990s, Mazda fired the first salvo in a war that only us car enthusiasts could truly appreciate. It was the dawn of a fun, two-door sports car that is still beloved today—the one we jokingly say is always the answer—the Miata. Its success was a thorn in Honda’s side, sparking their desire to carve out their own niche in this lucrative market. Thus came into existence Honda’s retort—the innovative Honda Del Sol.
The Birth of Honda Del Sol
Honda was already enjoying the success of their compact sports car, the CRX, in the late 80s. However, by 1990, CRX sales were on the decline. It was time for a refresh, and Mazda’s Miata had just raised the bar for what a small, affordable sports car could be. This spurred Honda’s top engineers—who had just completed the NSX—into action. Their mission was to design a car that would not only compete with the Miata but would outshine it in every aspect. This resulted in the creation of the Del Sol, a car built on the principles of innovation, fun, and practicality.
The Rising Sun
The Del Sol was a game-changer, featuring a target top that was usually only seen on high-end cars like the Porsche 911 or dedicated sports cars like the Nissan Z. This, combined with a lightweight body, responsive chassis, VTEC engine, and manual gearbox, made the Del Sol a formidable competitor. Its practicality, comfortable cabin, and fun driving experience made it a potential winner. However, Mazda’s Miata had set a high standard.
The Undeniable Appeal of Mazda Miata
The Miata’s instant success in 1990 can be attributed to its timeless design, reminiscent of the small British roadsters of the 60s, and its superb handling and balance. Its 1.6 liter engine and perfect 50/50 weight distribution created a rewarding driving experience that was unprecedented in its price range. The challenge for Honda was to build a competitor that could offer the same, if not more.
Honda’s Counterstrike: The Del Sol
It took Honda two years to come up with the Del Sol. The car offered a variety of models, from the base model with a 1.5-liter inline 4 to the more powerful SI and VTEC trims with 1.6-liter engines. However, despite its better straight-line acceleration, the Del Sol failed to recreate the Miata’s perfect balance and handling. The difference in their driving experience became the Del Sol’s downfall.
The Struggles of Honda Del Sol
Despite Honda’s best efforts, the Del Sol found it hard to compete in the market. Its front-wheel drive layout, heavier target top, and lack of rear drive dynamics were criticized. The car’s real potential, however, was hidden in its special model—the SiR. Equipped with a 1.6 liter dual overhead cam VTEC engine, the SiR was a beast on the road. Unfortunately, it failed to pass the strict emissions regulations in the U.S., and was thus never sold there.
The Legacy of Honda Del Sol
Despite its early demise, the Del Sol has since gained a cult following. Its unique blend of style, innovation, and practicality has stood the test of time. Though it failed to outshine the Miata, it did pave the way for the creation of one of the greatest follow-ups of all time—the S2000.